The legal industry is going through an incredible tech transformation, particularly in the past five years or so. Historically the industry has been one of the very last to embrace technology, but that’s changing quickly. Some experts attribute this to the incoming flux of newer, younger attorneys who have grown up using technology in their non-work life. Others say it has more to do with client expectations that their lawyers function on the same technological level as the businesses receiving their legal services. Whatever the reason, the intersection of law and technology has arrived and isn’t going anywhere but up. Here are ten important legal tech trends to watch out for in 2018.
1. Machine Learning
Machine learning is redefining the way lawyers conduct routine research and document review. The traditional way involves endless folders of documents (either physical or digital) and almost endless hours, as a lawyer or team of lawyers search through innumerable useless data points in search of the relevant ones. It is the proverbial needle in a haystack problem. Machine learning applications are revolutionizing the way research and document review are done, by harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and analytics to anticipate and find what the humans are looking for.
2. The Internet of Things
The internet of things, or IoT for short, makes our trending list for good reason. Industry experts estimate that more than 8 billion “things” are now internet-connected across the planet. From smartphones to smart refrigerators, we’ve come a long way in the last few years. Not only do these devices keep us more connected, they also continually collect and record data that is increasingly discoverable in court cases. Welcome to the future, where your appliances and wearable devices can make or break a case.
Speaking of all the data being gathered by smart devices, the legal industry needs smarter ways to collect, decode, and analyze that information. This is where advances in analytics take center stage. Advances in this field, particularly in the increasingly crowded area of legal analytic startups, are interpreting and communicating data in ways humans could never dream of just a few decades ago.
4. Artificial Intelligence
Although “true” AI is not yet upon us, the proliferation of artificial intelligence assistants makes AI almost seem like old news, but it isn’t. Siri, Cortana, and Alexa are inching their way from the living room to the conference room, and law firms and legal tech companies are working to find new ways that AI can connect us and surprise us. Everything from emails to eDiscovery is harnessing AI to work faster, cheaper, and more efficiently.
Millions of people have now used their smartphones to contest simple parking tickets or compose basic contracts. The stream of websites and mobile apps designed to offer online and mobile legal services alternatives and do-it-yourself guidance on legal issues has no end in sight. Although occasionally a court steps in to threaten unauthorized practice of law, by now it’s clear that there is a public appetite for truncated legal services.
Lawyers aren’t stuck working from their desks anymore Thanks to the proliferation of smartphones, laptops, and tablets, work is being done from home, from the train, even on a walk. What’s more, firms are increasingly embracing this new mobility and encouraging their people to leave the office during working hours. And after all, thanks to texting, mobile billing apps, email, and video conference, lawyers don’t leave the office – they simply take the office with them when they go.
7. Performance Tracking
No longer is performance tracking limited to data scientists or annual performance reviews. Thanks to technology and nearly instantaneous computing power, most firms know what their new associates are good at and bad at before the lawyers themselves know. Through analysis of data from performance-tracking software, lawyers can actually be assigned to the jobs and roles where they are most likely to excel for their clients. In most instances, these are also the roles where they are most likely to be happy, which is a win-win for all involved.
8. Cloud Computing
The way we store and utilize data has never before been so firmly in the realm of the so-called “cloud.” Although the cloud is really just a paradigm for off-site system resources, the image and notion of storing information “in the cloud” persists. As we ease into 2018, be prepared for law firms to fully embrace cloud technology.
9. Edge Computing
We cannot talk about cloud computing without mentioning its new sibling, edge computing. This concept is so recently trending that many of our readers may be reading the term right now for the very first time. Edge computing is a way of utilizing peer-to-peer computing resources, without requiring the data to travel all the way to a centralized hub. It has the potential to reduce transmission time, costs, and latency issues.
10. Online Legal Communities
Online lawyer-only legal communities are transforming the way colleagues in the legal world interact with each other. The traditional method for finding help on a case or bouncing an idea back and forth was to walk down the firm hallway to find a colleague. As mobility technology has set lawyers free from their desks, the lack of old-fashioned face-to-face interaction has left a gap that must be filled. Online communities have emerged to fill it, and some say they are doing a better job than the old way. Andrew Tolchin, Texas-licensed attorney/mediator, and founder of “Texas Lawyers” – a closed Facebook group consisting solely of licensed Texas attorneys – says his group membership has recently reached 9,000. As an early innovator of online legal communities, he refers to the real-time discussions there as “peer-reviewed mentorship.” Tolchin says a key mission of “Texas Lawyers” is to “facilitate an environment where questions may be efficiently answered, enabling attorneys to improve skills and learn effective ways to better serve clients and the public.”