Top 5 Legal Technology Trends You Need to Know

8 Min Read By: Grace Lau

For emerging technologies, labor-intensive industries were an ideal early market. In customer service, for instance, contact centers applied tools with AI-enabled features, like call coaching, right out the gate.

The legal profession, in contrast, is no stranger to the accusation of being stuck in its ways. Unfairly, say we! Jennifer Mnookin, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and former dean of UCLA’s law school, believes that law firms are now “thinking more like businesses than they did a generation ago.” She goes on to say that a lot of the work that was normally performed by first- and second-year law associates is now outsourced, at least in part, due to technological developments.

To some, the most advanced legal technology is overhyped. According to others, current trends will radically disrupt the profession. What’s abundantly clear is that many legal tech solutions are already making a real difference in lawyers’ lives.

Law firms are hungry to invest in technology to overcome the challenges of increased workflows and productivity demands on smaller budgets. The Future Ready Lawyer 2021 report shows that as of the past year, 84% of legal departments plan to increase their technology spending.

Legal tech is not a silver bullet. And yet, organizations that have already integrated legal technology into their operations report increased profitability.

Meanwhile, another report indicated that only 19% of partners at major law firms felt assured working in the digital economy.

In an industry known for traditional ways of working, change is afoot. It’s never been more important to know your audiovisual conferencing from your automation.

In this post, we explore five top legal technology trends shaping the industry.

1. Automation

Lawyers have historically pored over troves of documents. Fortunately, mundane and routine tasks are now ripe for automation that streamlines their work.

Automation is already being used in:

  • Legal research
  • E-discovery (searching for digital evidence to be used in court)
  • Document review

And the possibilities to move beyond what can be achieved already are immense.

Legacy software modernization, such as those for document automation, is becoming standard practice. Simplifying the drafting of high-frequency, low-complexity contracts and allowing clients to sign them digitally can save lawyers time.

Good technology can transform the routine but vital admin tasks and workflows that law practices must grapple with daily. For example, this can include:

  • Organizing and tracking progress and regulatory changes
  • Data collection
  • Reporting
  • Communication

Manual processes can never be as efficient as automation at simple, repetitive tasks. This includes many elements in corporate transaction work.

And legal departments are finding the most efficiency gains in these areas where they can standardize processes.

2. Artificial intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation often get used interchangeably, but they’re slightly different.

Whereas automation broadly refers to tech replacing human labor to perform predictable, rote work, AI substitutes for more complex interpersonal duties, such as problem-solving, perception, and human planning. AI complements human intelligence much like your project management triangle.

AI hasn’t yet had the promised transformative effect in the legal industry. Yet there’s no inherent reason why the sexier applications won’t become mainstream.

Today’s artificial intelligence systems can keep learning. Machine learning is a subset of AI that can:

  • Digest vast volumes of text and voice conversations
  • Identify patterns
  • Carry out impressive feats of predictive modeling

As well as finding privileged documents, AI can analyze contracts to check for missing terms, for example.

AI enables lawyers to extract powerful insights from data that can uncover critical evidence for case building and litigation strategies.

A metal statue of Lady Justice, a blindfolded woman in a dress, holding out scales of justice (a two-tray scale or balance).

Source: Unsplash.

Technology is maturing; people are still figuring out how best to apply machine learning to the sector.

AI is transforming B2B marketing, allowing companies to optimize their customer experiences. And the legal industry can also leverage AI to create better client experiences.

Another use case is supporting law firms with investigations and detecting red flags and anomalies to mitigate risks.

3. Cloud-native solutions

Along with big data, cloud-based solutions help lawyers and clients share files and data across disparate platforms rather than relying solely on emails.

Firms migrating their data to the cloud (carefully) can enjoy significant benefits.

In fact, from hyper-automation, through the use of collaborative tools like virtual whiteboards, to using machine learning to get the most out of databases of historical information, most legal technology trends rely on the cloud.

Firms can modernize their office phone systems, for example, by investing in voice over internet protocol, or VoIP telephone systems with sophisticated features.

Softphones enable distributed workforces to manage their legal proceedings and communicate with each other and clients from anywhere.

