Lawyers have historically been reluctant to integrate new technologies into their practice. Their hesitancy is understandable, considering that the practice of law is firmly rooted in precedent. However, recent technological developments have created opportunities that law firms would be wise to consider.
In 2018, Georgetown Law published a report on the state of the legal market, bluntly noting that the legal sector’s profitability was on the precipice of a steep decline. In spite of its bleak outlook, the report concluded with the assertion the law firms that adopted work process changes and made better use of innovative technologies had every prospect of doing well. This outlook was echoed in a survey conducted by Wolters Kluwer in 2019, which identified reducing outside legal costs, improving case management, automating routine tasks, and leveraging technology in work processes as the top challenges facing firms today. To that end, 49% of the firms surveyed reported an effective use of technology with an additional 47% reporting planned further integration.
“Legal Tech”, the use of technology and software to support the practice of law, has become central to the future of litigation. In 2018 alone, prospective legal tech firms were the cumulative recipients of $1 billion worth of funding. The value of integrating legal tech into litigation has become so apparent that law firms themselves have joined development race, with Am Law 200 firms like Wilson Sonsini in sourcing and funding the creation of their own legal tech software and platforms. The nexus point for this explosion of investment can be traced back to the digitalization and storage of caselaw, statutes, and regulations; which quickly rendered sprawling legal libraries obsolete.
Even the courts have been swayed by the promise of increased efficiency, as more and more have begun to accommodate “e-filing” and “e-service”, the submission of documents for filing or service via an online portal respectively. E-filing and e-service have been huge timesavers for firms, allowing them to file and serve documents in a substantially cheaper and more reliable fashion.
Online case management software has also been vital in streamlining the litigation process. Thanks to online repositories, every document for any given case can now be one click away for all of the participating attorneys. Some case management systems even include internal linking abilities, allowing lawyers to view referenced, previously presented pieces of evidence or documents instantly; without having to sift through filled banker’s boxes.
As technology has advanced, so has its ability to reduce costs and increase profit margins, and businesses have taken notice. It’s hard to find a business these days that doesn’t have an online footprint or some form of management software, and the legal industry has been no exception. Faced with the reality of declining profitability, firms have begun to ditch their arcane practices in favor of more a streamlined, technologically innovative approach. With investment pouring into the legal tech space, the practice of law is invariably headed for some big structural changes, and now more than ever firms should be hopping on board.