From the outset, I would like to clarify that "the legal profession" consists of different categories. I am active as a business lawyer. Hence, in this article, I speak from a business lawyer's point of view only. I assume that lawyers from other fields of law (for example, the "litigators", who do a lot of court work) may have a different input.
There have been numerous rumors about the different hypes and tech revolutions in the legal sector for the last couple of years, such as AI in due diligence work (document review), "smart contracts" for contract drafting, and so on. However, in reality, the evolution is rather slow, and in my opinion, no faster than the tech evolutions in the broader market or other sectors. Some of the most significant developments of the past year within our firm are related to electronic invoicing and the switch to the video-call environment as an alternative to meetings and conference calls. Of course, this does not only apply to the legal sector. We have come across several platforms for video calls, including Starleaf, Zoom, Webex, and MS Teams. MS Teams is by far my favorite, as it is the most performant and well-established one out there.
The majority of IT investments tends to have a substantial cost. Therefore, smaller law firms are usually unable to invest in more sophisticated IT developments, unless forces are combined. Often, there is also an insufficient IT vision within law firms. By this, I mean a vision in which the wishes in the short-medium- and long-term are first determined and in which all subsequent IT actions (including investments and training) contribute one-on-one to the process of achieving that vision. One often sees different systems that overlap, are not compatible, require a different approach each time, and all exist fragmentarily side by side. Many have long pondered the "buy or build" choice and have not made any progress yet.
"In reality, the evolution is rather slow, and no faster than
the tech evolutions in the broader market"
As requested, I will now set out my wishlist of the legal sector's top desired tech products and developments. Again, this is based purely on my vision and preference in terms of (business) law.
- We are modern "nomads," i.e. we must strive for mobility and be able to work and be reached from any location (be it at one of our offices, at home, at the client’s premises, in a co-working space,...). Tech-wise, this means that ultimately everything should be cloud-based so that it is available from any location. Important here is that we always maintain the same look and feel in terms of IT environment, so that the mental energy goes to the content of the file and is not lost getting used to another IT environment. The MS 365 package has encouraged this with OneDrive. Nowadays, we keep most of our files electronically as much as possible. In order to do this, we use Dlex (a program by Kluwer) that will shortly enter the cloud. We continuously also examine alternatives such as Lawcloud. In addition, we try to organize our library and know-how electronically as much as possible via the Knowliah database.
- We have to be able to switch very quickly and adapt in such a way that our added value is maximized. Certain portions of work (which are then called "commodities") can also be done by others or be facilitated by software. I am thinking for example of the corporate housekeeping, group reorganisations and internal share transfers. Here too, we have already prospected some providers (such as Corporify and Clausebase), and we are still canvassing other providers. Part of the job should be almost fully automated. Examples are preparing an invoice, drafting certain standard contracts and other documents based on templates, generating classic audit letters, keeping the resumes of the various lawyers up-to-date, and so on. Subsequently, we could spend more time on our core business and make a difference there. In my practice, these are the complex share transfers and negotiations, the legal due diligence, the writing of tailor-made contracts to understand the economics of the deal properly, etc. We are currently in dialogue with Henchman.io to see what they can do for us in this regard, and it looks promising.
"If I receive an incoming call from a client, the relevant file should open automatically, with a timer starting"
- There must be transparency. A client platform on which clients and third parties can log in, with different tools, access and manipulation levels per user, can contribute to this. You could then transparently share certain information about the file through the platform, and for example, the status of invoices. This would also drastically reduce the number of emails we send back-and-forth every day.
- We must unburden our colleagues and take away operational matters that require too much of their time. Many lawyers are not dactyls and thus switch to dictating texts via Philips Speechlive. For them, this is very efficient, but it often requires a lot of time from staff members who have to type out those texts manually. Sufficiently performing speech software could make a difference here. Some of us are presently testing the built-in features of the MS 365 package.
- We must deliver clear and understandable output. Memos must be clear and to the point, with a substantiated analysis and risk assessment. In doing so, we must try not only to put things into text, but to present them structured, visually and with a dynamic lay-out (for example, schematic representations of an analysis, including a visual decision tree or mind map, etc). Specialized software can be an essential tool in this, such as MS Visio.
The ultimate goal would be to have all those systems integrated with each other. Not only in terms of look and feel (to reduce adaptation time) but also operationally. If I receive an incoming call from a client, for example, the relevant file should open automatically, with a timer starting, and all the relevant documents and billing status displayed without a hitch.
I would like to finish with another personal desired tool: a platform that collects all incoming and outgoing communication would be a real game-changer. Today, communication flows through different channels such as professional e-mail addresses, private e-mails, Whatsapp, text messages, messenger, Teams' chat function, LinkedIn chat, and so forth. This can be rather distracting and time-consuming, as you constantly have to keep an eye on a variety of platforms. Often, I do remember receiving a message, but it takes me a while to remember through which channel someone tried to reach me.