By Vic Peterson, Chief Information Officer, Stinson Leonard Street LLP
This article is written for readers who work in companies that are consumers of legal services— especially those that have an in-house legal department. It may also be of interest to readers who are part of a law firm IS group—a comparatively smaller number. My purpose is to shed a little light on the “black box” of law firm technology.
It is an open secret that since the 2008 economic crisis, law firms whose book of business is composed predominantly of corporate clients have faced increasing pressure to become more efficient. Traditional law firm routines were very manual and based on expectations of delivery of services that have not progressed since the fax machine. Prestige was a proxy for quality and IS was used strictly in a tactical role.
Progressive law firms have begun to move beyond the “keep the lights on” model of IS. Robust technology implementation for a modern law firm includes the following items:
- An electronic conflicts checking system for on-boarding new clients rapidly;
- A firm-wide electronic document management system to house tens of millions of client and evidentiary documents using complex permissions levels and search capabilities;
- A complex financial system that includes massive data reporting capabilities;
- Secure email (the lifeblood of modern legal transactions);
- A comprehensive audio-visual infrastructure for internal and external meetings;
- Legal project management workflows that leverage efficiencies enabled by technology;
- A sophisticated website that is more than just an electronic brochure but is a partner in business development; and
- An ISO-compliant security program.
In 2008, few major law firms would have been able to check off even half the items on this list. Now, most are table-stakes for large corporate clients—in particular the victims of security gaffs originating with technology-naïve law firms. Corporate clients are less persuaded by law firm prestige than solid routines whose costs are predictable.
Technologies are emerging that are designed to answer client-driven goals directly. Imagine the concepts of Turbo Tax or Rocket Lawyer applied to the corporate world. Leveraging data, new players design software and deliver enhanced legal services that are more accurate, faster and will ultimately be cheaper than traditional methods. Among the services entering the market are patent submissions tools that rate the likelihood of patent application approval based on the decision pattern of the US patent office. Other tools offer judge analytics, case analytics and decision visualization based on data available through both public and private sources. It’s as if Money Ball was being reset in the legal industry.
Innovation is spreading to the industry software incumbents, too. The developer of the most ubiquitous document management system in the legal services industry has upped its game with a platform that reads, categorizes and suggests associations among documents based on indexed content. The largest maker of legal financial software has recently released an updated version of its program that plays nicely into legal project management initiatives that standardize the steps in large routine processes. IBM has licensed its Watson software to ROSS, a company that promises to enhance legal decision making with “big data” in ways similar to how it is used in medicine or insurance.
What does all this creative destruction mean for the corporate consumer? For those with a stake in their company’s technology, it may mean opportunities to develop strategic alliances with large firms. Ambitious firms are creating applications that serve up client-specific applications through iTunes or have developed platforms that strategically mingle networks.
The days of the “robot lawyer” may never come, but as with Tesla’s development of the electric car, the products may become increasingly self-guided.