Understanding legal consumers

A recent survey in the UK found that 7 out of 10 legal consumers would prefer to interact with a robot lawyer or law bot rather than deal with a “real” lawyer. To put matters into perspective: when we are talking, e.g., about contacting customer services only 44% prefer to deal with a chat bot, where 63% don’t mind, and 37% prefer not to interact with chat bots.

The results of a different survey can shed some light as to why people prefer robot lawyers to real lawyers. For starters, consumers are worried about the overall cost, value, and price transparency when contacting a lawyer. Both the actual cost and the final result are often uncertain. 31% of respondents thought that using the legal system costs too much money (even when the benefits justify the cost). 35% believe the end benefits don’t justify the cost, and for 28%, not knowing the final cost in advance is a hurdle.

The survey also revealed that there is plenty of room for improvement when it comes to client satisfaction, and that there often is a serious disconnect between what lawyers think their clients want, and what those clients actually want. There also is quite a disparity between how clients actually experience the process from an emotional point of view, and what their lawyers think their clients feel.

Let us have a look at some statistics, compiled from several reports:

  • 59% of respondents say they would consider using the law when faced with a legal problem (which means a whopping 41% would not!), and 57% of respondents have dealt with a life issue that could have been handled legally but wasn’t.
  • Legal consumers move fast: 59% take action within 1 week; 64% expect a response within 24 hours or less. (To put things in perspective, the average delay for a lawyer to respond to a possible new client is approx. 3 working days).
  • When it comes to legal services, consumers want local solutions: 50% won’t travel more than 28 miles / 45 km for an attorney, while 35% won’t even travel 20 miles / 32 km.
  • More than 2 out of 3 legal consumers use the phone to contact a lawyer: 38% use mobile phones, 31% use a landline.
  • Depending on the survey, between 58% and 65% of legal consumers end up contacting a legal professional.
  • They don’t shop around: 58% only contact one attorney; 21% contacts two; another 21% contacts three.
  • In the end 85% of consumers who contacted lawyers ended up hiring one. At the same time, 58% sought a consult with a lawyer they didn’t hire, and 68% communicated with a lawyer they did not hire. (At first glance this may appear contradictory, but can be explained by the fact that 42 percent of consumers contact more than one lawyer. If, e.g., I talk to three and hire one, then I did not hire 66% of the lawyers I contacted).

What factors do legal consumers take into consideration when choosing a lawyer? Stephen Fairly makes a distinction between concrete and subjective factors. The concrete factors include:

  • Expertise is important for 45%,
  • Cost for 33%,
  • Location for 31%,
  • Speed for 26%,
  • Specialization for 23%,
  • Years of Service for 23%.

The subjective factors are:

  • Recommendations: 40%
  • Reputation: 29%
  • Sense of Trust: 29%
  • Apparent Honesty: 24%
  • Sense of Empathy: 22%

The disparity between what legal consumers want and what lawyers think they want is greatest for three items: when the clients want to meet their lawyer in person, when they want to speak to their lawyer on the phone, and when it comes to balancing service with cost.

Meeting in person: Clients want to meet with lawyers in person when they want to learn about the legal aspects of a case (55%), when they want to tell their lawyer the details of their case (70%), and when they are signing, viewing, sharing, or delivering documents (64%). These expectations are clearly not met. Only 2% of lawyers expect to discuss the legal aspects of a case in person. Only 3% of lawyers expect their clients to tell them the facts in person. Things are slightly better when it comes to handling documents, where 43% of recognize that their clients want to handle documents in person.

Speaking on the phone: for lawyers, it typically doesn’t matter how they are contacted, as long as they are contacted, and speaking to their clients on the phone is rarely a priority. Legal consumers on the other hand, expect to speak to their lawyers over the phone to make an appointment (59%), to get quick replies to a question (46%), or to get an update on their case (37%).

Balancing service with cost: lawyers are perceived as expensive. Legal consumer are only willing to pay if they receive a certain level of service in return. This includes meeting in person or talking over the phone, which often is the most time intensive (and if billed by the hour most expensive) option. Clients also want lawyers to be available outside of their office (68%) and outside of business hours (59%).

In a series of articles in The National Law Review, Liz Wendling compiled a list of 10 insights to better meet the expectations of clients.

  1. Skip the superficial small talk.
  2. Connect and relate to the client.
  3. Don’t treat clients like they are clueless about their legal options.
  4. Help clients see why you are different than your competitors.
  5. Clients have a name; please use it.
  6. Show clients the value in your services, and they will care less about your fees.
  7. Clients will tune out if you talk about yourself first.
  8. Don’t make the money conversation uncomfortable.
  9. If want a client’s business, ask for their business.
  10. Reinforce their wise decision to retain you.