Flexible, cloud-native systems also support crucial integrations between different tools.

Their widespread adoption will allow organizations to hook up their practice management systems with their unified communications platforms and meet the demands of clients for scalability.

4. Virtual legal assistants

As they get more sophisticated, Virtual Legal Assistants (VLAs) are being implemented by more and larger law firms and organizations.

VLAs are AI-powered chatbots that build on basic neural network computing models to harness the power of deep learning.

VLAs not only improve average response times, but they also free up real assistants from handling a good deal of the frequent internal questions legal departments face to work on the high-value tasks that require a human touch.

When intelligent law bots can’t address a particular claim, they pass it to a suitable department.

Gartner predicts VLAs can answer one-quarter of internal requests made to legal departments. This extends the operational capacity of in-house corporate teams.

5. Data privacy and cybersecurity

Privacy rules and regulations are also trending, with Gartner forecasting a federal privacy law covering personal information may be coming down the pike.

With the right tools, firms can securely share encrypted data both within their organization and externally with clients, witnesses, and courts, all while maintaining compliance.

Data is becoming ever more integral to legal practice operations that require tools spanning different platforms and rely on both private and public clouds.

Because of this, the ability to anticipate future risks, protect sensitive client information, and recover mission-critical operations after a cyberattack is becoming ever more of a necessity.

Legal professionals should be cognizant of the alarming rise in cyberattacks and the potential for reputational damage.

The American Bar Association reported in its annual Profile of the Legal Profession that 29% of lawyers dealt with security breaches at their firms in 2021.

Organizations must be prepared to withstand malicious attacks, such as ransomware and malware.

Mitigating their risk of exposure also means updating data loss prevention and governance policies to keep up with an ever-evolving landscape of threats.

Firms already take precautions in the office, for example, by forbidding devices like Google’s Assistant and Alexa to ward off surreptitious eavesdropping by bad actors.

Secure data sharing and policies around acceptable use, privacy, and security are even more critical considering the shift to remote work.

Your honorable mentions

A wooden gavel rests on a wooden sound block. It casts a shadow on a white background.

Source: Unsplash.

The above are the most important legal technology trends you need to know, but here are a few honorable mentions.

First, firms will continue to hire hybrid profiles. This is about increasing cognitive diversity, closing the gap between professionals with knowledge of legal matters and those with enough legal tech expertise to manage the digitization and automation of workflows.

Today, we probably won’t be surprised by a developer’s need to moonlight in public relations—managing app store ratings and reviews.

On the other hand, some lawyers who understand coding are even developing applications themselves. For example, they may develop an application to run insider trading checks.

Second, employee satisfaction, a driver of the Great Resignation, is worth mentioning.

For law firms looking to attract and keep the best talent, technology can enable opportunities for professional development and make organizations more inclusive. Flexible working could also help.

Third, consumers are already opting for convenience across the economy (Uber, Shopify). Similarly, clients expect attorneys to answer their questions and ease anxieties round the clock.

Law firms can use technology to deliver seamless experiences, hiring partners who can be there for clients when they can’t.

It’s the surest way to increase the quality of their cases in the coming years.

A white typewriter with paper in it bearing the words "ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE" in black font.

Source: Unsplash.

All set to raise the bar?

About AI research, Stephen Pinker once said that the hard problems are easy and the easy problems are hard. It so happens that the similarly paradoxical-sounding challenge law firms face is doing more with less.

Technology can build meaningful reports to measure how profitable different practice areas are for more analytical decision-making.

Those in the camp making a case for legal AI point to the fact that the abilities of computers are theoretically compatible with the nature of much legal work.

Algorithms can yield more accurate results with a lot less effort at rule-based tasks.

AI can already manage the complex variables that might go into personal injury claims assessments. And autonomous cars are successfully driving on the road in defiance of many early AI skeptics.

Other legal work, though, remains ill-suited to computerization. And, for the tech-wary, the jury is still out.

The key to success is not getting caught up in the hype, but rethinking how technology can serve you and your clients.

When you realize that your people and processes are just as important as your tools, you can start by taking the boring stuff off their plate. Why wait?

By: Grace Lau

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