Some might say that lawyers adopting technology is by itself disruptive. They would in all likelihood be correct – at least for those that graduated more than 20 years ago! After all, aren't we discussing a profession schooled in Law Latin?
We have truly come a long way from the early days of practice in the 70s, when calculating Statements of Adjustment in real estate transactions required a four-function calculator. Gone are the days of doing calculations by way of lookup tables and an adding machine, rather than having them done automatically through a computer app.
The technologies I believe to be most disruptive to the practice of law, all of which I embrace, are the following:
There is a lot of discussion these days about that Cloud, and the various cloud-related offerings. While cloud services and products aren’t exactly new, it’s only recently that there is a greater awareness of the cloud, particularly as people realize that they may have been making use of the cloud for quite a while, and without knowing it. For example, Amazon, Google Dropbox, Facebook and Twitter are examples of cloud-based initiatives – hence, if you’re using Gmail, you’re already using the cloud.
As each day passes, more and more digital information is gathered at lightning speed from individuals and organizations, exchanged by them (sometimes without their knowledge) and stored on external servers hosted in server farms across the world. Features and functions of cloud-based solutions vary, and may include the ability to synchronize locally on your firm's servers, or perhaps your office or home computer's hard drive, the information that is being uploaded to the cloud. The configurations are endless, and the cloud comes in a variety of forms that include Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), and others. It is the SaaS model that is becoming more prevalent, as lawyers migrate from installed applications to cloud-based services that offer similar or better functionality, and perhaps come with some cost savings.
Ignoring for the moment the confidentiality, security, privacy, and due diligence concerns that lawyers need to satisfy themselves about – in this regard, be sure to check out the Law Society of Upper Canada's Practice Management Guidelines podcastsand online Technology Practice Tips – the cloud offers up a variety of cloud-based solutions to lawyers.
Cloud storage is available through a host of providers such as SkyDrive, Box, Dropbox, SugarSync, and Google Drive, and most often includes basic storage and synchronization services. Sometimes included are “free” gigabytes, typically ranging from 5 to 100, as signup bonuses – a little skepticism might help around the “free” part.
Mobile Devices and Technology Integration:
Before smartphones & tablets, office-related work product could only be accessed by the ubiquitous Blackberry, through desktop and portable computers configured for local network access, or remotely through a very secure VPN (virtual private network). Today, this has changed and will continue to dramatically evolve, as much of the capability to access confidential, client-related, and personal information behind the firm’s firewall can be built into readily available apps for handheld devices. This presents a combination of confidentiality, security and privacy challenges, and accompanying dilemma – there is now a much greater threat to your firm, and potential liability to clients, through unauthorized cyber-intrusions. This may result in the misappropriation of client trust funds, your firm's funds, unauthorized disclosure of solicitor client privileged information, etc. There is a great need for a well thought-out mobility strategy, translated into a comprehensive and enforceable BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy.
Primarily attributable to its inherent built-in and reliable security features, having its own network, and a fairly easy to use keyboard, it wasn’t surprising that Blackberry prevailed in the legal community as the lawyer’s favoured device. But as more customizable, user-friendly devices emerged, the Blackberry was often replaced by an iPhone or Android-based device. However, for purposes of maintaining network security, many law firms continue to insist upon the Blackberry as a device of choice, and so there are many of us who carry two devices, one for practice related communications and server access, and another for personal use.
I suspect that we’ll see some interesting legal applications built around 3-D printing, in addition to a host of work for IP lawyers. Some possibilities include its use by litigators in explaining and emphasizing to juries and to judges, who are now equipped to precisely visualize missing, lost, or incomplete items of evidence. 3-D printing has successfully been used to replicate body parts, firearms, mechanical fittings, and hand tools such as wrenches – we can only anticipate what the future may hold.
Virtual Law Firms
We are already witnessing the emergence, particularly in the United States, of Virtual Law Firms that carry on without a physical location, or the trappings of a typical law firm – including a downtown or suburban physical location, legal assistants, paralegals, and other support staff. An alliance of like-minded and common interest lawyers, working from their own homes, and sharing a common technology framework, referrals and work allocation and agreed-upon resources.
Virtual interviews client meetings
Technologies such as Skype, Google Voice, Face Time not only enable no long-distance toll telephone calls, but also videoconferencing, virtually at no or minimal cost. These technologies, which consumers and businesses are already quite familiar with, are being rapidly adapted by sole practitioners and smaller practices. Assuming that security and privacy are intact, virtual meetings may well become the accepted protocol for meetings where ordinarily, physical attendance was required. . Augmented by subscription Cloud-based services such as GoToMeeting and WebEx that enable multi-participant participation for purposes of the virtual meetings that involve more than two or three people may well evolve into the accepted standard. Quite remarkable, when you think about it, that this web-based technology enables so practitioners and small law firms to compete with the traditional teleconferencing capabilities of larger firms that have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop a teleconference network between and amongst their national and regional offices.
Digitized records management
As more and more lawyers and law firms embark upon the digitization of records – from the more traditional paper-based information management and record retention system to a data governance strategy – records management and retention will transcend to a fully digital format, and much of the due diligence required for purposes of statutory compliance and discovery will translate into facilitating the search, analysis, categorization processes through voice and touch sensitive dashboards.
Electronic discovery provides an assortment of benefits encompassing the ability to seek, locate, secure and search data that can be utilized as evidence in civil or criminal cases. In e-discovery terminology, ESI, or electronically stored information, refers to all information stored in computers and storage devices. This includes any data including ESI found in e-mail, voicemail, instant and text messages, databases, metadata, digital images and any other type of file. While mobile device ESI is legally discoverable, the greater challenge for legal departments, IT, and records management personnel is the ability to actually capture, preserve, search and collect it. This can be difficult if the data is not part of an organization’s enterprise-wide, standard records retention and usage policy – often, mobile device data resides outside of any shared enterprise-wide network.
Cloud and enterprise-based solutions are being developed and improved to enable the collecting, analyzing and distilling of ESI into comprehensive, accurate meaningful results that may well influence the E-Discovery process - in so doing, much of the applied innovation is being garnered through what is termed as "big data” which is a 21st century term coined by the tech sector “to describe the process of applying serious computing power – the latest in machine learning and artificial intelligence – to seriously massive and often highly complex sets of information." (The Big Bang: How the Big Data Explosion Is Changing the World)
As we become more technologically savvy, and implement new approaches and solutions, it is critical to remain aware that despite implementing a variety of safeguards and the exercise of best practices, there is an abundance of cyber-related attacks and thefts resulting in misappropriation of funds as well as theft of sensitive and confidential information and intellectual properties. It is therefore absolutely critical to ensure that your practice has sufficient cyber insurance coverage in place - fortunately, for those of us practising in Ontario, LawPro has for its 2014 policy year, included a $250,0000 sublimit coverage for eligible cybercrime losses relating to breaches in confidentiality and financial losses. It may well be that excess coverage should also be considered the magnitude and frequency of cyber related attacks.