In conclusion, the surveys reveal that the demands and expectations of legal consumers are often not met, and that lawyers need to address these issues, for which creative solutions will have to found. In many cases, technology can be of assistance. Client portals, remote access and task automation can help lawyers be more available without sacrificing attention that could be focused elsewhere.

Sources:

 

The Internet of Things and the Law

Our world is becoming more and more interconnected. Through our smart phones, tablets, computers, smart watches, etc., we are living online lives, where we are virtually always connected to the Internet in some way. More and more devices we are using, too, are constantly collecting and sending data. This is often referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT). In this article, we’ll explain what it is, and have a look at some examples. Then we will have a look at some legal aspects with regard to the Internet of Things.

The Wikipedia defines the Internet of things as “the network of physical devices, vehicles, home appliances, and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and connectivity which enables these things to connect, collect and exchange data, creating opportunities for more direct integration of the physical world into computer-based systems, resulting in efficiency improvements, economic benefits, and reduced human exertions.” All of these devices are provided with unique identifiers (UIDs) and typically have the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction. This also implies that they can be remotely monitored and, in many cases, controlled.

The number of IoT devices is increasing rapidly. In 2017, 8.4 billion devices were connected to the Internet, which was an increase of 31% compared to 2016. The estimations of how fast this expansion will occur vary widely: on the conservative side we find, e.g., the analyst firm Gartner who expects that by 2020 there will be over 26 billion connected devices. ZD-Net on the other hand mentions a number of 50 billion devices by 2020. Others, however, estimate this number to be much higher, even over 100 billion.  Even in conservative estimations, the global market value of IoT is projected to reach $7.1 trillion by 2020.

So, what devices are connected? Basically any physical object can be transformed into an IoT device if it can be connected to the internet and controlled that way. Existing examples include coffee makers, washing machines, headphones, lamps, wearable devices, and even children’s toys. It also includes many vehicles, and even components of machines, the drill of an oil rig, or jet engines of an airplane which are filled with thousands of sensors collecting and transmitting data back to make sure it is operating efficiently. There are medical IoT devices like insulin injection pumps, pacemakers, etc. We already find IoT devices in our homes, in healthcare, transportation, information technology and energy infrastructure.

It should not come as a surprise that this proliferation of connected devices raises several legal issues.

A first set of issues has to do with privacy and data protection. In the EU, e.g., the GDPR applies and suppliers of IoT devices must make sure they are GDPR compliant, which isn’t always obvious. The GDPR does not only apply to the collecting and storing of data, but also to what is done with the data. Users have to consent, e.g., to those data being used for data mining.

As second set of issues has to do with security and cybercrimes. Each new device becomes a new potential target for hackers and criminals. The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) published a report in which it expressed security concerns that connected devices could, e.g., be used for enabling unauthorized access, for misuse of personal identification, and for expediting attacks on others systems. The simple truth is that the Internet of Things opens the door to a whole new range of cybercrimes, where criminals use IoT devices for extortion, for sabotage (e.g. interfering with energy), for assault, etc. In a recent hacking contest, e.g., hackers demonstrated – with permission – how they were able to take control of a driverless car within minutes.

A third set of issues has to do with eDiscovery, including eDiscovery in criminal investigations. IoT devices collect data which could be relevant as evidence in legal cases. There already are cases where the whereabouts of a person were confirmed or contradicted by the GPS systems in their car, phone or smart watch. There are cases where personal Assistants like Siri, Alexa, or Cortana, e.g., who constantly record what is being said, provided relevant evidence. A case that made headlines some months ago involved a possible homicide investigation, where an Amazon Echo (Alexa) device exonerated a suspect by confirming his alibi. (Noteworthy, too, in that case was that Amazon initially refused to hand over any data when it was requested by law enforcement, but agreed to do so when its customer asked them to hand over the data as it could – and eventually would – confirm his alibi).

In short, the Internet of Things opens the doors to plenty of new opportunities which in turn raise plenty of legal issues. For lawyers, that probably is a good thing.

 

Sources:

 

Machine Learning Applications for Lawyers

The first legal applications of Artificial Intelligence already appeared several decades ago, but they never really took off. That has changed over the last few years. A lot of the recent progress is thanks to advancements in Machine Learning (ML), Deep Learning (DL), and Legal Analytics (LA). As many lawyers are not familiar with these terms, we will first explain the concepts in this article. Then we will focus on some applications, and finish with some general considerations.

Let us start with the three terms Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Deep Learning, and how they relate to each other. The first thing to know is that Artificial Intelligence is the broadest term. Machine Learning is a subset of Artificial Intelligence, and Deep Learning in turn is a subset of Machine Learning.

The Techopedia defines Artificial intelligence (AI) as “an area of computer science that emphasizes the creation of intelligent machines that work and react like humans. Some of the activities computers with artificial intelligence are designed for include: Speech recognition, Learning, Planning, Problem solving.” Examples of legal AI applications that are not based on machine learning include, e.g., expert systems, decision tables, certain types of process automation (that focus on repetitive tasks), as well as simple legal chatbots that also focus on one or more specific tasks, etc.

