Technology influences not just how the work gets done in law firms and corporate law departments but also the volume and type of work that is being done — as well as how lawyers and legal professionals communicate with one another and their clients. As technology evolves, it presents opportunities for honing our processes, better serving clients and rethinking traditional models — all critical components of moving the legal field forward. Here are three ways technology is changing and benefiting the legal field right now.
Artificial Intelligence and Technology-Assisted Review Streamline Discovery
Artificial intelligence (AI) and technology-assisted review (TAR) have spurred a dramatic shift in discovery protocol. AI software can identify patterns in huge data sets to enable category coding that streamlines document review — reducing the time, effort and number of attorneys required for manual review. Similarly, TAR focuses and expedites the human review process by using keywords and other metadata to identify and tag potentially relevant documents. Firms and legal departments using these technologies can perform a discovery over a shorter window of time and at a lower cost.
As courts in multiple jurisdictions across the U.S. and Europe continue to accept these technologies, law firms and legal departments stand to gain measurable advantages. The court still must approve the use of TAR or AI software, however, and the defense and the plaintiff must agree to its use. In addition, all parties must agree on the search terms that will be used to cull and reduce the size of the data set. Once parties are in agreement, this expedited discovery phase moves forward.
What about the alternative legal services providers (ALSPs) that so often supply the contract lawyers needed for high-volume document review? They are now challenged by reduced demand. Forward-thinking ALSPs are viewing this as an opportunity to expand their legal service offerings in areas of support beyond document review.
Remote-Work Tools Promote Culture of Work-Life Balance
Technology has also contributed to the institution of flex-time, telecommuting and other alternative work arrangements. Equipped with digital risk management solutions that protect information and systems through sophisticated cybersecurity measures, lawyers can now access their firms’ systems to connect with colleagues, clients and put in billable hours from just about anywhere.
This is especially important in terms of millennial lawyers. They simply don’t buy into the “sweatshop” reputation the legal industry has traditionally embraced — of associates’ sacrificing life balance to spend countless hours at the office. Their expectations are very different from those of the partners and principals of traditionally run firms. Firms that recognize the need to fundamentally change their cultures if they want to continue attracting the best and brightest talent are bringing younger generations to the table to discuss these policy issues. The parties are coming together to negotiate a happy medium where they, and the firm as a whole, can survive and thrive. (We work with several firms that make it clear to their associates that they can make partnership while maintaining work-life balance through alternative work schedules.)
An important benefit to law firms and corporate legal departments of this is that they are going to end up with employees who are more process-oriented and have better time management skills. These lawyers recognize that they need to be much more efficient — with their own time as well as in delegating more of their minutiae — to justify their requests for more time off.
Social Media Opens Doors to Broader Communication
Social networking is becoming an indispensable tool for many law practices. LinkedIn, for example, enables confidential recruiting activities as well as opportunities to build professional networks.
Perhaps more important, law firms are leveraging social media as a branding and marketing tool. Many firms are continuing to expand their presence on social platforms, providing a steady flow of content and engaging their employees as brand ambassadors. What are they talking about? Their practice groups. Upcoming conferences and speaking engagements. Cases they’ve won. Causes they support. And more. When this messaging is grounded in policies for what is acceptable and how to best the platforms, the benefits can be phenomenal.