Predictions 2016: Technology and eDisclosure

December 31, 2015

Jan DeCerce, Director of IT and Operations and Lewis Silkin

We’re seeing a pattern of moving away from integrating all our systems with each other – our mantra in law firms has thus far been ‘if you can, integrate it!’.  I see minimal integration going forward. That’s changing and it’s changing because we’re all seeing the benefits (not least of which are financial) of putting our systems in the cloud. And we all know that cloud integration isn’t easy or cost efficient. There will of course be a need for integration (eg a document needs to know which matter it is related to) and so there will be some hybrid solutions available – but largely I see the trend will be away from integration and we’ll work in the way consumers do; specific systems for specific purposes:  I don’t integrate my Doodle with my DropBox and I don’t need to! 

Already this year we’ve put our service desk system and our video conferencing in the cloud, our appraisal and objective system has been in the cloud for a few years and email management and archiving has been there for many years. This trend will simply continue.   We’re now scoping a cloud telephony system.  I said last year that we will see document management systems move away from on premise – and there are a few offerings available so it would be good to hear about the plans of the other main vendors of practice management and client relationship management systems (who cannot continue to rely upon huge expensive on-premise installs). As soon as one of the big players moves the others will have to follow.

And the reader should know that when I say cloud, I mean true cloud – not bunging my servers in the vendor’s datacentre.

Charles Christian, Editor-at-Large, Legal Insider

It’s the UX Stupid

I’d like to pitch the idea that what needs to happen is legal tech vendors start addressing the user experience (UX) of their software. Far too much of it still has a clunky, user-unfriendly interface that looks like something from the early days of Microsoft Windows (which is 30 years ago now) with endless non-intuitive menus. 

Vendors say users would get more benefit and a better RoI from software if they bothered to adequately train on it and upgraded to the latest versions with all the latest functionality. But this is missing the point: if the end-user has the legal practice skills to do their job, then it is not unreasonable for them to expect that any software they run will complement these skills and not require mastery of another set of skills, namely learning how to use the software that is meant to be helping them! As for not upgrading to the latest version, who can blame law firms and legal departments as it will inevitably require more training and rollout issues?

The most widely used application on the planet is Facebook but nobody needs to go on a three-day training course to use it, nor a help-desk for ongoing support! As for upgrades, Facebook roll out revisions approximately once every fortnight but the world doesn’t grind to a halt. Why? Because mobile phone apps and social media-type applications like Facebook and Dropbox focus on the UX so there is no need for training and support. It’s the UX stupid.

Ann Hemming, Implementation Consultant at LexisNexis

2016 will be the year when document automation becomes as integral a part of the legal IT landscape as case management did a few years ago. 

The need to fix costs, increase leverage, reduce risk and improve drafting mean that the case for automation is compelling.  Clients’ expectations are changing and they aren’t prepared to pay for drafting standard documents.  Automation costs and development time have gone down. Tools are now more intuitive and easier to deploy. The big hitters with big budgets are already starting to invest in Artificial Intelligence and this will become more mainstream, but for everyone  building some ‘ intelligence’ into document templates is perfectly possible and allows the document creation tasks to be managed efficiently and, in some cases, shared with clients.

Andrew Haslam from Allvision – one of the UK’s leading independent eDisclosure consultants: 

Last year I was almost right about the way in which lawyers would have to focus more on estimates, budgets and planning, but I didn’t foresee the firestorm of change that the Mitchell and Denton rulings would rain upon the legal profession. There has been a sea-change in how the courts regard the timely provision of disclosure and it’s an easy prediction to say that focus will remain in 2016.

It is also ‘more of the same’ on the adoption of Artificial Intelligence within the legal community. Whilst IBM’s Watson has made tremendous inroads into the legal world by its adoption by a host of organisations from Westlaw, through to NextLaw Labs (the technology arm of Dentons) via ROSS, for me the more significant UK gains are being made by the ‘cognitive technologies’ of RAVN who are using their success at BLP as a springboard into the rest of the market. Gaining Gareth Thomas from Tikit to head their sales force is a tremendous fillip to their credibility. AI is here and will be even more embedded in law by the end of 2016.

What else for the forthcoming year?

The UK’s eDisclosure market will continue to mature, with US firms arriving over here either by acquisitions or start-ups. At least one firm will suffer a catastrophic data breach as the concerted hacking effort that is directed at these organisations finally claims a victim. We might even start to see the emergence of technically minded lawyers proud to call themselves eDisclosure experts.

