The Agile Law Firm – What and Why

You may have heard of ‘agile’ law firms, or that law firms are being urged to become more ‘agile.’ What does it mean? And why would it be important for a law firm to be ‘agile’?

What is Agility?

The concept of ‘agility’ finds its origins in IT project management. In 2001, leading experts from the IT industry published the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. This Manifesto contained 12 core principles, and a methodology and terminology for software development that were built upon these principles.

The Wikipedia defines it as follows: Agile software development describes an approach to software development under which requirements and solutions evolve through the collaborative effort of self-organizing cross-functional teams and their customer/end users. It advocates adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery, and continuous improvement, and it encourages rapid and flexible response to change.

Agile Project Management uses its own terminology, which needs some getting used to, if one is not familiar with it. It uses terms, e.g., like sprint for a series of jobs, a user story for a group of tasks within a sprint, or a retrospective, which is an evaluation meeting with the purpose of diagnosing the achievements, failures, and missed opportunities of the sprint.

While these principles and methodology were originally conceived for software development, it immediately became clear that they could benefit project management in general. By now, about half of project managers are using the principles and methodology of agile project management.

Agile Law Firms

The Agile principles can easily be adapted and adopted for law firms and Legal Project Management. According to Ivan Rasic, “Agile refers to legal project management that encourages continuous improvement, collaboration, adaptation, team efforts and rapid delivery of valuable legal services.” Roya Behnia was one of the people who contributed to the Agile Manifesto for lawyers. She says an agile law firm focuses on:

  • continual collaboration with clients;
  • commitment to flexibility and rapidity;
  • direct communication rather than complex documentation;
  • continual focus on client goals;
  • realistically weighing risk; and
  • a strong bias toward simplicity.

Why is Agility important for lawyers?

Jim Hassett made the blunt observation that, like software developments, lawyers have clients who often change their mind. And you have to be prepared for that. Add to that that clients are also requiring their legal service vendors to prove they know how to manage projects, before they even decide to engage them. As ‘The Clever Project Manager’ points out, “Agility is the Way of the Present.” These days, customers expect instant gratification. And they expect that things will be on a path of constant improvement and zero issues, or they’ll look for alternatives. The only way to be successful in this world is to be responsive to your users’ needs and to be flexible enough to change your priorities when the market demands it.

In this context, agility means flexibility, “the freedom to make the right decisions at the right time, based on the right amount of information. (…) It means taking a ‘just-in-time’ approach to decision-making, based on data and reasoning.  Flexibility allows adaptation which allows success; unnecessary rigor causes stagnation and failure in the long run.”

As such, agility is merely a reflection of reality. Accepting uncertainty, re-evaluating, adapting and reprioritizing one’s efforts, based on changing conditions is essential, because that is how the world works: things change constantly. In essence, Agility asks us to take long-term changes in direction into account.

The purpose of agile legal project management is to add value for your clients by anticipating that your strategies will probably have to adapt to changing circumstances. By doing so, agile project management increases productivity, efficiency and profitability. It also improves communication in your team, and it improves delivery time, all of which result in happy clients.

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Legal Tech Trends Predictions for 2018

The beginning of a new calendar year traditionally is a time where the experts publish reviews of the year that has been, and make predictions for the year that is starting. Let us have a look at what 2017 brought to the field of legal technology, and at some predictions for 2018.

Review of 2017

Legal Tech News published a slide show on the three technologies that redefined legal technology in 2017. They are Artificial Intelligence (AI), Blockchain, and the Internet of Things (IoT).

2017 saw an increase of AI in the legal workplace. It is being used already in contract management, eDiscovery, cybersecurity, and in legal research. And some major law firms started using AI legal assistants. Robot lawyers and legal chatbots, too, frequently made headlines. And when it comes to the legal aspects of using AI, a court ordered that there should be more transparency in to how AI systems reach their conclusions, and that the algorithms they use must be published.

