Lawyers and Tech Competency

Lawyers and technology often have a strenuous relationship, with many lawyers displaying a distinct reluctance to familiarizing themselves with new technologies. Still, tech competency not only provides a competitive edge, but, by now, for most lawyers it also has become an ethical requirement.

In the US, e.g., the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates formally approved a change to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct in August 2012. The new text makes it clear that lawyers have a duty to be competent not only in the law and its practice, but also in technology. Following this change, a lack in tech competency could lead to disciplinary action for misconduct.

The new text of Comment 8 to Model Rule 1.1, which pertains to competence, now states (emphasis added):

To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, engage in continuing study and education and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject.

The rule requires lawyers to keep up with the wide range of technology that can be used in the delivery of their services. This means they must stay abreast of the potential risks and benefits associated with any technology they use. It applies, e.g., to Word processing software, email services, security, including safeguarding confidential information, and practice management tools. In some cases, it may even apply to e-discovery or metadata analysis. Casey Flaherty gives the example that a lawyer should probably know how to convert document to PDF, or at least know how to create a document that is completely ready to be converted. In another example, he mentions that a lawyer who is working on a contract with numbered clauses and delegates it to another lawyer should know how to use automatic numbering and cross-referencing.

The competence clause adopted by the American Bar Association is a model rule, which means it must be adopted in a state for it to apply there.  By now, 26 States have done so, and impose an ethical duty of legal tech competence.

As a model rule, each state can implement the rule as it sees fit. In Florida, e.g., this implies, as of 1 January 2017, that all lawyers as a part of their Continuing Legal Education, are required to spend a minimum of three hours over three years in an approved technology program. California, on the other hand, requires lawyers to have knowledge of e-discovery. Indeed, in an age when any court case can involve electronic evidence, every Californian attorney who steps foot in a courtroom has a basic duty of competence with regard to e-discovery.

The rule does not require lawyers to become a technology experts, as they can use the assistance of advisors who have the necessary knowledge. Florida’s competence rule, e.g., states that “… competent representation may involve a lawyer’s association with, or retention of, a non-lawyer advisor with established technological competence in the relevant field.”

Coming back to the example with regard to California and e-discovery, it means that a lawyer in California could face disciplinary action for not properly handling the e-discovery aspects of a case. Robert Ambrogi, in Above the Law, puts it as follows:

That is the key: You need to know enough about e-discovery to assess your own capability to handle the issues that may arise and, if you lack sufficient capability, you can effectively “contract out” your competence to someone else. That someone else could be another attorney in your firm, an outside attorney, a vendor or even your client, the opinion says, provided the person has the necessary expertise. (You cannot, however, contract out your duty to supervise the case and protect your client’s confidentiality.)

By now, two courts have already confirmed that tech competency is required for lawyers. One judge stated that “Professed technological incompetence is not an excuse for discovery misconduct.”

Because of the growing demand for tech-savvy lawyers, several Law School Deans are pushing to add tech to the curriculum. They generally agree that “law schools are a bit remiss in not offering more technology-based training to law students and that they should include legal technology training in the current law school curriculum. The roundtable concluded with the collective position that all law schools in the U.S. owe it to their student bodies to introduce technology-oriented topics into the curriculum in some form or fashion.”

 

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Tips for a successful law firm website

In a previous article on the new legal consumers, we learned that approximately one in three people in need of legal assistance finds their lawyer by researching them online. A good website plays a crucial role in that. So, what makes a website of a law firm successful? Here are some recommendations by the experts.

User experience

Website visitors are picky and demand a positive user experience, or they’ll just turn away. The following five items contribute to a positive user experience.

Quick load time: your pages should load fast. Research shows that most people are only willing to wait some seconds before they turn away, because they haven’t seen anything yet. Typically, mobile users are less patient than desktop users.

Mobile-friendly: with more mobile users than desktop users on the Internet, having a mobile-friendly website is a must.

Relevant imagery: visitors tend to prefer visually pleasing websites. It is, however, not enough to just have attractive imagery, it must be relevant.

Modern design: lawyers often make the mistake of going for a more conservative design. They forget that the website should appeal to their visitors, and the majority of them prefer modern designs.

Easy navigation: the website users want to find the information they are looking for fast. Easy navigation is therefore a must, too.