Machine Learning (ML) is one branch of AI. It based on the idea that systems can learn from data, identify patterns and make decisions with minimal human intervention. It is a method of data analysis that automates analytical model building. To this end, it uses statistical techniques that give computer systems the ability to “learn” (e.g., progressively improve performance on a specific task) from the data, without being explicitly programmed.

In an article on TechRepublic, Hope Reese explains that Deep Learning (DL) “uses some ML techniques to solve real-world problems by tapping into neural networks that simulate human decision-making. Deep learning can be expensive, and requires massive datasets to train itself on. That’s because there are a huge number of parameters that need to be understood by a learning algorithm, which can initially produce a lot of false-positives.”

The process of learning in both Machine Learning and Deep Learning can be supervised, semi-supervised or unsupervised.

When applied to legal data, Machine Learning is often referred to as Legal Analytics. It “is the application of data analysis methods and technologies within the field of law to improve efficiency, gain insight and realize greater value from available data.” (TechTarget)

Let us have a look at some of the applications of machine learning in the legal field. The applications that are available are not just for lawyers, but also, e.g., for courts and law enforcement.

In a previous article, we already mentioned Legal Research, eDiscovery and Triage Services. Legal databases are increasingly using AI to present you with the relevant laws, statutes, case law, etc. There are eDiscovery services for lawyers as well as for law enforcement that focus on finding relevant digital evidence. Both typically use triage services to rank the results in order of relevance.

Legal Analytics are also being used for due diligence (where the system creates and uses intelligent checklists),  and for document review, including contract review. In some cases, the system can even go a step further and assist with the writing of documents and contracts (Intelligent Document Assembly). Some more advanced examples of process automation, e.g. for divorce cases where the whole procedure is largely automated, also rely on ML algorithms.

One of the fields where legal analytics has been making headlines is predictive analysis: using statistical models, the system makes predictions. Predictive analysis is not just used by lawyers, but in the broader legal field: there also are for applications, e.g., for courts and for law enforcement. There are systems, e.g., for:

  • Crime prediction and prevention that predict future crime spots.
  • Pretrial Release and Parole, Crime Recidivism Prediction
  • Judicial analytics and litigation analytics predict the chances of success or what the anticipated outcome is in certain cases. These systems can e.g.  be as specific as to take previous rulings by the presiding judge into account.

ML is also successfully being used in crime detection. There are AI systems that monitor what cameras are registering, or that use a network of microphones to detect shots being fired. In the news recently was a story how facial recognition software was used to scan people attending a concert, which led to several arrests being made.

These are just some examples. An article that was recently published in Tech Emergence (“AI in Law and Legal Practice – A Comprehensive View of 35 Current Applications”) gives an overview of 35 applications.

So, a lot of progress has been made in recent years in the fields of legal analytics /  legal machine learning. Still, there are certain issues and limitations to take into account when it comes to the legal field. A first issue has to do with privacy and confidentiality. Law firms who want to use their client data may need consent by those clients, and will have to anonymize the data. They also have to remain GDPR compliant. A second issue has to do with bias: in a previous article we mentioned how these AI systems inherit our biases. A third issue has to do with transparency: most neural networks present a conclusion without explaining how it came to that conclusion. If used in criminal cases, this constitutes a violation of the rights of defence. In civil cases, too, judges have to explain their decisions, and merely referring to the decision an AI system made is not sufficient. Lastly, there also is a cognitive aspect to the work lawyers do, and at present the cognitive abilities of legal ML systems are (still) extremely limited. They do not, e.g., know how to appreciate or emulate common sense.

 

Sources:

 

Online Reputation Management

Do you, as a lawyer, pay much attention to your online reputation? You should. Because, in 2018, legal consumers are online consumers, as the following statistics clearly show:

  • 96% of people with a legal issue use the Internet first to find answers with regard to their problem.
  • 38% of people looking to hire a lawyer turn to the Internet first. (29% ask a friend or relative, 10% go directly to the local bar association, 4% rely on business directories like the Yellow Pages).
  • Once legal consumers have narrowed down their search to one or more potential lawyers, 74% of all legal consumers will visit that lawyer’s or law firms’ websites first, before taking action.
  • 74% of all legal consumers end up contacting a lawyer they found on the Internet, and of those 74%, 87% end up hiring that lawyer.
  • 70% of law firms have generated new cases through their website in the last year.

In these circumstances, Online Reputation Management (ORM) is more than highly recommended.

But how do you start managing your online reputation? After all, as the team of Blue Ocean points out: “Reputation, by its very definition is a nebulous, intangible and complex concept. Trust, along with an excellent reputation as a legal resource, cannot be directly measured like income and expenses.”