Bitcoin often was in the news, too. Its underlying technology, Blockchain, however is not just important for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies but is already being used, e.g., for smart contracts that are made and executed automatically.

2017 also saw a growth of the Internet of Things, as more and more devices are being connected to the Internet. Not surprisingly, we also saw more lawyers embracing cloud technologies, with more than half of the US based lawyers making use of them.

When it comes to cybersecurity, the Internet has become a more dangerous place in 2017. There has been an increase in systems being hacked, in denial of services attacks, in malware and, notably, in occurrences of ransomware. What we’ve witnessed in 2017 was that IoT devices like webcams, printers, routers, etc. that are connected to the Internet, were being used in cyberattacks. As a rule, large law firms are targeted more often than smaller ones, and those law firms that operate in the cloud are typically the least affected by cybercrime.

In 2017, legal tech solution providers all focused on using technology to streamline law firm processes, be it eDiscovery or Law Firm Management, etc.

Finally, we also saw several courts going online.

Predictions for 2018

Virtually all authors agree that most of the trends of 2017 will continue in 2018.

One evolution we are already witnessing is in increase in the integration between the 3 technologies that dominated 2017. Cloud-based AI is being built into IoT devices, e.g. in the user interfaces, security, and data mining to make predictive suggestions. Smart and intelligent contracts are just one example of AI teaming up with Blockchain technology. We can expect to see a lot of progress on that front.

Many experts made predictions with regard to AI. They expect AI to become more practical and less visible. They also expect AI to become more ubiquitous. Better Natural Language Processing will lead to better and more intelligent user interfaces. We will also witness the integration of AI in web and mobile apps. The rise of machine learning and data mining solutions will continue. In 2018, we will also encounter far more legal and other chatbots. Overall, AI will have a pivotal role in communication and collaboration.

Experts also expect a shift in the way lawyers approach marketing. As they slowly become more familiar with cloud technologies and social media, lawyers are expected to start trying newer ways of marketing, to replace the more traditional approach. Client-centred communication becomes more important. And more lawyers will start using marketing automation software.

When it comes to software for law firms, authors predict a further automation of practice and workflow processes. The efficiencies in the delivery of legal services brought about by innovation and technology will only increase. In 2018, the implementation of “smart automation” will deliver the most immediate results to organizations.

As far as cybercrime and cybersecurity are concerned, the experts expect more of the same. We will see that the IoT will be used more often for criminal purposes, which will make the challenge to remain safe online tougher. The experts also predict that cybercriminals will start using more AI to be able to stage more sophisticated attacks. One alarming evolution is the increase in fake professional social media profiles that are being used by cybercriminals. Because of this increase in cyberthreats, more lawyers are expected to increase their cybersecurity budget in 2018. They are looking into securing their physical network, as well as their information. More lawyers will start using encryption in 2018.

Many experts also predict that more lawyers will start using more cloud-based solutions in 2018.

And we can expect more courts to go online.

 

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Lawyers in the Cloud

The American Bar Association recently published the results of its 2017 Legal Technology Survey. One of the key findings that really stand out, is that in 2017 more than half of the lawyers are using cloud computing. Where in 2015 only 30%, and in 2016 38% of lawyers were active in the cloud, that number has jumped to 52% in 2017.

The enthusiasm for cloud-based solutions is not shared equally by all lawyers. As was the case in previous years, cloud services are most embraced by solo and small law firm (2 to 9 lawyers), with 56% in both groups relying on cloud computing. For medium sized law firms, the number stands at 52% who are using web-based computing. Large law firms trail behind, with only 42%. As the graph below shows, for each group, there has been a steady growth in cloud adoption over the last few years.

Lawyers in the cloud
Percentage of Lawyers using Cloud Services in 2017

Overall, 31% of lawyers make online backups of their data. Again, the solo lawyers lead the way with 48% of solo lawyers making cloud back-ups.

