Dennis Kennedy’s Legal Technology Trends for 2007 – Part 4

(Part 4 of a 5-part Series) (Explanation of series)
Seven Legal Technology Trends for 2007 – Widening the Digital Divide in Law Practice
Seven Trends for 2007, Numbers 5 and 6.
What specific trends must lawyers watch in 2007? I suggest that seven trends should be on your radar screen, and the agendas of your technology committee. Here are trends 5 and 6.
Trend #5. Portability Becomes a Priority.
Lawyers live a professional world where they need access to the Internet, their office and other resources on a constant basis, and others need similar access to them. Work is increasingly done from wherever we are, not just in the office. We work at home, on the road, from coffee shops, in conference rooms and other “non-desk” places. Expect to see portability, in its many forms, become a significant factor in every legal technology decision in 2007.
Within this trend, I’ll highlight three sub-trends: (a) the continuing movement toward laptop computers, (b) the possible decline of the Blackberry, and (c) the arrival of encryption in the legal profession.
A. Movement to Laptops.
In law firms, there has been a small trend by IT departments to move lawyers away from laptop computers to desktop computers, which lawyers have resisted. Almost all solo lawyers consider a laptop computer as essential to the way they practice. The prices of laptop computers have dropped dramatically over the past few years. There are also some developments that suggest that, at long last, Tablet PCs may make inroads into the legal profession, but probably not in a significant way until 2008.
The often underestimated value of notebook computers is that they let you take your entire office with you wherever you are.
As WiFi Internet access becomes more ubiquitous, a lawyer with a portable computer can do everything he or she can do in the office from wherever he or she is. You can handle your email, deal with documents, do legal research and even make phone calls with a notebook computer. With files on your notebook or readily accessible from your office, you really can work from anywhere and eliminate the need to go into the office.
Expect to see more lawyers than ever carrying notebook computers, and you will definitely see more Macintosh notebooks being carried by lawyers, especially solo and small firm lawyers in 2007.
B. The Decline of the Blackberry?
You have heard the stories of how attached lawyers get to their Blackberries. I’m going to use the term “Blackberry” here in a generic way to mean a portable device that works as an email pager or combination email pager, phone and PDA.
There are a number of forces at work that suggest to me that we may have seen the high point of Blackberry use by lawyers. First, spam has diminished the utility of email as a communication channel. Second, important emails for lawyers often have important attachments that cannot practically be read on small screens. Third, a notebook computer with WiFi access can do so much more than a Blackberry. Fourth, new cellular access plans really do give you Internet access from anywhere. The list goes on and on.
I don’t expect to see any big move away from Blackberries in 2007. I simply suggest that we have seen the high point in their usage and lawyers will begin to look at other alternatives – that is, devices with a greater range of functionality. Watch for how successful the iPhone launch is this summer to get an indication how this trend will break.
C. Encryption Arrives.
Portability is no panacea. Each development in technology raises its own set of issues. Portable devices of all kinds can get lost, stolen or damaged. Support for portable devices is more difficult than with desktop computers.
Lawyers have not stepped up to the issue of encryption for many years. The old ABA ruling on encryption of email has been interpreted to mean that lawyers do not have to encrypt email or any other data. The times have changed and that position will be re-evaluated in 2007, especially in light of data losses from laptop computers in 2006.
Expect data and drive encryption to become a significant trend in 2007. I’m not sure that we’ll yet see email encryption, but, if you can carry all of your office files with you on a notebook computer or external hard drive, don’t you need to think seriously about encrypting or otherwise securing that data?
The answer is “yes.” Fortunately, a number of tools exist. Some are free. Certain versions of Windows Vista also have encryption tools built into them. I don’t expect lawyers’ use of encryption to become routine in 2007, but it will become much more common, especially if we get a few more headlines about data losses.
Trend #6. The Internet is Back – But It Never Really Left.
Web 2.0. Blogging and podcasting. Software as a Service. Web services. Online tools. Search engines. The Internet is part of the fabric of legal technology. Many lawyers complain not seen much new and exciting about the Internet in the last few years. In my own case, I think much new and exciting is always happening on the Internet.
In 2007, the Internet makes its mainstream comeback as lawyers begin to see and take advantage of Internet tools and opportunities that other businesses have been taking advantage of for the last few years. The Internet never really left, but it will be getting more of our attention.
Within this trend, I’ll highlight three sub-trends: (a) growth of local search, (b) updating your web presence, and (c)
moving to email alternatives.
A. Yellow Pages and Local Search.
Some of the most fascinating statistics I saw last year involved the dramatic decline of the use of yellow pages to find local products and services and the move to search engines to find the same information.
Here’s a story to illustrate the trend. The other day our dryer broke. I went out to where there used to be a laundromat, only to find it was no longer there. I called our thirteen-year-old daughter at home to see if she could find another one for me in the yellow pages. I tried to talk her through where to look in the yellow pages, and she said, “Dad, let me just find one for you on Google.” She did, along with directions via Mapquest.
I suggest that this movement away from the yellow pages (they really are hard to use) will become even more common in 2007.
Given the disproportionate use lawyers make of yellow page ads, lawyers will need to re-evaluate how best to reach their target audience. The answer is increasingly going to be through some form of Internet presence – website, blog or otherwise.
B. Blocking and Tackling – Creating a Helpful Web Presence.
Not much has happened in the world of lawyer websites for many years. In fact, you can read the articles I wrote on the subject in the late 1990s and find that most of the same principles and techniques still apply. Yes, blogs have come into play in some exciting ways, but only a small percentage of lawyers have blogs, although with great impact and results.
The vast majority of lawyers have websites that are dated, unattractive, not regularly maintained, and not especially relevant to their target audience. Law firm websites, as a general rule, also make it difficult to get contact information and other basic information.
In 2007, we will see a somewhat surprising move by law firms to spruce up and revamp their websites in light of the growing role of the Internet in the way people shop for and purchase services. In most cases, we will not be talking about introducing some kind of Web 2.0 presence, rather a focus on the basic blocking and tackling necessary to have an effective website. There will be a great focus on traffic and analysis of numbers on the website. We will see more blogs, podcasts and video on law firm sites, but largely integrated into existing sites, with a greater emphasis on publishing information relevant to the likely audience and with a concern for giving the website a contemporary look and feel.
C. Email Alternatives.
For all I know, email may die in 2007. Depending on what study you read, perhaps 90% of email sent over the Internet is now spam. Add to the that all of the unwanted emails your friends, family and colleagues forward or carbon copy you on and you find that simply finding the email you need to attend to has become a chore. On top of that, spam filters battle to keep up with spammers while, in the process, blocking emails that we want to receive.
Studies now indicate that teenagers really do not use email. They are using instant messages, texting or phone calls. I suggest that this points us to where we are moving.
Expect to see movement to email alternatives, especially for communications where email is not the most effective vehicle. RSS feeds and newsreaders are great alternatives to email newsletters. Instant messaging plays a growing role in business communication, and I’ve found a good number of lawyers who have clients who want to communicate by instant messaging. Blogs, wikis, and collaborative spaces offer attractive alternatives to group discussion and collaboration and are more effective than email. Email is broken and lawyers should be considering appropriate alternatives.
(To be continued in Part 5)
I invite your comments and feedback on this article-in-progress.
[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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