The Wikipedia describes Online Reputation Management as “the practice of attempting to shape public perception of a person or organization by influencing information about that entity, primarily online. (…) Specifically, reputation management involves the monitoring of the reputation of an individual or a brand on the internet, addressing content which is potentially damaging to it, and using customer feedback to try to solve problems before they damage the individual’s or brand’s reputation.”

In other words, ORM is about influencing how you are perceived on the Internet. You can affect this perception through multiple channels:

  • Your website often will be responsible for a potential client’s first impression of you.
  • Make sure to use testimonials.
  • You can publish a blog to help establish you as an authority in your field.
  • You can engage people via social media and discussion groups, by answering questions and offering free advice.
  • Online consumers typically also look for reviews on third party websites. It is recommended to respond to those reviews. (More on that below).
  • There are search results in search engines.
  • Not to be forgotten are your profiles in business directories.

Practically speaking, the first step is finding out what is being said about you and your firm. So you can start by doing an online search about your firm. Make sure, too, to find out what is being said on online review sites, as online consumers are eager to know what the experiences are of others who have used your services. You want to augment positive reviews, and to address negative reviews.

Addressing negative reviews can be tricky, especially since there are ethical considerations. You must make sure you never reveal any confidential information! As a rule, the best response to a negative review is to not respond with specific details, but to issue an apology instead, and to ask for personal feedback and to be contacted privately to address the matter.

In 2018, addressing fake news is also a concern. Make sure you do not give out false information about yourself (or your clients), and make sure to address any false information about you or your firm that might be available online.

Apart from addressing any factors that might damage your reputation, you can also more proactively start building a positive reputation through the channels mentioned above: your website, testimonials, blog articles, engagement with potential clients via social media and discussion groups, professional profiles in business directories, etc. Here, too, however, it is important to remain aware of ethical considerations, which may be specific to the bar association you belong to. Most bar associations do not allow lawyers to directly solicit clients. Some bar associations do not even allow lawyers to actively ask for reviews or testimonials.

 

Sources:

 

Alternative Fee Arrangements – What and Why

The market of legal services is experiencing unprecedented and profound changes. In recent years, we’ve seen the rise of alternative legal service providers (ALSPs), and a rapid increase in the use of Artificial Intelligence. We now even have legal chatbots and robot lawyers, and some of them are offering free legal services. The legal consumers are embracing these changes: in a recent survey in the UK, seven out of ten respondents would prefer to use a robot lawyer to a human one! This should not come as a surprise, and the culprit can easily be found: Billable hours are one of the main reasons legal consumers are reluctant to consult a lawyer.

In the past, we have written about the death of the billable hour. With the current evolutions in the legal market, that demise is more imminent than before. And there are plenty of good reasons to kill it off, and to start focusing on Alternative Fee Arrangements (AFAs).

So, what are Alternative Fee Arrangements? There is not standard definition, but basically any arrangement where the client is not charged by the hour is an Alternative Fee Arrangement. (There is debate about whether volume discounts are an Alternative Fee Arrangement or not, but that discussion is largely academic).

There are different types of Alternative Fee Arrangements. In the article on the death of the billable hour, we payed attention to:

  • capped fees,
  • fixed and flat fees,
  • contingency agreements (where payment depends on the result),
  • holdback (payment in phases and dependent on whether certain conditions are met),
  • blended fees (lowering the cost of billable hours by delegating),
  • cost-plus model (cost plus reasonable profit), and
  • subscription billing (where the client pays a recurring fee to take care of its legal business).

Why opt for Alternative Fee Arrangements? All the arguments in favour of AFAs are the arguments against the billable hour.

From the point of view of the legal consumer, billable hours undoubtedly offer a lousy consumer experience. First, there is a fundamental double uncertainty: the client does not know in advance how much it will cost to address his or her legal issue, and if litigation is involved does not know what the end result will be. So the legal consumer is expected to commit to paying an undefined amount of money for an unknown result.

There also is the factor that being charged by the hour is always perceived as expensive. And the fact that the client is being charged for everything, including communications does not really make sense. Imagine you have a computer or car problem, have it fixed, and when you receive the bill, you are also charged for phone calls and consultations, on top of the actual repairs.

For lawyers, too, billable hours have negative side-effects that affect the overall productivity of a law practice. As you constantly have to keep track of everything you do, it necessitates a lot of extra administration. A survey published a year ago revealed that only 29 % of the time a lawyer spends working is billable, and that the rest was mainly administration, as well as some time spent on acquiring new cases. Add to that, as mentioned above, that the fact that clients are being charged for communications can easily become an obstacle for clear and essential communications.

Recent progress in the fields of Artificial Intelligence and process automation further illustrates that charging by the hour becomes less and less meaningful. How much time are you going to charge, e.g., for a contract that is compiled or reviewed by an AI system in seconds? Or what about eDiscovery, where computers can scan thousands of documents in minutes for relevant information, where it would take days to do the same manually?

