Predictions 2016: Joanna Goodman

December 14, 2015

{b}The legal IT challenge for 2016: Risk vs Innovation{/b}

Tom Coates wrote: ‘Those things happening now that you don’t know about that will have huge impacts in five years’ time are the actual problems with prediction’. I agree. Back to the Future II failed to predict the smartphone – and there were hand-held mobile phones in 1989! So I will attempt to look into the near future with some predictions for 2016. The biggest business challenge will be global political instability. This will prompt further consolidation, including law firm mergers, to address actual and potential limitations on the movement of people and data.

{i}1. Legal IT will truly move to the cloud.{/i}

Cloud-based document management systems (DMS) support agile working. 2016 will see offerings from mainstream vendors Microsoft (Matter Center), Thomson Reuters Elite and Lexis Nexis. These developments, along with cloud-based secure document sharing and collaboration platforms, have been driven by competition from Alternative Business Structures (ABSs) whose technology-based offerings have impressed some of the largest corporations sufficiently to win their business over traditional law firms.

{i}2. Lonald the laptop. AI becomes mainstream{/i}

What I got right! Last year, I referred to an opinion piece by BLP’s Matt Whalley on using artificial intelligence (AI) for robotic process automation (RPA). This year, working with RAVN, BLP introduced AI to process automation in the form of an artificial intelligence engine that they have named Lonald. I was quite excited by the prospect of meeting the first legal IT robot. But Lonald was a laptop. Later in 2015, Thomson Reuters started working with IBM Watson and Lexis Nexis purchased Lex Machina as AI hit the legal IT mainstream. In 2016, AI in legal will move beyond keynote presentations, books by popular ‘futurists’ and media scaremongering about whether/when robots will (actively?) ‘take our jobs’ as last year’s cutting edge becomes next year’s new normal.

{i}3. Big data disrupts eDiscovery{/i}

I predicted last year that big data would threaten the eDiscovery market by reducing the time and cost of technology assisted review. This did not happen, but (the movement of) big data has disrupted eDiscovery in a different way. The Safe Harbor judgment triggered several transatlantic acquisitions by US eDiscovery vendors looking to continue doing business in Europe. Obviously these developments will affect the eDiscovery market as data transfer between jurisdictions becomes more challenging.

{i}4. The legal IT challenge for 2016: Risk vs Innovation{/i}

Although ABSs have established their position in the legal services market, they have also demonstrated that the legal sector is not a safe investment, as exemplified by the dismantling of Parabis Group. 2015 saw a boom in legal IT start-ups, but my prediction is that only a handful of these will thrive in 2016 and we shall see a lot of failures as political and economic instability leads to caution among investors and (even more caution) among legal IT decision-makers when it comes to selecting products.

Although law firms’ technology budgets are bigger than ever before, data breaches, cyber attacks and political and economic crises have focused attention on data security and business risk. The prospect of further market liberalisation (in the UK) and continuing law firm merger activity (which is obviously not good news for heads of business support functions), together with a sharp focus on margins, mean that decision-makers will be more likely to entrust their massive IT budgets to tried and tested suppliers they consider a ‘safe bet’ rather than taking a risk (with the firm’s numbers and their own careers) on an innovative start-up.

Cloud computing and AI no longer represent ‘innovation’ or ‘disruptive technology’ in legal, so the futurists will have to build another bandwagon. I expect they will manage that in 2016.

{b}Joanna Goodman MBA, freelance journalist and technology columnist for the Law Society Gazette and The Guardian.
©Joanna Goodman 2015{/b}