Predictions 2015: IT and Legal Practice

December 31, 2014

From Charles Christian, Editor-in-Chief, Legal IT Insider: 

Clearly my credibility as a ‘futurist’ (well at least I’m not calling myself a ‘rockstar futurist ninja’ which would be the norm on social media) credentials were almost terminally damaged last year by my failing to predict my heart attack and become a member of the ‘Zipper Club’ but, thanks to the miracles of modern medicine, I’m still standing so here we go for 2015…   

A lot of what we’ll be seeing on the purely techie front is merely a continuation of trends we’ve been already seeing over the past couple of years – Cloud, BYOD, etc – however one aspect I do believe will become much more important is the Consumerisation of the User Interface/User Experience. Thanks to apps, computer users are now familiar with the ease-of-use of consumer software and are now starting to ask how come their expensive legal software applications are so clunky and require days of training whereas free consumer apps require no training whatsoever. I’m guessing most readers are familiar with Facebook – did you need a three-day training course before you could use it? Of course not, so if you already know your legal processes, why should you also need training to use the software designed to help you manage those legal processes? The interface and user experience should be just as intuitive as can be delivered by consumer software. And if it isn’t, the vendor needs to make it so! 

On a more general point, I see 2015 as being the year when the English Law Society starts to slip into terminal decline. If ever there was an organisation desperately in search ofr a new role and justification for its existence, it is the Law Soc. For example, its once admirable IT initiatives for members now appear to be little more than poorly thought out money generating exercises. Will the last person to leave Chancery Lane please turn out the lights! 

From Andrew Haslam of Allvision, one of the UK’s leading independent eDisclosure consultants: 

For me, producing these predictions has become as much part of the Christmas build-up as the appearance of the various TV adverts as they all seem to happen at the same time each year. I can’t promise you penguins, football on the Western Front or even two M&S fairies, but hopefully I can give you something that will last a little longer than a Taiwanese produced plastic Christmas cracker novelty.

First, the quick review of last year’s offerings. The ‘tip of the iceberg’ that is Precedent H continues to be the most visible of the many pressures that are forcing lawyers into a more formal Legal Project Management approach. Lawyers are being dragged (kicking and screaming) into the world of initial work templates; leading on to estimates, monitoring budgets and analysis of the end costs and feeding back around into the templates. All firms, not just ‘big law’, are revising the way they work and thus evolving their very DNA. Expect more of the same as these approaches become the new norm.

What else for the forthcoming year?

My outside bet is the emergence of true Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications into the UK legal marketplace. It’s been three years since IBM’s Watson software beat the top two human champions at the US game show Jeopardy, since then the hardware has shrunk from the size of a small room to three pizza boxes and the software has got 95 times faster. Several large law firms are in discussions with IBM about how to use the application. I think there will be a Watson legal assistant running by the end of the year.

I was involved in the next one, so I know that there will be a new iteration of the TCC eDisclosure protocol with (extensively increased) guidelines appearing on 1 January. My prediction is that this best practice approach to exchanging ESI will be more widely adopted outside the TCC. There will also be much more interest in the mechanics of eDisclosure with training being provided and taken up across a much wider spectrum of law firms.

And, of course, England will win the Rugby World Cup. Well, you have to have one wild speculation in there, don’t you.

A prediction from the IT operations front-line

From Jan DeCerce, Director of IT and Operations at Lewis Silkin

I believe that everyone now has a good understanding of what the cloud really means – and I predict the cloud based document management vendors will be making a clean sweep. The sea-change has already started with Microsoft’s legal offering and NetDocuments; where do they think all the emails with attachments go after all?  It’s been emperor’s new clothes for a long time for the incumbents – they’ve been raking in the maintenance for years and I reckon they’re already looking for other wares to sell.   There are some really cool document assembly ideas floating around which are cloud-based too – I predict there’ll be a mighty shift from install to offsite this year.   

From Joe Reevy BA MSc FCA CTA MAE, Director, Best Practice Online Ltd: 

I think anyone who didn’t predict an acceleration of two trends would be a brave person: the rise and rise of the Cloud and the continuing integration of different pieces of software. 