In short, as the legal market is changing, the demand for Alternative Fee Arrangements is only expected to grow. In future articles, we will have a closer look at some of these Alternative Fee Arrangements.

 

Sources:

Online Translation Services

As a lawyer, and especially as a lawyer within the EU, you often need to work with documents in more than one language. Fortunately, there are online translation services available that can give you an almost instant translation, and several of those are free. But are they any good when it comes to legal texts? In this article, we’ll have a closer look at the most popular free and instant online translation services.

How does it work? Most of the available services use a form, where you can enter some text that has to be translated. Some offer the option to upload a document, or to use a web address of a web page that you would like to be translated. For all of them, you have to choose the language the text has to be translated to. Some of the services can automatically detect the language of the original text, and all of them allow you to choose the language of the original text.

So, who offers what?

Google Translate: translate.google.com/
Google Translate is completely free. It can translate texts between 103 different languages, which is far more than any of the other services. It also offers alternative translations. It allows you to translate entire documents, as well as web pages.

Bing: www.bing.com/translator/
The Bing Translator is free, but limited to texts of maximum 5000 characters at a time. (If your texts are larger, you’ll have to split them up). At present, it can translate between 65 different languages, including Klingon. (Though I doubt that, as a lawyer, you’ll ever need that one). The Bing Translator does not allow to submit entire documents, but it is possible to use a URL.
Also worth noting is that you probably have direct access to the Bing Translator from within Microsoft Word. If you are using Office 365, then the option to select a text, right-click on it, and have it translated is directly available in Word.

DeepL: www.deepl.com/translator
DeepL stands for Deep Learning. It is a German translation service, made by the people who created Linguee. DeepL offers a free service as well as a subscription service, where you pay a monthly fee, and are allowed up to 1 million characters per month. There is a limit to the free service, but, at present, it is not clear what that limit is. DeepL can translate only between seven languages. It does offer the option to upload and translate documents.

Paralink: translation2.paralink.com/
The Paralink translator is free, and in theory there is no limit to the amount of text you can translate. Paralink offers translations between 55 different languages, but does not do all of them itself: it works with translation pairs it developed itself. If your needs do not match one of the available pairs, your text is submitted automatically to Google Translate and/or Bing. Texts between, e.g., Dutch and English are not done by Paralink itself.

SDL: www.freetranslation.com/
The SDL translator usually is offered in a free version, as well as a paid version. At present, however, the free version is not available.

WorldLingo: www.worldlingo.com/products_services/worldlingo_translator.html
WordLingo offers translations between 15 languages, and is limited to texts of 500 words per submission.

Reverso: www.reverso.net/text_translation.aspx?lang=EN
Reverso can translate texts between 13 different languages.

The Online Translator: m.online-translator.com/
The Online Translator offers translations between 19 languages. It uses the Paralink translation engine.

So, are they any good, and how do they compare to each other? We ran some practical tests. These were not meant as a scientific experiment, but just as a field test where we took some legal texts, and had them translated from English to Dutch and vice versa. We also did some back and forth test, where you submit a text in one language to be translated in another, and then have that result translated back to the original language.

(There are some humorous but unconfirmed stories of the early days of machine translations. In a first example “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” came back as “the wine was alright, but the meat had gone off”. In another example “out of sight, out of mind” came back as “invisible insanity.”)

The first observation is that none of these services offer the same quality as a human translator does. The translations by the best services offer texts that are understandable / readable but that still contain multiple grammar and style errors, and therefore still need human revision.

In the tests we ran, DeepL ended as the best service. Their texts needed the least interventions, and score best on grammar and style. They are followed by Google Translate and Bing in a shared second position. All three did well in the one way translations, as well as in the back and forth. (Google Translate offers alternative translations, and typically, one of those will have a correct translation if the suggested translation is not accurate). The services that rely on the Paralink engine came in fourth position, but needed more corrections. The translations of legal texts by Wordlingo and Reverso were useless.

Some other considerations: with translations, context is important. Typically, translations of paragraphs are more accurate than translations of sentences. And often specific terminology (if it is recognized) is translated more correctly. Take, e.g., the terminology used in Dutch for the GDPR: it is quite specific, and therefore more easily identified. As a result, corrections were minimal and the translations from Dutch to English in DeepL were very good. Also, if texts are officially available in several languages, as is the case for many EU texts, then the translations tend to be more reliable.

In conclusion: the top four free online translation services can create texts that are understandable but that still need human corrections. But we do have reached a stage where using these services can already save a considerable amount of time. It is faster to use the big 3 and revise the translations than to start from scratch. In our experience, revising texts that were translated with Bing or Google, is 30 % faster than doing it manually. With DeepL, translations took on average only half of the time one would need to do everything manually.