The predictions for 2018 are that the popularity of cloud-based solutions will continue to grow. In a recent panel discussion, the panel members were asked to make legal technology and management predictions for 2018. Four out of nine members mentioned an accelerated adoption of legal cloud services. Overall, resistance to adoption is decreasing among lawyers as most providers of cloud-based services for lawyers have been on the market for a long time, and have plenty of experience. Because most lawyers are using Office 365, they have also become more familiar with using cloud services. One panel member observed that cloud services have become more all-encompassing and a lot less trouble and expensive than on-premise solutions.

The American Bar Association also asked why lawyers were using the cloud. The most important reasons are:

  • Easy browser access (73%). Everybody can use a browser and there’s at least one installed on every device with online access.
  • 24/7 availability (64%). You can have access at any time, from anywhere.
  • Low and predictable cost (48%). The entry fees for cloud-based legal solutions are fairly low, and they are typically billed either monthly or annually, making the cost predictable. Add to that, that you need to invest far less in hardware infrastructure.
  • Robust data backup and recovery (45%). If you use cloud-based solutions, the service provider typically takes care of data backups, and they have the in-house expertise to quickly get everything back up and running if needed. They typically also have disaster recovery plans (and the necessary infrastructure) that can be implemented instantly, or on very short notice.
  • Ability to quickly get it up and running (38%). Typically, all you need is a device with access to the Internet, and your subscription to the cloud service to get started. No need to buy, install or configure new hardware or software on premises.
  • Elimination of IT & software management requirements (30%). This is an important consideration for mainly solo lawyers and small law firms, as they don’t have to invest in managing an entire IT and software infrastructure. The cloud service provider makes sure the software works and is up to date.
  • Better security than can be provided in-house (25%). When you host your own servers, and provide Internet access to them, security is a constant concern. It’s not obvious to always have the latest patches, a perfectly configured firewall, etc. Because it’s part of their core business, external cloud service providers are experts in secure provision. More likely than not, your data will be safer in the cloud.

It is also worth noting that when using cloud-based services, you’re staying ahead of the curve, without having to worry whether the technology will cause any problems. This can be used as a business advantage. Cloud services also can give your law firm extra flexibility, which, again, can be used as a business advantage.

 

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Robots, Liability and Personhood

There were some interesting stories in the news lately about Artificial Intelligence and robots. There was the story, e.g., of Sophia, the first robot to officially become a citizen of Saudi Arabia. There also was a bar exam in the States that included the question whether we are dealing with murder or product liability, if a robot kills somebody. Several articles were published on companies that build driverless cars and how they have to contemplate ethical and legal issues when deciding what to do when an accident is unavoidable. If a mother with a child on her arm, e.g., unexpectedly steps in front of the car, what does the car do? Does it hit the mother and child? Does it avoid the mother to hit the motorcycle in the middle lane that is waiting to turn? Or does it go into the lane of oncoming traffic, with the risk of killing the people in the driverless car? All these stories raise some thought-provoking legal issues. In this article we’ll have a cursory glance at personhood and liability with regard to Artificial Intelligence systems.

Let’s start with Sophia. She is a robot designed by Hong Kong-based AI robotics company Hanson Robotics. Sophia is programmed to learn and mimic human behaviour and emotions, and functions autonomously. When she has a conversation with someone, her answers are not pre-programmed. She made world headlines when in October 2017, she attended a UN meeting on artificial intelligence and sustainable development and had a brief conversation with UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed.

Shortly after, when attending a similar event in Saudi Arabia, she was granted citizenship in the country.  This was rightfully labelled as a historical event, as it was the first time ever a robot or AI system was granted such a distinction. This instantly raises many legal questions, e.g., regarding the legal rights and obligations artificial intelligence systems can have. Or what should the criteria be for personhood for robots and artificial intelligence systems? And what about liability?

Speaking of liability: a bar exam recently included the question: “if a robot kills somebody, is it murder or product liability?” The question was inspired by an article in Slate Magazine, by Ryan Calo, which discussed Paolo Bacigalupi’s novel The Windup Girl. The novel is about an artificial girl, the Mika Model, which strives to copy human behaviour and emotions, and is designed to create its own individuality. In this particular case, the model seems to develop a mind of her own, and she ends up killing somebody who was torturing her. So Bacigalupi’s protagonist, Detective Rivera, finds himself asking a canonical legal question: when a robot kills, is it murder or product liability?

