[ Note: This is another in a continuing series in which I am reposting some of my original drafts of published articles.]
I wrote this article earlier this year for the ALA’s Legal Management Magazine. It’s a short report on my trip to the 2006 LegalTech New York conference. It takes the point of view of the legal administrator and highlights some key trends and developments in legal technology that would especially interest legal administrators. There are a few insights in the article for lawyers and legal tech vendors as well. Enjoy.
The Growing Role for Legal Administrators in Legal Technology – A Report from LegalTech New York 2006
The annual LegalTech New York conference has been unveiling new products, services and trends in legal technology for the last twenty-five years. The 2006 event was a well-attended, even crowded, gathering of more than three hundred exhibitors and thousands of attendees.
There are many lessons that legal administrators can draw from this event. The biggest one may be that IT decisions in law firms will have an increasing impact on legal administrators. This article will give you some of the highlights and stress some of the trends and developments you need to know to help you do your job better.
1. Electronic Discovery Everywhere. By some counts, there are around five thousand vendors today who describe themselves as being in the electronic discovery business. Perhaps one hundred of them exhibited at LegalTech. There is no area of legal technology that is likely to have a bigger impact on law firms in 2006 than electronic discovery will have.
Although electronic discovery may seem to be the realm of your IT and litigation departments, it will have serious implications for legal administrators.
First, sorting through electronic discovery vendors is no easy task. Expect to see vendor research projects, request for proposal (RFP) processes and tech committee or management committee involvement in electronic discovery decisions.
Second, the electronic discovery process is becoming so complicated that it is inevitable that outside vendors, consultants and other providers will be involved in the process. From readjusting budgets to simply handling requests for identification badges for outside providers coming to your office, watch for the impact of electronic discovery on your day-to-day work.
Third, even firms that have had little experience with electronic discovery may be forced into action this year. Watch for staffing changes and the introduction of new positions for employees who focus on electronic discovery and litigation technology issues. Keep an eye on the growing trend of firms hiring litigation support managers.
Fourth, look for some of the techniques and requirements learned in electronic discovery to flow over into law firm administration – email management and policies, archiving and related issues.
2. Security and Disaster Recovery Issues Did Not Go Away. Concern about security and disaster recovery seems to ebb and flow. The 2005 hurricanes brought disaster recovery to the forefront and moved security concerns to the back burner. As time passes, we see security concerns getting more attention. However, neither issue ever goes away.
At LegalTech, you could find both sessions and vendors focused on these issues. A trend to watch is a growing sense that handling security and disaster recovery internally may no longer be realistic. Law firms in New Orleans, for example, learned about the value of keeping data and backup systems in another part of the country. Some firms report that their IT departments are spending more than half of their time on security issues, leaving limited time for new projects.
Legal administrators are invariably involved in both of these issues. Expect a bigger role for outside vendors in both of these areas. One interesting product/service to watch is Network Box (www.network-box.com), which allows you to get state-of-the-art security outsourcing for a reasonable monthly fee.
3. It’s a PDF World. PDF is becoming the standard format for electronic filing, scanning and electronic discovery. Recent stories about embarrassing revelations of “metadata” (hidden data associated with Microsoft Word and other files) have also focused attention on PDF as the preferred way to send documents outside firms without the same metadata concerns.
Many firms think of PDF only in terms of creating and reading PDF files. Adobe Acrobat 7 (www.adobe.com) provides a wealth of other tools – security, collaboration, search and document management. Some legal programs, such as CaseMap (www.casesoft.com), let you integrate seamlessly with Adobe Acrobat and create PDF files as well.
Use of the PDF format makes sense in the area of dealing with metadata. Litera’s Change-Pro (www.litera.com) is a suite of tools to help you work with PDFs and handle metadata.
PDF makes sense in many areas of law firm administration, especially external communications and for any documents that the recipients should not edit.
4. Outsourcing Becomes an Option in Almost Every Technology Decision. The sheer number of vendors and options can be overwhelming. It raises questions that many law firms are beginning to ask: what is our core business and do we need to handle every technology function inside the firm?
From evaluating products and services to hiring qualified people, the technology questions inside law firms are getting more difficult. Add in the pressure from clients wanting firms to provide technologies like extranets and we see technology issues moving outside the IT department and into management committees and the realm of legal administrators.
In even the most basic technologies, you will find in a law firm, you could see vendors at LegalTech that will provide the same services on an outsourcing basis. For example, companies like Pitney Bowes (www.pb.com), Merrill (www.merrillcorp.com) and others, will provide a variety of services, including handling your entire mailroom function.
5. Document Assembly in Nontraditional Ways. Some technologies shown at LegalTech may make sense for uses beyond what lawyers have traditionally considered.
Consider the example of document assembly. In a document assembly application, a user simply answers a series of questions on the computer screen and, as if by magic, the software generates a custom document based on the answers. Most law firms see it as a way to general legal documents.
However, with today’s tools from companies like Ixio (www.ixio.com), Microsystems (www.microsystems.com), (www.exari.com) and DealBuilder (http://www.business-integrity.com/document-assembly.html), you might generate many of your standard administrative and other documents with these tools, saving time and effort and generating tailored documents. If you want to explore one technology for yourself in 2006, document assembly would be the one I would suggest.
Of the thousands of people at LegalTech, lawyers made up only a small percentage. With so much happening in legal technology, especially in the area of electronic discovery, you will want to focus on more training for lawyers and getting some of them out from behind their desks to investigate and make decisions about the technologies that are changing the practice of law and the way law firms work. The time is right for legal administrators to play an even bigger part in the legal technology process. This article will give you a few places to get started.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
Learn more about legal technology at Dennis Kennedy’s Legal Technology Central page.
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