Predictions 2010: Technology & Strategy for Lawyers

December 30, 2009

From Richard Blasdale, Technology Business Solutions, Inpractice UK

1.       Law firms, IT managers and IT Directors that are going to be successful from this point (particularly the mid-market firms) will be under pressure and driven harder to find more efficiency and productivity improvements and/or cost reductions. All of which is totally justified because there is still plenty of scope for radical improvements if IT, lawyers and managers would just start to talk the same language. Who is holding who back varies from firm to firm – but CEOs and Managing Partners, who may now be better equipped (because they are getting better) to be more understanding of the issues, will be less tolerant of failure to manage projects and achieve change in working practices to improve results .

2.       As IT people slowly get more involved with business strategy, it is more likely that any investment in IT-related projects will be backed up with some kind of ROI-driven business case (now that more commercial IT minds are coming into the sector – and not before time). Historically, few firms have done this – and even fewer firms measure actual cost savings achieved, post implementation. In 2010, there will be more frustration with more decision-makers in each firm who expect a strong ROI-driven case to be made prior to project authorisation being given. Information and benchmarks will continue to be hard to find – so there needs to be more serious thought, research and innovation in this area, which has huge potential to lead radical improvements.

3.       With improving options available, heads of IT who are keen to take a more strategic position in the business will begin to promote use of more specialist support from third-party managers of IT – from outsourced and managed services and, increasingly, from hosted providers of solutions.  Use of some elements of managed services will become an aspiration in many more IT strategies, with the objective of enabling IT people to adopt a more effective project management approach to new initiatives that improve the business – not just keep it ticking over.  Projects need to involve participants from all areas of the practice – enabling IT to focus on development and use of legal and business processes. 

4.       Too many firms will fail to make effective decisions in these areas.  There will be a steep increase in acquisitions of the weaker legal practices that have failed to get their house in order, where partners will suffer financially as a result because they cannot negotiate a deal from a position of any strength.


From Charles Christian, Editor of Legal Technology Insider and the Orange Rag blog


In 2010 one of the major issues will be whether the big consolidators in the legal software vendors’ arena – the LexisNexis, Thomson Reuters and IRIS Groups of this world – find the legal IT market turning into their own corporate Afghanistans. Getting involved may have seemed a good idea at the time, but now they’ve made their investments they are finding the sector a lot more complex – and far less profitable – than they first thought. But what should they do? Throw in more troops (sorry senior managers) money and resources in one last surge to try to fix the problem? Or, pull out altogether and write-off the whole venture as a mistake? Either way the ‘natives’ – their shareholders and their customers – are growing restless. 

From Jan Durant, Director of IT at Lewis Silkin LLP


Microsoft SharePoint is going to rip apart the document management market, especially with the 2010 version which is coming in the Spring.  I think their only competitor will be Open Source software, such as Al Fresco. 

From Rob Lancashire, Managing Director, nFlow

As the use of Smartphones becomes indispensable in legal business, driven by the need for mobile and remote but collaborative working, timely client communication and access to legal systems such as CRM, time recording, document management and practice management, 2010 will see the widespread use of mobile devices such as the BlackBerry for digital dictation in its evolved role as an instructional messaging tool. This is because using enterprise-level workflow-based digital dictation for instructional messaging is flexible, more effective and less time consuming than email-based communication when directing support staff for client related work. This development has already come to the fore in 2009, not just in the legal sector, but across a number of other business sectors too.

Furthermore, whilst the overall economic outlook for 2010 is more positive, firms will remain apprehensive of a rising cost base as output increases, in fear of the touted ‘double dip’ in the economy. This will take the adoption of Cloud Computing-based technologies to critical mass as firms strategically resort to embracing the hosted model, including digital dictation-based instructional messaging solutions. Consuming such solutions from mobile devices will be the logical option, given the growing prevalence of Smartphones in the legal sector. Because these solutions can instantly enhance firms’ agility and response times to business situations, it will represent an easy win towards their drive for productivity and efficiency, not to mention the high rate of return on investment. The capital investment in hosted digital dictation solutions is practically negligible, which makes it an attractive option as cashflow control remains a priority for the foreseeable future for most law firms.