 

Sources: Online translation engines:

Client Portals for Law Firms

For a while now, the American Bar Association has been recommending that lawyers use client portals to exchange information with their clients. One of the main arguments is that client portals provide a more secure way to communicate than email is. So, what are client portals, and what benefits do they offer?

In a previous article, we described client portals as a place on the Internet where your clients can view, and possibly edit, their own data, usually with a browser. It allows you to interact with your clients, to share files, to have discussions, chat, plan, organize and manage tasks and events in a private, online, and secure environment. The data are often stored in the cloud (or are accessible via cloud technologies) and are encrypted. The communications between the portal and the client is encrypted as well.

Client portals have several key features. Sharing of information is one of the most important ones. Once a client has access to the client portal, he or she can consult the status of his or her cases. The client can view documents, get overviews of billing and accounting data, of what tasks have already been completed and what tasks are in the agenda, waiting to be executed. As such, clients portals offer greater transparency, as well as an effective way to collaborate.

A second key feature of client portal, and mentioned above, are the secure communications. Because the data on the portal, as well as the exchange of data between the client and the portal are encrypted, the communications are more secure than email exchanges. Google publishes a real time transparency report that keeps track of the amount of email that is not encrypted and can therefore be intercepted and read. It shows that at present, on average one in four emails are not encrypted. For a lawyer, this is important, because sending email over non-secure channels could lead to liability for violation of confidentiality if the mail is intercepted.

A third key feature of clients portals is the tight integration with practice management software. Client portals typically are available as add-ons to existing practice management packages. The practice management software typically will provide an administration backend, which, among other things, incorporates permission management. In it, you can specify who has access to what information, and what they can do with that information, i.e., e.g., whether they can only read information, or whether they can comment, or modify information, etc.

There are different types of client portals. Most common is the regular client portal that is used for messaging and document sharing. Some law firms use client portals that have more advanced document management functionalities, where clients can, e.g., generate legal documents by filling out forms. These forms supply the data that are then merged into templates. There are law firms, too,  who are using project management client portals. An increasing amount of client portals also allows clients to make online payments.

So, when do you need a client portal? You can use one if you want to

  1. share confidential information,
  2. enhance your communications with your clients
  3. accept online payments (though not all portals provide this functionality yet)
  4. improve collaboration, between lawyers, clients and possible other third parties
  5. audit access to the information (i.e., you can keep track of who access what and when)
  6. leverage “anytime anywhere access” to your law firm’s information

So, it’s clear that client portals offer multiple benefits. Apart from the ones already mentioned the increased transparency that client portals offer, also leads to greater client satisfaction and reduces the need for ‘keeping up to date’ communications. The collaboration aspects of client portals increase productivity. Having a client portal can offer also a competitive advantage in that it will appeal to more Internet-savvy clients.

So, what are you waiting for?

Sources:

 

Robot Law

A few months ago, in January 2018, the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee approved a report that outlines a possible legal framework to regulate the interactions between a) humans, and b) robots and Artificial Intelligence systems. The report is quite revolutionary. It proposes, e.g., giving certain types of robots and AI systems personhood, as “electronic persons”: These electronic persons would have rights and obligations, and the report suggests that they should obey Isaac Asimov’s Laws of Robotics. The report also advises that the manufacturers of robots and AI systems should build in a ‘kill switch’ to be able to deactivate them. Another recommendation is that a European Agency for Robotics and AI be established that would be capable of responding to new opportunities and challenges arising from technological advancements in robotics.

The EU is not alone in its desire to regulate AI: similar (though less far reaching) reports were published in Japan and in the UK. These different initiatives are in effect the first attempts at creating Robot Law.

So, what is Robot Law? On the blog of the Michalsons Law Firm, Emma Smith describes Robot Law as covering “a whole variety of issues regarding robots including robotics, AI, driverless cars and drones. It also impacts on many human rights including dignity and privacy.” It deals with the rights and obligations of AI systems, manufacturers, consumers, and the public at large in its relationship to AI and how it is being developed and used. As such, it is different from, and far broader than Asimov’s Laws of Robotics which only apply to laws robots have to obey.

Why would we need Robot Law? For a number of reasons. AI has become an important contributing factor to the transformation of society, and that transformation is happening extremely fast. The AI Revolution is often compared to the Industrial Revolution, but that comparison is partly flawed, because of the speed, scale and pervasiveness of the AI Revolution. Some reports claim that the AI Revolution is happening up to 300 times faster than the Industrial Revolution. This partly has to do with the fact AI is already being used everywhere, and that pervasiveness is only expected to increase rapidly. Think, e.g., of the Internet of Things, where everything is connected to the Internet, and massive amounts of data are being mined.

The usage of AI already raises legal issues of control, privacy, and liability. Further down the line we will be confronted with issues of personhood and Laws of Robotics. But AI also has wide-reaching societal effects. Think, e.g., of the job market and the skill sets that are in demand. These will change dramatically. In the US alone, driverless cars and trucks, e.g., will see a minimum of 3 million drivers lose their jobs. So, yes, there is a need for Robot Law.

