(Part 5 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, Number 7, Bonus Predictions and Conclusion.
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 trend 7, 7 bonus predictions and some conclusions.
Trend #7. Collaborative Tools and Toolboxes.
Last and by far not the least of my seven big trends for 2007 is the move toward collaborative tools and toolboxes. In our electronic world, people work together, even if separated by geography or other differences. Documents move over the Internet. Documents are shared on the Internet. Collaborations tools have been built into Office 2007, Adobe Acrobat 8 and other standard legal tools.
If you are looking for one trend to explore and take advantage of to set you and your firm apart from the crowd, this is the trend on which I suggest that you focus.
Within this trend, I’ll highlight three sub-trends: (a) the need to learn document collaboration tools, (b) increased conferencing, and (c) the exploration of Web 2.0 tools.
A. Document Tools.
Gone are the days of the typed document or the simple word processor document that is laser-printed and mailed. Today’s documents are electronic. They are shared, and several people often work on the same document. It’s not enough anymore simply to be able to type an edit a document.
Today’s documents might be redlined in a separate program to show changes between drafts or Word’s “track changes” might be used to show how different people revised a document. Documents might include comments, highlighting, or other markup. With my Tablet PC, I can even write comments on a document with electronic ink. I might keep a set of versions of the same document or protect a document so no one else can change it.
Especially for transactional lawyers, there is a new set of skills for document preparation and a whole new set of issues to consider, from designating what is an “original” to determining how electronic signatures work to handling metadata and other hidden data associated with documents. Metadata in documents may reveal revisions, comments and other information about a document. It’s an important issue in electronic discovery and garnered some headlines in 2006 for mistakes made in handling it. Expect more of those mistakes and headlines in 2007. If you want to pick one area to get more training on in 2007, I recommend that you choose these document collaboration features.
B. Let’s Conference.
I sometimes feel that the practice of law is turning into a series of conference calls. If I’m not dialing into a conference call, then someone wants to do a webinar, a Webex meeting or a GoToMyPC demo. Videoconferences are becoming more routine.
Every lawyer deals with an increasing number of people who do not want to come to the lawyer’s office. Technology certainly creates alternatives to the traditional office meeting. It also places pressure on lawyers and firms to provide those alternatives. In my years of practice, I’ve never found more than a handful of lawyers who could successful place callers on hold, conference others into a call, and get everyone back onto the call successfully on the first try. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them.
There are now a variety of free and paid conference call services that let even a solo put together professional conference calls with 800 numbers and meeting IDs, and no need to learn how to put people on hold. Inexpensive web cameras let you videoconference. Webex and GotoMyPC let you create webinars and webconferences. There are many other tools in this category.
Remote access to your office lets you work from home or the road. You can set up discussion groups, email lists, wikis and other communications tools in a variety of inexpensive ways. Extranets. Microsoft Sharepoint, Adobe Acrobat, and other social software tools also enable group discussions synchronously or asynchronously, and simultaneous access to documents. Expect use of these tools to grow quickly in 2007.
C. What’s This Web 2.0 I’ve Been Hearing About?
I realized as I wrote this that every article I’ve co-written with someone in the last year or so has been written using a Web 2.0 tool. In the majority of cases, it was Writely, which is now part of Google Docs & Spreadsheets. Web 2.0 refers to a set of lightweight Internet applications that essentially turn the Internet into a software platform.
There are many examples of Web 2.0 tools, with somewhat exotic nomenclature: RSS, wikis, AJAX, Flickr, and many more. What each has in common is that it offers a way to share your information with others on the Internet, to work with others, and to do “mashups” or combine different tools and data together. An example of a mashup would be to use Google Maps to show on a map where toxic substance spills occurred. Perhaps the best example of a Web 2.0 tool is the Wikipedia, a collaborative encyclopedia built by volunteers.
Of the Web 2.0 tools, lawyers probably have used the combination of blogging and RSS feeds more than anything else. There have been some experiments with wikis. In 2007, we will see lawyers, like many others, moving toward some of these Web 2.0 applications.
Seven Bonus Predictions.
1. Podcasting and Video. In much the same way that lawyers surprised people with their adoption of blogs, lawyers will make significant moves into podcasting (audio) and Internet video, as they use these tools as educational platforms and, to a limited extent, for marketing purposes. Expect to see some firms create recording and production studios.
2. RSS feeds become a much more common alternative to email newsletters and routine communications with clients and co-counsel.
3. The consolidation of EDD vendors will continue at a dizzying pace, EDD vendors will increasingly offer consulting services, and we will not see a case in 2007 that offers much clarification on some of the unclear parts of the EDD rules.
4. The hottest software product in the legal market will be Microsoft Sharepoint. I continue to believe that lawyers will find Microsoft OneNote to be a desired tool, if their firms allow them to consider it.
5. The number of stand-alone blogs by lawyers will probably level off, but blogs will be incorporated in limited ways into many law firm websites.
6. A consensus on the use of data encryption will emerge by the end of 2007.
7. Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell will write a book on one of these key trends (the number 7 may be a clue) that will likely become one of the biggest trends in 2008.
2007 will be a year of slow, but significant, changes that will begin to restructure the practice of law. Uncertainty and confusion over new Microsoft versions and electronic discovery will create a bit of a lull. Some firms will take advantage of that lull to re-evaluate and refocus making solid business decisions, but many firms will not. More than any other factor, this will lead to a growing digital divide between the technology-forward firms and the technology-backward firms, with fewer and fewer firms left in the middle, which probably will not be a great place to be over the long term. Security and portability will be important watchwords. However, the place to watch is the Internet and the tools to consider carefully are the collaboration tools. It might be a slow year, but it should not be a dull year. There will be a lot of opportunity for firms wanting to increase their competitive advantage.
(Stayed tuned for what will become the final version of this article.)
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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(Part 5 of a 5-part Series) (Explanation of series)