[NOTE: This is another in the series of repostings of my previously-published articles. As you may know, I have a long tradition of writing an annual legal technology predictions article. I was gazing into the legal tech crystal ball recently and came a way with a bit of a sense of pessimism and a large sense of deja vu. I mentioned this to some of my legal tech buddies. They quizzed me a bit and I mentioned that 2006 in legal technology reminded me a lot of the year 2000 in legal technology. I dug out my predictions article for 2000 and quickly realized why I had that feeling. I'm finding that writing these predictions articles increasing involves a balancing between developments that really interest me, such as Web 2.0, and developments which are likely to happen in the use of technology by lawyers. With that in mind, I'm republishing my predictions article for 2000 without any changes. You'll seem some of my common themes and I'll let you judge how accurate my predictions were – some wags might say that certainly many law firms have had much financial success ignoring my predictions. The article may be especially interesting to those who contend that the legal profession are "slow adopters" of technology.]
A Legal Technology Agenda for 2000
Assuming you have put the aftermath of the Year 2000 Problem behind you, 2000 will be a year in which you will find that your clients more so than innovations in technology will dictate changes in the way you practice. In 2000, it will be more a question of implementing existing technologies well rather than preparing for strikingly new technologies. It will be a year of great opportunity for lawyers and law firms, especially those looking toward the Internet.
Here are twelve items to put on your technology agenda for 2000:
1. How Will You Do Windows? Lawyers live largely in a Windows world. You may hear a lot about Linux, Macintosh and other alternatives, but most legal applications are Windows applications.
The biggest technology release of 2000 will be Windows 2000, Microsoft’s much ballyhooed and much delayed successor to Windows NT 4.0. A major new version of Windows is big news in any year, but Windows 2000 is the proverbial 800 pound gorilla – much of your thinking about upgrades and new systems will be a reaction to Windows 2000.
Microsoft clearly wants business users to move to Windows 2000, which it sees as the next generation in operating systems. Expect to see availability and support for Windows NT and Windows 98 dwindle as the year proceeds.
You may still conclude that you will stay with Windows 98 or NT for the foreseeable future, but you have to look at Windows 2000 and understand the reasons for choosing it or not choosing it. Your thinking, unfortunately, will be further complicated by the Microsoft antitrust case. Although there’s always a reluctance to move to the first release of any software, it’s hard to imagine a more thoroughly tested product than Windows 2000. There’s a feeling of inevitability about Windows 2000.
2. An Explosion of Non-PC Options. How much longer PCs will be the "computers" of choice? Some predict that as early as 2001 the number of "information appliances" purchased, such as Palm computing devices, "smart phones" and the like, will surpass the number of PCs purchased. We soon will be seeing the decline of the PC.
Information appliances focus on a limited number of specific tasks (calendaring, e-mail, paging, web access) and are generally portable in a meaningful way. They tend to be "instant on" (no waiting to boot your PC) and extend the reach of your office computer in user friendly ways. The cost is more likely to be a few hundred dollars rather than the few thousand dollars you might spend for a PC.
While Palm computing devices are the hot items in this category and the new Visors from Handspring have gotten a lot of attention, watch this year for e-mail appliances, web pads that allow you to browse the Internet, wireless devices and other specific-purpose devices. These devices are tailor-made for the ways many lawyers work and may improve your productivity while trimming your technology costs.
3. A Move Toward Knowledge Management. Knowledge management gets a lot attention these days. From simple efforts to make earlier work available to reduce the need to "reinvent the wheel" to more elaborate efforts to capture and exploit the accumulated "wisdom" inside your firm, innovations in knowledge management continue to grow.
Knowledge management really means finding ways to move beyond simply processing data or managing information to unlocking the "knowledge" in your firm. You and your firm have a lot of knowledge – methods, people to talk to get things done, strategies. Typically this knowledge is in the head of only one person. The result can be inefficiencies and duplication of effort when someone doesn’t know the right person to ask, can’t find a file that shows how something was done in another case or can’t locate a research memo on the same topic.