Separate from the question of whether we need Robot Law, is the question whether we already need legislation now, and/or how much should be regulated at this stage. When trying to answer that question, we are met with almost diametrically opposing views.

The Nay-sayers claim that it is still too soon to start thinking about Robot Law. The argument is that AI and Robotics are still in their infancy, and at this stage there is a need first to explore and develop it further. Not only are there still too many unanswered questions, but their view is that regulation at this stage could stifle the progress of AI. All we would have to do, is adapt existing laws. In that context, Roger Bickerstaff, e.g., speaks of:

  • Facilitative changes – these are changes to law that are needed to enable the use of AI.
  • Controlling changes – these are changes to law and new laws that may be needed to manage the introduction and scope of operation of robotics and artificial intelligence.
  • Speculative changes – these are the changes to the legal environment that may be needed as robotics and AI start to approach the same level of capacity and capability as human intelligence – what is often referred to as the singularity point.

Others, like the authors of the aforementioned reports, disagree. They argue that there already are issues of privacy, control, and liability. There also is the problem of transparency: how do Neural Networks come to their conclusions, e.g., when they recommend whether somebody is eligible for parole, or a loan, or when they assess risks, e.g., for insurances. How does one effectively appeal against such decisions if it’s not known how the AI system reaches its conclusions? Furthermore, the speed, scale and pervasiveness of the AI Revolution and its societal effects, demand a proactive approach. If we don’t act now, we will soon be faced with problems that we know will arise.

Finally, in his paper, Ryan Calo points out, maybe surprisingly, that there already is over half a century of case law with regard to robots. These cases deal with both robots as objects and robots as subjects. He rightfully points out that “robots tend to blur the lines between person and instrument”. A second, and more alarming insight of his study was “that judges may have a problematically narrow conception of what a robot is”. For that reason alone, it would already be worthwhile to start thinking about Robot Law.

 

Sources:

An Introduction to Legal Project Management, part 2

This is the second article in a series of articles on Legal Project Management. In the first article, we looked at the what and why: Legal Project management allows to increase productivity and profitability, and is especially beneficial in law firms who use alternative fee arrangements like fixed or flat fees, cost limits, budget restraints / capped fees and contingency fees. “Such cases require management of scope, schedule, risk, and cost in a more rigorous and measured manner than firms have practiced in the past” (Wikipedia). Because Legal Project Management is not typically part of the legal curriculum (yet), we will pay attention to some of its key principles and concepts in this article.

Legal Project Management requires a different approach to the mechanics and business of providing legal services. A useful analogy is to approach a legal project the way an architect or engineer would. Together with the client or clients, you determine what the goals and deliverables are, and how success will be measured. You work with a schedule that often has milestones. Communication with the client is ongoing, as are the evaluations of the progress that has been made. LPM typically also works with a predetermined budget that parties agree on.

In the previous article, we referred to the LPM methodology used by the American Law Firm Baker Donnely. They distinguish three different phases, and each of them has its own concepts and tools.

  • In phase 1, the tools are scope, stakeholder input, statement of work (SOW), budget, communication plan;
  • In phase 2, the tools are control scope, control budget, monitor schedule, regular team meetings, monitor tasks;
  • In phase 3,the tools are client evaluation, lessons learned, update resources, team closure meeting.

Let us have a closer look at these tools and concepts. Please note that the list below is far from exhaustive and is meant as a simplified introduction only.

One of the first things that parties have to agree upon is a project definition statement. “This is the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of your project: a short statement summarizing the purpose, goals, and final deliverable(s).” (Elizabeth Harrin, quoted by Wrike).

A more extensive version of the project definition statement is often referred to as a Statement of Work (SoW). The Wikipedia defines a statement of work as “a document routinely employed in the field of project management. It defines project-specific activities, deliverables and timelines for a vendor providing services to the client. The SOW typically also includes detailed requirements and pricing, with standard regulatory and governance terms and conditions.”

Related to this, and sometimes part of it, is the Scope of the project that parties have to agree upon. The scope of a project explicitly determines what is and what is not included in the project. It typically consists of a breakdown of all the tasks to be done in order to deliver the objectives of the project, as well as a list of measurable success criteria.

Once we have an inventory of the tasks to be done, the Schedule determines when each task has to be accomlished, and who is responsible for it. Often the work is broken down in phases, and the successful completion of such a phase is a called a Milestone.

Once we know what all has to be done, we can calculate the costs involved. Planning, managing, and monitoring the Budget also is a key element of project management.

Throughout the whole process Stakeholder input is essential. If many stakeholders are involved, it can be useful to create an organizational chart that explains who is who and what their role is. In each phase of the project communication with the client, as well as ongoing evaluations of the progress made are essential. Often this is organized in a Communication plan.