From David McNamara, Managing Director, Solicitors Own Software:


More mergers. More virtual firms. More outsourced IT


Mergers are set to rise as law firms seek efficiency through economies of scale, encourage external investment and plan succession. The recession has kick-started streamlined operations but consolidation with others may be the only road to survival for many. 

We’ll see a lot more of a new kind of start-up as entrepreneurial lawyers shun the high overheads of a traditional bricks and mortar practice in favour of the virtual firm, built around remote/home workers. 

Finally outsourced IT in all its guises – cloud computing, outsourced infrastructure, support and pay-as-you-go software rental – will gain increasing acceptance. 

From Alastair Morrison of Strathclyde University 

In accordance with the ‘prophet of doom’ image which a call for predictions always conjures up in my mind, I decided to voice an easy, obvious but always timely warning: security attacks will increase in number, type and complexity; protect yourselves.
To elaborate and illustrate: renowned security firm Kaspersky claims to be adding 5,000-6,000 records to its malware database every day. Some of the newer and lesser known attack mechanisms include: fake antivirus programs, malware bundled with video codecs, and toolbars with Trojan functionality. We are already seeing ‘the cloud’ being employed by the villains. For example, a program using Google’s AppEngine has recently been used to control a botnet.
Beyond the technology itself, the ‘threat landscape’ has, in the past few years, seen the arrival of organised crime. Attacks from that quarter are likely to be stealthier, more focused and more damaging than traditional internet ‘vandalism’. There is a lucrative underground economy dealing in stolen information and compromised machines, and perhaps the most worrying aspect of the arrival of professional criminals is that their sophistication is such that you might never know that you have been hit! 

What can you do? There is plenty of security software around, including much that is free, and even cloud based. Take the time to select and deploy it.

From Sandra Potter and Phil Farrelly of Potter Farrelly & Associates: 

There will be a continued push to fixed cost services and this will put pressure on the firms to measure their inputs and productivity at the microscopic level – tools that assist in this area will become the ‘must have’ products of 2010. Gadgets will reign supreme however and we will see the iPhone take over from the BlackBerry as the lawyer phone of choice.  Coupled with hosted systems, digital pens (with audio recording functions), video conferencing and device independent  computing, the iPhone will be the office in your pocket.

From James Tuke, Head of Research at Intendance:

With money for web projects still tight and diminished marketing/web teams feeling the strain, after a year of online activities being largely restricted to a ‘housekeeping’ level I don’t expect to see much more significant activity in the first half of next year. A lot depends on how bullish partners feel come the new financial year, but there appears to be a real intent to invest more in ‘online’ during the second half of 2010 and make up some ground.

The hot topics will continue to be search marketing and social media, and the use of mobile technology, enabling lawyers to develop closer relationships with stakeholders and to adopt more flexible working practices.

To plug gaps in reduced teams and to help manage overhead, outsourcing is an increasingly attractive option for many firms and I am certain conversations on this topic will build next year. With this goes the expectation of a holistic service from their suppliers to help streamline online communications activities.

On the web design front, bolder concepts are making a come back as a way of standing out from the glut of blander professional services web offerings. Minimal designs that were created at the behest of good usability will start being ‘dressed up’ and added to as firms realise that you can have both good usability and eye-catching designs.

On the technology front, the line between the Internet and the desktop is becoming increasingly blurred, as software is seamlessly accessed via SaaS and the commoditising of cloud computing. It will be interesting to see how the offline versions of plug-ins (such as Adobe AIR and MS Silverlight) develop. Google is helping with Google Gears and the W3C is soon going to decide on the specification for HTML5, both of which enable off-line working.

Intendance celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2010, so here’s to it being a vintage year.