Firms and software companies have put a lot of effort into "unlocking" this knowledge and finding ways to make it sharable and more usable. In larger firms, attorneys use intranets, Lotus Notes applications and databases. In smaller firms, attorneys use case management packages, litigation database programs and simpler databases.
Law firms have been slow on the draw in this area, especially when compared to the massive efforts of the Big 5 accounting firms and other professional service firms. In part this slowness is because knowledge management is usually cast as a highly invasive, retooling of a practice. The better approach is to pick discrete areas in which to experiment, focus your efforts where they may bring the best results, limit the scope of projects, and try to measure your success.
Here’s a move toward knowledge management for trial lawyers that everyone can afford: (CaseMap). CaseMap costs less than US$500 and this powerful software allows you to capture the knowledge you have about a case, categorize and rate your evidence, see patterns in evidence, analyze evidence and even share results with others on a team. I’m a big fan of CaseMap. Another development to watch in this area is Microsoft’s Digital Dashboard initiative, which turns Outlook into the primary means of access to a variety of information you use on a regular basis.
4. Security Is No Longer Just a Blanket. Over the past year or so, hackers and virus creators have made the world much more dangerous for computer users. Your computers and your networks have become increasingly vulnerable to attack from a variety of sources.
While you might expect lawyers, with their concern for confidentiality, to be in the forefront of computer security, the sad story is that many law firms keep information on systems that are shockingly vulnerable and commonly allow practices that make virus infection all but inevitable.
The security issues with Microsoft products alone dictate a policy of installing a regular set of upgrades, patches and industrial strength security and virus protection. Even the most secure networks are vulnerable because firms allow easy-to-break passwords. Hacking "tools" and scripts are readily available on the Internet to assist even the novice hacker.
Simply put, you must get security issues onto your technology agenda. The program to watch in this area: BlackICE. You will also want to add Stuart McClure and Joel Scambray’s weekly Security Watch column in InfoWorld to your regular reading list.
5. Web Presence Matters. More than ever, law firms must have a professional web site. While many law firms now have web sites, it is time to move these sites to a second generation and use the sites to provide real value.
Current Internet usage statistics show that today’s user is not the stereotypical 15-year-old, but a member of a demographic group that should be attractive to almost all lawyers. A surprising number of people look for lawyers on the Internet and if you don’t have a site or if you have an amateurish site, you will not get these clients.
People are developing Internet expectations and a professional web presence is one of those expectations. Take a hard look at your web site and compare what it does to what you want it to accomplish. A major revision is probably in order.
6. There’s Gold In Your Networks. It’s not what you know but who you know, right? Most of us do not do a good job of capturing or mining the information we have about contacts. Address books get out of date. We have a collection of business cards of people who we no longer remember. We can’t remember our last conversation with a client, her birthday, names of children, et al.
It’s not only embarrassing, but it hampers our practice. Programs like ACT!, GoldMine, Outlook, TimeMatters, Amicus and others all provide "contact management" options. In a sense, this is a subcategory of knowledge management. Contact management turbocharges your address book. You can keep expanded types of data on a contact and, most important, keep historical data. And you can pull useful information out of your contacts.
Such as: contacts most responsible for referrals, clients with wills over two years old, prospects who are basketball fans for the extra tickets you have, the names of art appraisers you’ve used in the past. You get the idea. Some programs can work with caller ID and even pop up the caller’s information as you are picking up the phone.
7. Expand Your Network with E-mail Discussion Lists. One of the great Internet phenomena we’ve seen is the development of e-mail discussion lists. For virtually any topic you can think of there is a discussion list.
They work like this: You "subscribe" by e-mail to a list. You receive a copy of every e-mail sent to the list manager. Copies of any e-mail you send to the list manager are sent to everyone on the list. This mechanism produces an ongoing and wide-ranging discussion.