As more and more great technology is found on the Cloud, I feel we are not very far away from seeing firms that do not have a credible cloud offering starting to lose significant market share. There are several interesting new cloud-based products for lawyers (LEAP and Clio spring to mind in PMS) we have come across recently as well as masses of potentially useful but not market-specific tools. 

The continued integration of great products which add their functionality to one another has brought us almost all our ‘Oh Wow!’ moments in 2014 and our own development plans and recent past developments are largely the integration of other exciting technologies with ours. Of course, all our own new build software is Cloud-resident. 

In this environment, the issue of data security will loom ever larger as may the importance of having top-quality robustness in the Cloud server farms used. In that context, I think 2015 may be a year in which firms take their web security more seriously. I am constantly concerned by the lack of awareness of security issues relating to (and incorporated in) social media, use of Wi-Fi hotspots and web management platforms in particular.  

On a non-technical front, I suspect that more serious users of the web will become increasingly bored with it: the continued reduction in the quality of the material one finds and the increasing commercialisation of web searches – especially using Google (an application I use less and less) – is very frustrating. 

This may create an exploitable niche for a new sort of search engine – paid for by the searchers, not those who want to promote their offerings. That is really more of a hope than an expectation.   

From Joanna Goodman MBA, Writer and columnist for publications and websites including the Law Society Gazette, Legal Business and Legal IT Professionals. Editor of Legal IT Today:

I feel quite good about my predictions last year, notably on big data, voice and video, data privacy, cybersecurity and mobile apps – I’m still waiting on my smart watches prediction though!

Not the robots we were looking for!

Robots – these have been mentioned in numerous futurist conference keynotes. There were scary predictions – fee-earners would be replaced by robot lawyers, wearable technology would evolve to a point where we were effectively half-human and half-robot, and ultimately we’d all upload our brains/consciousness into robots and become immortal! I checked my new smartphone and wondered about built-in obsolescence and the cost-benefit of maintaining an exponentially increasing number of human ancestors decanted into legacy hardware. It turns out the futurists were only partly right: from a business perspective, rather than applying technology to the human condition, it’s about humanising technology to automate routine tasks that also involve a judgement element.  This also applies to wearable technology – humanising is about making it genuinely wearable – or fun, hence the popularity of GoPro wearable cameras.

In 2014, process automation became more sophisticated. In the latest issue of Legal IT Today  I published an opinion piece by BLP’s Matt Whalley about robotic process automation (RPA) in which he describes socio-technically designed (ie humanised) automated workflow processing new customer applications. It doesn’t require too big a leap of faith to apply these technologies to legal process automation such as conflict checks, billing issues and even contract negotiations by combining workflow technology, artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics – i.e. applying AI to unstructured data by applying previous experience to future situations.

This is not as fanciful as robot lawyers: it’s about blending cutting-edge technology with historic data to boost productivity and revolutionise the back office.

Personalised apps

Last year it was all about building apps. Now that mobile working is the norm and nearly all firms have a mobile app, the challenge is to personalise client communication in a way that hopefully differentiates the firm from the competition, bringing it closer to its clients and developing new business – and thereby boosting the return on its IT investment. This came to the fore recently when one of Lord Sugar’s apprentices (who was fired) said that her business idea was to develop a client app for law firms. Stephens Scown in Cornwall is one of the firms that have already done this. I expect we shall see a surge in personalised client apps for various devices in 2015. But once everyone is doing it, will it still be a differentiator?

Big data disrupting eDiscovery

Finally, it may not happen in 2015, but I envisage big data threatening one of the most lucrative elements of legal IT: eDiscovery. I have been to numerous conferences and trade shows dominated by eDiscovery vendors that use predictive coding, technology assisted review etc to analyse large volumes of data. I have also written about big data analytics, which apply algorithms to large volumes of unstructured data to identify and predict patterns of behaviour. I’m wondering how long it will take to apply/adapt big data analytics, AI and even RPA to eDiscovery and significantly reduce litigation costs.

The latter predictions are ©Joanna Goodman 2014