And England, who ignored last year’s prediction of World Cup glory, will win a Grand Slam in the 6 Nations. Well, one can dream.

Greg Wildisen, International Managing Director at Neota Logic

2016 will see the advent of Smart Apps in law; law firms enabling their clients to self-serve legal questions online. These Smart Apps or Smart Advisors will be deployed by more innovative law firms both to create a better user experience for their clients and to improve internal efficiencies within their firms. There are currently vast opportunities for firms to showcase their innovative expertise to their corporate clients in this area. They will distil rules, logic, expertise and judgement into digital form to drive these Smart Apps, thereby creating the beginning of Algorithmic Law. This will be the start of this digital evolution, with growing understanding of the proposition and wider adoption of the practice.

Deeper education in the area will occur – with progressive universities looking to provide courses teaching technology adoption and Smart App creation. The momentum will continue into 2017 and beyond with stronger competitive forces in play between legal algorithms online. A market-place for legal Smart Apps will appear, likely in the form of a GC Portal on the commercial side and through government and not-for-profit sites on the consumer side.

Exciting times to be involved in Algorithmic Law.

Roy Russell is CEO of Ascertus Limited

Law firms will finally make ‘paper to digital’ a high priority action within their broader business transformation agenda – After years of discussion on the merits of a paper-less office, firms will decisively make ‘paper to digital’ a high priority action item within their larger business transformation programme. This will be driven by business objectives of course, but also by the availability of advanced technology that allows organisations to think innovatively about paper flow processes in their organisation – from creation and maintenance through to destruction and archiving of electronic matter files. The ensuing advantages will be reduced costs and risks associated with retaining paper, better back up measures for electronic and paper files, improved mobility and better collaboration capability, internally and with clients – all cumulatively facilitating better customer service. 

Users will demand enterprise-grade systems to replace the Microsoft Outlook inbox, the accidental collaboration tool– With the email traffic growing incessantly, abetted by other forms of communication via mobile devices and in a variety of formats and file sizes, user frustration will reach a reach tipping point, which will compel them to demand practical and functionally-rich email and document lifecycle management systems for information storage and collaboration. Already due to increased mobile and remote working, strict limits placed by IT departments on the size of the inbox and file transfers, alongside the imposition (and rightly so) of stringent corporate security policies preventing them from using external collaboration tools (eg Dropbox), collaboration across an organisation is greatly hindered.  Even where proprietary, third-party information sharing tools are allowed, these applications are not integrated with the core systems, making seamless, intuitive collaboration and data sharing difficult to achieve. The new and innovative email and document management tools coming onto the market in 2016 will be attractive to law firms and in-house corporate counsel alike. 

Smaller law firms and corporate legal departments will adopt technology systems that were previously considered suitable only for large law – In the last couple of years, lawyer mobility within the industry has increased, and many have moved to smaller law firms, branched out on their own or joined inhouse legal departments. Often, lawyers experience disappointment in their new roles on finding that they don’t have access to the same productivity tools as they did previously. To equip staff with the necessary tools, in 2016 organisations will adopt best of breed technology systems that have long been mistakenly considered suitable only for large law. Rather than purchasing directly from software vendors, they will acquire systems from solutions providers who have expressly developed propositions that reduce the total cost of ownership of technology and reliance on internal IT resources. In addition, these offerings are based on a variety of flexible licensing options including perpetual, annual subscription and software as a service (SaaS). In doing so, these niche solutions providers remove the typical obstacles that prevent smaller firms and legal departments from acquiring best of breed systems.   

Adoption of privately hosted systems will gather momentum – Cloud services providers are well aware of the security concerns of the industry at large, and they are taking measures to address the issues. Microsoft’s recently announced opening of new datacentres in the UK and Germany following the EU Court of Justice’s ruling declaring Safe Harbor inadequate is a case in point. The benefits of cloud technology are irrefutable and, to take advantage, legal sector organisations will begin to adopt the privately hosted model for business applications in 2016 – be it for document management systems in law firms or electronic billing and legal spend management systems in legal departments within corporates. 

App Stores will make inroads in legal – In 2016, the types of commercial models will expand significantly with software as a service, managed services and subscription-based licensing gaining adoption, in some cases replacing the traditional perpetual licensing model. This will drive software providers to offer ‘app store’ like functionality to organisations to allow them to trial and use new applications for free until they can establish the long-term benefits of the solutions to the business.