At present, the rule would still be that the manufacturer is liable. But that can change soon. AI systems can make their own decisions, and are becoming more and more autonomous What if intent can be proven? What if, as in Bacigalupi’s novel, the actions of the robot are acts of self-preservation? Can we say that the Mika Model acted in self-defence? Or, coming back to Sophia: what if she, as a Saudi Arabian citizen, causes damage? Or commits blasphemy? Who is liable, the system or its manufacturer?

At a panel discussion in the UK, a third option was suggested with regard to the liability issue. One expert compared robots and AI systems to pets, and the manufacturers to breeders. In his view, if a robot causes damage, the owner is liable, unless he can prove it was faulty, in which case the manufacturer could be held liable.

The discussion is not an academic one, as we can expect such cases to be handled by courts in the near future.  In January 2017, the European Parliament’s legal affairs committee approved a wide-ranging report that outlines a possible framework under which humans would interact with AI and robots. These items stand out in the report:

  • The report states there is a need to create a specific legal status for robots, one that designates them as “electronic persons,” which effectively gives robots certain rights, and obligations. (This effectively would create a third type of personhood, apart from natural and legal persons).
  • Fearing a robot revolution, the report also wants to create an obligation for designers of AI systems to incorporate a “kill switch” into their designs.
  • As another safety mechanism the authors of the report suggest that Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics should be programmed into AI systems, as well. (1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.)
  • Finally, the report also calls for the creation of a European agency for robotics and AI that would be capable of responding to new opportunities and challenges arising from technological advancements in robotics.

It won’t be too long before Robot Law becomes part of the regular legal curriculum.

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Our Most Read Articles December 2017

Overall, this is the top 5 of our most read articles:

  1.  AI and contracts: http://www.lamiroy.com/blog/ai-and-contracts/
  2. Legal Chatbots: http://www.lamiroy.com/blog/legal-chatbots/
  3. The Law Practice of the Future: http://www.lamiroy.com/blog/the-law-practice-of-the-future-part-1/
  4. Blockchain and the Law: http://www.lamiroy.com/blog/blockchain-and-the-law/
  5. Considerations when moving your Law Firm to the Cloud: http://www.lamiroy.com/blog/considerations-moving-law-firm-cloud/

In the last month, these were the 10 most read articles on our blog:

  1. Legal Chatbots: http://www.lamiroy.com/blog/legal-chatbots/
  2. Online Courts: http://www.lamiroy.com/blog/online-courts/
  3. Introduction to content marketing for lawyers: http://www.lamiroy.com/blog/introduction-content-marketing-lawyers/
  4. Legal Technology and productivity: http://www.lamiroy.com/blog/legal-technology-and-productivity/
  5. AI and contracts: http://www.lamiroy.com/blog/ai-and-contracts/
  6. The New legal career: http://www.lamiroy.com/blog/the-new-legal-career/
  7. Blockchain and the law: http://www.lamiroy.com/blog/blockchain-and-the-law/
  8. Legal AI and Bias: http://www.lamiroy.com/blog/legal-ai-and-bias/
  9. The Law Practice of the future: http://www.lamiroy.com/blog/the-law-practice-of-the-future-part-1/
  10. Digital Marketing for Lawyers: http://www.lamiroy.com/blog/digital-marketing-for-lawyers/

An Introduction to Content Marketing for Lawyers

In previous articles we mentioned the importance of content marketing. So, what is it? Why is it important, and is it important for lawyers, too? In this article, we explore some of the basics of content marketing for lawyers.

What is content marketing? The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as “a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.” The Wikipedia defines it as “a form of marketing focused on creating, publishing and distributing content for a targeted audience online. It is often used by businesses in order to attract attention and generate leads, expand their customer base, generate or increase online sales, increase brand awareness or credibility, and engage an online community of users.”

So, content marketing is about attracting customers. Traditionally, the buying process consisted of four steps: 1) a potential customer or client would become aware of a need, 2) he or she would next research what solutions are available, 3) would then consider and evaluate the options, and 4) would finally buy a specific product or service. In this traditional process, content marketing is effective for the first two stages of the process in that it helps raise awareness of solutions and educates consumers about products or services.

These days, however, legal consumers are online consumers, and in an online world, things go slightly differently. In previous articles, we pointed out that successful online marketing strategies rely on the ACT methodology: Attract, Convert, and Transform. (See our article on ‘Why Social Media Matter’ for more information). Where online marketing mainly differs from traditional marketing is that the conversion process consists of two steps: before turning a website visitor into a customer or client, that visitor must be turned into a content consumer first. And that is where the role of content marketing becomes crucial. And, yes, this applies to lawyers, too.

Unlike a once-off advertising campaign, content marketing is a long-term strategy, based on building a strong relationship with your target audience, by giving them high-quality content that is very relevant to them on a consistent basis. In doing so, you build awareness, trust, and loyalty among your readers.

Joleena Louis, e.g., is a matrimonial and family law attorney, who uses her blog to give potential clients free legal advice. She found that this benefited her in three ways: It positions her as an expert and authority in her practice area. It helps her get more clients. And it gets her loyal followers and free marketing.

There are many ways one can present potential customers with valuable content. Amongst the most popular ways are infographics, blogs, podcasts, videos, and books. Other examples include news flashes (in a blog, email or newsletter), white papers, e-books, email newsletters, case studies, podcasts, how-to guides, question and answer articles as well as live sessions, photos, FAQs, discussion groups, and testimonials.

So, how does one start? You basically have two options: you can outsource it, or you can do it yourself. If you want to do it yourself, blogging is the easiest option. (We previously published an article on starting a blog). You can start your own blog on your website, or you can use a dedicated blogging platform. You also have the option to publish articles on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Medium. And once you published your article, you can use social media campaigns to alert people that new content is available.

To attract readers, your content must meet a need or interest of your readers. In other words, it must add value for your readers. Your content also must stand out. In Forbes Magazine, Josh Steimle wrote: “Content is good if they genuinely want to read it. Content is great if they’re willing to pay to read it. If you want to see great examples of content, just look at what you’ve paid to read, watch, or listen to lately. (…) If you’re not sure how you can add value through content marketing, ask your existing customers what kind of content you can produce that would be helpful to them now, or would have been helpful to them when they were looking for your product or service. They’ll tell you.”

Finally, the content you present to your audience must not be an academic presentation. Research has shown that what works best is to use informal and engaging story telling techniques.

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Online Courts

2017 has marked yet another milestone in legal history: in the last months, we have seen the arrival of the first online courts. Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland and China all have projects with online courts that are either already operational or in the process being developed.

The first online court ever was established in British Columbia, Canada. Since 1 June 2017, a few hundred small claims disputes have been heard and resolved entirely online. Any civil small claim dispute with a value of up to $5,000 can be handled by British Columbia’s Civil Resolution Tribunal via the internet.

“It is the world’s first online dispute tribunal, that is tied with the public justice system,” says British Columbia’s Justice Minister Suzanne Anton. “If you can take these minor matters out of a court room, you free up the court room for important criminal matters and more difficult matters that courts are suited for handling.”

Another advantage is that an online court makes the justice system more accessible. “I think people are intimidated to go to court,” says Professor Kenneth Thornicroft. “Most people have access to an online system, you can go to most public library and get access and deal with the dispute on your own time, you’re not locked into the times of the courts.”

Soon afterwards, the UK also launched its first pilot project for “new digital procedure for money claims under £10,000”. The project started on 31 July 2017 and will last 28 months, i.e. until 30 November 2019.

At present the project is in a “private beta” phase, and is only available to eligible users by invitation only. From January 2018 on, the project will go to “public beta”, meaning it will be opened up to all court users with an appropriate claim. It is expected that HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) will be providing face-to-face assistance to the half of people signed up to it who are expected to need help with filling in forms.

In a lecture, the Master of the Rolls, Sir Terence Etherton said that the “online solutions court should be seen as a template for securing now and over time in the future the critical object of greater access to justice.” He added that the court would operate in a problem-solving way. “It will be problem-solving in the sense that the Online Court through stage 1 and 2 of the process will help the parties find the appropriate solution to their dispute.”

In September 2017, Ireland’s Supreme Court also started moving a significant portion of its work online, as part of a push to bring more of the courts system onto the internet. The plan is that all applications for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court, including the filing of documents and the delivery of decisions, will take place online. It is hoped this will be the first step in bringing huge amounts of the appeal process, at all levels, out of the courtrooms and onto the internet. Chief Justice Frank Clarke said it will take about a year before the first online case is considered.

Another online court that is already operational can be found in Hangzhou, China. It handled its first case on 18 August 2017. The court operates with a judge and a jury. It hears cases regarding online shopping, microfinance loans, copyright infringement, product liability and related issues. Cases can be filed entirely electronically in a matter of minutes. When the case is handled, it is live streamed, and parties can present their arguments via video conferencing. The court uses technologies like face recognition, Speech Recognition Systems, and artificial intelligence to draft judgments.

Most experts agree that the arrival of online courts can be good thing in as far as it 1) can simplify access to Justice, and 2) can speed up procedures.  As mentioned above, the organizers of the UK pilot project anticipate that half of the people using the system will still need assistance while filling out the online forms. This, however, is an area where intelligent bots have already proven that they can play a useful role, too. So, we can expect even more of the procedure to be automated.

 

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Legal Technology and Productivity

A recently published report found that lawyers only spend 29% of their time on billable tasks. A staggering 48% of their time is spent on office administration, generating and sending bills, configuring technology, and collections. The remaining time is dedicated to business development.

Given these statistics, it is not surprising that another survey found that lawyers expect that efficiency will grow in importance and focus over the next two years. The best ways to increase efficiency are expected to be found in optimising technology tools and solutions, followed by talent management, and process and workflow improvement. Outsourcing legal work is considered the least promising option.

It seems obvious that legal technology can help increase efficiency and productivity, but its implementation must be done properly. It’s not because you start using technology, that you will automatically become more productive. To fully reap the benefits of legal technology, it must be implemented and used in a disciplined and well-planned way.

Optimizing legal technology goes hand in hand with process and workflow improvement, which in itself also contributes to optimizing efficiency. Analysing how you work and seeing how the process and workflow can be improved needs to be done on a regular basis.

One of the areas were legal technology has proven its value is Legal Case Management Software. Packages typically include modules or apps for contact management, case management, document management and assembly, billing, as well as calendaring. When these are properly organized, they help you save time.

In this context, it is useful to point out that moving to a cloud solution for Legal Case Management software can save additional time and resources. Cloud solution providers typically maximize their Internet security, use reliable physical security (biometric scans etc.), and have immediate disaster recovery plans. Using a cloud solution makes your IT budgeting more predictable, and eliminates IT hassle and distractions. Add to that, that cloud solutions offer inherent Remote Access, making your information accessible from anywhere, at any time. Finally, by now cloud solutions are often cheaper as you have to invest less in hardware infrastructure, additional software licenses (security, etc.), as well as in IT staff.

Analysing processes and the workflow for specific types of cases revealed that some of them lend themselves exceptionally well for automation. This is the case, e.g., for debt recovery / collections, e.g., where the vast majority of the process can be automated.

There are additional tools available that typically work as add-ons to Legal Case Management Software, which can help increase productivity. Take, e.g., dictation software: for the average user, dictating a text is three times faster than typing it. Using voice controlled apps, as well as working with two monitors also help you work faster. (Think, e.g., of writing a brief, where you have your word processor on one monitor, and the relevant information on the other).

Thus far, we mainly paid attention to Legal Case Management Software, which only offers part of the available solutions. A law firm is a firm, and has to be managed as such, and that is where Law Firm Management Software comes in. Typically, this consists of an accounting application, as well as different advanced reporting options that allow you, e.g., to get overviews of how much is spent on what, who owes you, who in the firm is most productive, etc. Some packages cater specifically for larger law firms, and offer HRM solutions as well.

The progress in the field of artificial intelligence has led to significant advances in software solutions for Legal Research, eDiscovery, and Knowledge Management. These, too, can make your more productive.

Talking about artificial intelligence: at present, up to 23 % of the tasks that a lawyer routinely performs can already be automated. We can expect an increase in the usage of intelligent bots that can take over those routinely performed tasks, which will offer lawyers the opportunity to focus more on billable work.

Finally, using a smart phone or tablet can also increase your productivity. In a previous article, we talked about different apps for mobile devices that allow you to work when you’re not at the office. When, e.g., you are waiting in a court room, or travelling, you can spend that time doing some work on your portable device, where that time would otherwise just be wasted.

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Legal AI and Bias

Justice is blind, but legal AI may be biased.

Like many advanced technologies, artificial intelligence (AI) comes with its advantages and disadvantages. Some of the potentially negative aspects of AI regularly make headlines. There is a fear that humans could be replaced by AI, and that AI might take our jobs. (As pointed out in a previous article, lawyers are less at risk of such a scenario: AI would perform certain tasks, but not take jobs, as only 23% of the work lawyers do can be automated at present). Others, like Elon Musk, predict doomsday scenarios if we start using AI in weapons or warfare. And there could indeed be a problem there: what if armed robotic soldiers are hacked, or have bad code and go rogue? Some predict that superintelligence (where AI systems become vastly more intelligent than human beings) and the singularity (i.e. the moment when AI systems become self-aware) are inevitable. The combination of both would lead to humans being the inferior species, and possibly being wiped out.

John Giannandrea, who leads AI at Google, does not believe these are the real problems with AI. He sees another problem, and it happens to be one that is very relevant to lawyers. He is worried about intelligent systems learning human prejudices. “The real safety question, if you want to call it that, is that if we give these systems biased data, they will be biased,” Giannandrea said.

The case that comes to mind is COMPAS, which is risk assessment software that is used to predict the likelihood of somebody being repeat offender. It is often used in criminal cases in the US by judges and parole boards. ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize winning non-profit news organization. It decided to analyse how correct COMPAS was in its predictions. They discovered that COMPAS’ algorithms correctly predicted recidivism for black and white defendants at roughly the same rate. But when the algorithms were wrong, they were wrong in different ways for each race. African American defendants were almost twice as likely to be labelled a higher risk where they did not actually re-offend. And for Caucasian defendants the opposite mistake was made: they were more likely to be labelled lower risk by the software, while in reality they did re-offend. In other words, ProPublica discovered a double bias in COMPAS, one in favour of white defendants, and one against black defendants. (Note that COMPAS disputes those findings and argues the data were misinterpreted).

The problem of bias in AI is real. AI is being used in more and more industries, like housing, education, employment, medicine and law. Some experts are warning that algorithmic bias is already pervasive in many industries, and that almost no one is making an effort to identify or correct it. “It’s important that we be transparent about the training data that we are using, and are looking for hidden biases in it, otherwise we are building biased systems,” Giannandrea added.

Giannandrea correctly points out that the underlying problem is a problem of lack of transparency in the algorithms that are being used. “Many of the most powerful emerging machine-learning techniques are so complex and opaque in their workings that they defy careful examination.”

Apart of all the ethical implications, the fact that it is unclear how the algorithms come to a specific conclusion could have legal implications. The U.S. Supreme Court might soon take up the case of a Wisconsin convict who claims his right to due process was violated when the judge who sentenced him consulted COMPAS. The argument used by the defence is that the workings of the system were opaque to the defendant, making it impossible to know for what arguments a defence had to be built.