Project Management typically also involves Risk Management. Parties anticipate where things could go wrong, what the possible outcomes and the possible alternatives are.

At the end of the project, parties sit down for a Client evaluation, i.e. an evaluation by the client of how the project was completed. Parties focus on what went right or wrong, and on where there is room for improvement.

Based on the client evaluation, the law firm then compiles a report of the Lessons learned and updates its resources accordingly.

As mentioned before, this is not a way of working law firms typically are used to. Using the LPM methodologies can contribute to increase efficiency, profitability and client satisfaction, but is only part of the solution. A survey in the context of the Legal Project Management Competency Framework (LPMCF) revealed that “legal project management encompassed not only project principles and practices, it extended to technology enablement, process improvement and people leadership (team dynamics). The integration of all four of these elements represents the core foundation of legal project management in practice.”

 

Sources:

An Introduction to Legal Project Management, part 1

As a result of a push towards innovation and increased efficiency and profitability, more and more law firms are turning to Legal Project Management (LPM). So, what is it? Why is it important and what are the benefits? How does one start implementing LPM? These and other questions will be addressed in this series of articles on Legal Project Management.

Let us start by looking at two definitions of Legal Project Management, which are complementary, and have a slightly different focus. The Wikipedia defines Legal Project Management as “the application of the concepts of project management to the control and management of legal cases or matters.” The International Institute of Legal Project Management, on the other hand, does not limit LPM to the work lawyers do and offers a more general definition as “the application of project management principles and practices to enhance the delivery of legal services.” This latter definition rightfully also applies to alternative legal service providers, who typically have a proven track record of using LPM.

Both definitions are a bit circular in that they only explain Legal Project Management as Project Management for legal projects, and leave the “Project Management” part of it open. So what is Project Management? This is what the Wikipedia has to say:

“Project management is the practice of initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing the work of a team to achieve specific goals and meet specific success criteria at the specified time. A project is a temporary endeavour designed to produce a unique product, service or result with a defined beginning and end (usually time-constrained, and often constrained by funding or staffing) undertaken to meet unique goals and objectives (…). The primary challenge of project management is to achieve all of the project goals within the given constraints.”

The basic idea behind project management is simple: if you have a complex task to perform, which typically involves coordinating work to be done by several people, then you break everything down as much as possible. You create an inventory of all tasks that have to be accomplished, and then determine who has to do what, and by when. (So, if your law firm management software has contact management, task management and an agenda, you can already cover the basics).

That, in essence, is the core of project management, but, by now, there is more to it than that. There are specific concepts, principles and ‘best practices’ to streamline the process. Attention is paid to the management of scope, schedule, risk, and cost in a more rigorous and measured manner than law firms have practiced in the past. (We’ll explain those more in detail in a follow-up article). The ongoing communication with the customer or client as well as other stakeholders, too, is an essential part of it; as is the ongoing evaluation of how the project is doing.

Legal Project Management has reached a point of maturity that there are now internationally accepted standards, as well as a Legal Project Management Competency Framework (LPMCF).

Let us have a look at an example of how LPM is implemented. In the US, the American Bar Association has referred to the LPM approach of the Baker Donelson law firm as a model of how to implement LPM. “Baker Manage”, as their LPM system is called, works in three phases:

  1. Development Phase: here the objectives are to identify the client’s needs and to create a project plan. The tools to achieve these objectives include the scope, stakeholder input, the statement of work (SOW), budget, and a communication plan.
  2. Execution Phase: here the objective is to implement the client goals and to engage in ongoing communication with the client. The tools to achieve this objective include: control scope, control budget, monitor schedule, regular team meetings, monitor tasks.
  3. Closure Phase: here the objective is to offer the client the solution and evaluate the client’s satisfaction with the solution. The tools at hand are: client evaluation, lessons learned, update resources, team closure meeting.

So, what are the main reasons for law firms to start turning to Legal Project Management? For many law firms using LPM was a response to a demand by their clients. Clients prefer alternative fee arrangements where they know how much something is going to cost them. LPM allows you to break down the tasks and costs, and give a clearer view of what the client will end up paying. Predictable costs are a first benefit.

The main reasons to use LPM are increased efficiency and profits. Legal project planning offers noteworthy opportunities for profit maximization and for substantial revenue growth. Law firms, as well as Alternative Legal Service Providers often specialize in certain types of cases and/or services. The combination of repetition and LPM allows to improve efficiency and increase profits.

Because constant evaluations and feedback are part of the process, LPM also improves team cooperation and proficiency. And it also strengthens the relationship between your law firm and your clients.

All of these are good reasons to consider using LPM in your law firm, wouldn’t you agree?

In part 2 of this series, we’ll pay attention to some of the key principles and concepts of Legal Project Management

 

Sources: