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How Technology Impacts the Legal Profession


New technology allows the law profession to automate processes and operate more as businesses. Here's how technology is changing the legal profession.

Now, more than ever, lawyers and law firms are turning to technology to improve efficiency and productivity, as well as to enable communication between remote teams and clients.

While many law offices were already undergoing a digital transformation before, COVID-19 hastened the demand for secure ways to work from home. Even the historic and classically-based court systems are now using platforms such as Zoom for audio and video conferencing technologies.

In just a few short years, in fact, the workforce has adopted new technology to assist in the workplace. However, the application for lawyers and law firms was hastened with the onset of COVID-19, within a few short weeks.

The biggest demand and advances have come in artificial intelligence, law management platforms, security documents, secure video calls and workflow tools. Virtually all of these technologies are built on cloud computing—virtual servers that allow remote access from any internet-connected device. This has become a necessity for keeping up with workloads from outside of server-centric offices.

Here are four technology trends reshaping law practices today:

1. Process Automation Makes Everyone More Efficient

The new law firm management platforms are cloud-based, AI-infused and mobile-friendly. For example, Clio, MyCase, Thomson Reuters ProLaw and Bill4Time are all platforms that include tools for tracking billable hours and streamlining case management. For many firms, this means process automation and reduced time and cost spent on manual tasks.

In a survey by professional services firm Williams Lea, 59% of respondents cited process automation as a strategy for protecting profits in an economic downturn—and this was before COVID-19 disrupted work-life as most attorneys and their staff know it.

Process automation becomes more powerful when firm management platforms also integrate easily with other applications—for example: from payments to an automated email—to provide more visibility into all of the office functions, especially those surrounding optimizing the cash billing and collection process.

2. Artificial Intelligence (AI) Improves Research and Discovery

Perhaps the biggest game-changer to law firm practice is the implementation of AI-driven applications. Just a few years ago, AI was an experimental computing concept used mainly by the largest technology firms. Today in law practices, AI can be used for virtually everything from doing legal research and due diligence, to reviewing contracts and documents, and predicting legal outcomes.

One firm, ROSS Intelligence, reportedly can read one million pages of legal text in one second to find an exact passage that would have taken law clerks hours, according to Law Technology Today.

AI programs can learn to review and find similar law cases once a model has been established. Further, this technology can highlight inconsistencies between similar contracts, in what might have gone undetected by human review.

Perhaps one of the most valuable AI functions to both clients and firms is its ability to sift years of similar cases and provide a compelling set of data to help decide whether or not a client should settle or move forward.

AI has also made a large stride in eDiscovery, allowing firms to bring that function back in-house and under budget. In-house counsel’s use of e-discovery collection and processing technology jumped to 51% in 2019 compared with 44% in 2018, according to the most recent In-House Legal Benchmarking Report.

3. Video Conferencing Becomes More Secure

The confluence of the massive shift to video conferencing and reports of security concerns has sent businesses scrambling for secure video communications.

Security is paramount, especially for highly sensitive interactions between counsel and client. Many video conferencing apps use a 128-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). Under AES, each session is protected by a key that is generated at the beginning and end, resulting in a security profile that would take a supercomputer longer than the age of the universe to breach, according to Electrical Engineering Times. Meanwhile, Zoom has made significant updates and investments in additional security measures.

4. Electronic Signatures Soon Business As Usual

Clients increasingly demand the convenience and safety of remote signing of documents, and again the pandemic has hastened e-signature demand. The global e-signature market is expected to grow at an annual rate of approximately 26% through 2025. E-signature apps have become de rigueur among many firms, though there are still holdouts and nine exceptions set out by the federal government.

Since Fifth Third last covered the subject of technology and law firms, the creation of relevant apps required firms themselves to invest time and resources to build bespoke technology. Now outside firms, such as Documate, give law firms the ability to build the complex forms and documents to successfully streamline their workflows with no coding.

To be sure, the pandemic has, in a matter of months, accelerated technology trends that have dramatically changed the practice of law and management of law practices. Remote enabling apps are predominant, client interviews are mainly through video conferencing software, AI is now the workhorse of mainstream technology, and the benefit of digital transformation is more compelling than ever.

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