To address these problems, a new institute, the AI Now Institute (ainowinstitute.org) was founded. It produces interdisciplinary research on the social implications of artificial intelligence and acts as a hub for the emerging field focused on these issues. Their main mission consists of “Researching the social implications of artificial intelligence now to ensure a more equitable future.” They want to make sure that AI systems are sensitive and responsive to the complex social domains in which they are applied. To that end, we will need to develop new ways to measure, audit, analyse, and improve them.

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Digital Marketing for Lawyers, part 2

This is a follow-up article to an article we published three months ago, which also dealt with digital marketing for lawyers. In it, we explained why digital marketing is important for lawyers and we also focused on some of the tools lawyers have at their disposal: websites, blogging, SEO, social media, reputation management and reviews.

Marketing often is something that lawyers see as a necessary evil. To make matters worse, online marketing is substantially different from traditional marketing. Some of this was discussed in our ‘Why Social Media Matter‘ article. In it, we explained that “the old ways of turning visitors into customers are not the most effective in an online paradigm. In the new online marketplace, everybody offering products or services must realise that they also are publishers, and that potential customers are content consumers. The way to turn website visitors into customers is to turn them into regular content consumers first.”

In this new marketplace, lawyers must publish websites and blogs, and engage with potential customers on social media. They must take things into account like user experience and website design; mobile functionality and local search presence. They have to focus on online intake of new clients, on customer service and client experience, as well as on reviews, reputation and authority. And most importantly, they have to work on how to turn website and blog visitors into regular content consumers, before they can be converted to clients.

So, practically speaking, where does one start? The first step is to know your audience and competitors. One of the advantages of the online marketplace is that we can have better access to all the pertinent data. We can learn who visits our website or blog, as well as who we are connected with on social media. This allows us to create visitor profiles, which then in turn allows us to better accommodate their wishes and expectations. It is important to keep the focus on potential customers, when determining what content to provide. At the same time, it is also important to keep track of what the competition is doing, so we can a) differentiate ourselves sufficiently, and b) remain competitive.

The next step is to then define an engagement strategy. The adage that content is king still applies. Know where your potential customers are on social media, and offer them relevant content. What has changed in 2017 is that the content people are looking for is no longer limited to quality text content. They also want visual content: infographics, e.g., are more popular than ever before, as is video content. So, make sure you use those. (In a future article, we’ll deal more in depth with content marketing specifically).

The way to further finetune your strategies and to find out what works for your law firm is, again, to diligently keep track of the relevant metrics. Find out what pages on your website and blog are popular. Discover how people found them. Learn what posts on social media led to visitors of your website and blog.

If you are familiar with some of the more traditional marketing techniques, then Teresa Matich’s article on “How to Take Your Old School Marketing Techniques Online” on the Wishpond blog can be useful. She illustrates how online marketing uses different tools, and that we have to move:

  • from business cards to websites: 96% of people with a legal issue turn to the Internet first, and nearly 40% of people needing a lawyer look on the Internet first to find one.
  • from public speaking to blogging: you build a reputation by publishing high quality articles on the Internet.
  • from the phone book to online ratings directories: people no longer just want to find a lawyer, they want to know whether he or she is any good, and they will look for online reviews.
  • from bus stop ads to Facebook ads: people looking for a lawyer spend just over a quarter of their time doing so on social media, so it makes sense to advertise on them.

 

Alex Barthet, a Miami based lawyer, gives some additional useful advice, based on his personal experiences with online marketing.

  • Claim your online profiles: online services like Google, Yelp, and Avvo let you create profiles. Often these are among the first places potential clients go looking.
  • Also claim your social profiles on sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
  • Be careful with paid profiles: they usually offer very little extra value.
  • Use pay-per-click (PPC) advertising carefully, and make sure to determine a maximum budget that cannot be exceeded.
  • Don’t fall for sales pitches from marketing companies that want to lock you into long-term contracts.

 

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