Why are they so useful? Many times, the leading lights in a field are regular participants. People tend to share a lot of practical knowledge. It is rare to see a question that goes unanswered. You can make friends all around the word. And, there is no better way to learn about new developments. Start at TileNet (http://www.tile.net) to find lists that appeal to you.
8. Taming the E-mail Tiger. Many attorneys have seen great benefits from using e-mail and clients increasingly want to contact attorneys by e-mail. E-mail, however, raises many important management issues. How long do you store e-mail messages? Must you protect messages to clients with encryption techniques? How do you ensure that an e-mail with important information is integrated into a client’s file? How do attorneys manage growing numbers of messages? You will want to implement management solutions well before you and your attorneys are run over by the volume of e-mail they face.
9. Computers Continue Their March into the Courtroom. One clear trend in legal technology is the march of computers into the courtroom. Litigation technology includes real-time transcription, litigation databases, trial management and trial presentation. Projectors and large monitors are becoming more common in trials. This technology can dramatically level the playing field for small firms and solos against much larger firms. Expect to see continued explosive growth in this area. From video depositions to PowerPoint slides to digital cameras, trial lawyers are seeing the benefits of using technology to present cases to jurors (and judges) who are part of the TV generation. Litigators ignore developments here at their peril.
10. Collaboration Counts. Intranets allow you to turn all the information contained in your firm into a giant, private web site. All that information can then become easily accessible to other members of the firm. While intranets offer a great way to share information of all types within a firm, extranets allow you to create a private web site for a client that the client can reach over the Internet and see work in progress, billing information and other information that can enhance the client relationship and offer novel ways to work together more closely and more cheaply. Clients are starting to put pressure on firms to create extranets or to implement other collaborative software (sometimes called "groupware") such as Lotus Notes.
Extranets are becoming popular as a way for co-counsel to collaborate on complex, far-flung litigation matters like tobacco or other mass tort cases. By going to a secure, private site on the Internet, co-counsel can share information, discuss cases, work jointly on projects or documents and stay up-to-date on case developments. Other firms, large and small, are starting to use extranets for clients who want access to drafts of documents, billing information and the like. Extranets have potential to both aid in collaboration and to help save money – a dynamite combination.
11. Browser Interfaces Become Ubiquitous. A hot new Internet topic is "web-enabled" technology. In essence, this means that you can access programs and underlying information using only an Internet browser (Microsoft’s Internet Explorer or Netscape’s Navigator). For example, many firms now give attorneys access to e-mail through a secure web site interface. Another example to watch: the application Service providers (ASPs) such as the Serengeti project (http://www.serengetilaw.com), which plans to provide a web interface to high-powered legal software applications that are hosted by a third party rather than at your firm. Expect to see even more of this trend, including in bread-and-butter applications like document management. The benefits: reduced training time and ability to access information from almost any computer.
12. Training Takes A Front Seat. Most law firms I know tend to skimp when it comes to training. This approach can be short-sighted and foolish. Excellent training can bring you excellent results. As you consider your technology agenda for 2000, think hard about dramatically increasing your training budget and focusing on how to make that training more effective. Consider a variety of training options and remember that lawyers who refuse to participate in training can generate substantial support and other costs.
Bonus Point. Try Something New that Can Revolutionize Your Practice. There are a lot of great new technologies available to lawyers. I recommend that you pick one technology that can have a dramatic impact on your practice and invest in it. For litigators: real-time transcription, databases like Summation, trial presentation packages like Trial Director, or a trial strategy program like CaseMap. For lawyers who produce a lot of form documents: document assembly software. For presenters: Powerpoint. For all: getting your practice onto the Web. Best advice: turn your young lawyers loose on some technology projects.
Conclusion. You may notice that I did not mention much hardware and only a few software programs. More important than gee-whiz new hardware in 2000 are the Internet and your attitude toward technology and your motivation to find ways to make technology work for you in your practice.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
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