Four imperatives to convert prospects

One of the purposes of a website is to convert visitors into clients. In a previous article (on why social media matter), we pointed out that this typically works better if you turn your website visitors into content consumers first, and that social media can play a significant role in that. To convert visitors into content consumers and clients, the texts on your site must be client-focused. They must convey clarity, trust, relatability, and differentiation.

Clarity: lawyers tend to use sentences that are too long, and verbose. Your sentences should be short, clear and to the point.

Trust: what you tell about yourself must convince a potential client that they can trust you.

Relatability: people look to establish relationships with other people they can relate to. If your texts are distant or aloof, a prospective client will look somewhere else.

Differentiation: you have to stand out and explain what makes you different from other lawyers offering similar services.

Pages to include

Your website should include the following pages:

Services: describe the services you offer. Be precise.

Testimonials: prospective clients want to know who the other clients are that you helped, and what they think of you.

A personalized about us page offers an opportunity to profile yourself as relatable, trustworthy and as different from other firms.

A contact form with Captcha: you want people to be able to reach you, but at the same time, you want to keep spammers out.

A FAQ page often is a good idea. The most frequently asked questions usually have to do with how much it will cost. Provide information on how and how much you charge, and for what.

Because they are required by search engines, don’t forget to include a Privacy Policy, and a Disclaimer.

More and more online consumers give preference to websites that offer an online payment facility.

Finally, your website should have site maps for your visitors, as well as for the web crawlers that search engines use.

Recommended page elements

Usability experts recommend including the following elements in the pages:

The header of the pages should include the domain name, your logo, and your tagline (if you have one). Typically, the header will also include the top navigation, as well as the breadcrumb navigation (i.e. the ‘you are here: home > …’ section).

On your page, under the header, you typically want to present a slide show or image. On your home page, you then continue with crucial business information, some testimonials and reviews. Below that, you can list the main features. On other pages than your home page, you present the information that the page is for, and make sure you provide quality content.

At the bottom of the page, you put internal links to other pages on your site.

The footer of your page typically must contain your contact information with special emphasis on your location (people tend to look for a lawyer that lives nearby), and on a phone number. (Some experts recommend putting your phone number in the header). Your footer should also include your business hours, as well as your Social Media buttons.

 

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Some considerations when moving your law firm to the cloud

Statistics show that 38% of law firms in the US use cloud-based services. 53% does not, while the rest isn’t sure which of the services they use are cloud-based. The cloud services that are being used not only include cloud-based law firm management software, but also other services, like using the cloud for backups, or to share information with customers, etc.

In this article, we will focus on the pros and cons of cloud based law firm management software.

Advantages of using public cloud services

These are the main advantages of moving your law firm to the cloud.

Maximize Internet Security: 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.

Reliable Physical Security: Cloud service providers use data centres where a lot of attention is paid to physical security of the infrastructure. Typically, advanced security measures, like using biometrics, are in place to enter the premises.  The chances of losing data because your servers are (physically) stolen are virtually non-existent in the cloud.

Immediate Disaster Recovery: Cloud service providers have Disaster Recovery plans (and the necessary infrastructure) that can be implemented instantly, or on very short notice.

Predictable IT budgeting: when you use cloud-based services, your IT cost is far more predictable, as you typically pay a fixed subscription fee. Add to that, that in most cases, using cloud-based services is cheaper, because you need to invest far less in your hardware infrastructure!

Eliminating IT Distraction and Hassle: keeping your own IT infrastructure up and running can be time consuming. If you use cloud based services, that hassle largely becomes the concern of the service provider.

Inherent Remote Access: the cloud offers constant access, from anywhere, at any time.

Experienced Law Firm Cloud Services: most providers of cloud-based services for lawyers have been on the market for a long time, and have plenty of experience.

Innovation comes as standard with the public cloud: one of the challenges when managing your own IT infrastructure is knowing when to upgrade and when to implement new technologies. When using cloud-based services, you’re staying ahead of the curve, without having to worry whether the technology will cause any problems. Your provider will have tested them out in advance.

Flexibility provides a business advantage: the cloud can provide a law firm with extra flexibility which can be a business advantage.

A survey revealed the following reasons why law firms chose to move their business to the cloud:

  • Easy browser access from anywhere, 68%.
  • 24 x 7 availability, 67%.
  • Low cost of entry and predictable monthly expense, 59%.
  • Quick to get up and running, 49%.
  • Robust data back-up and recovery, 47%.
  • Eliminates IT & software management requirements, 40%.
  • Better security than I can provide in-office, 32%.

Caveats

But there are also some caveats that should be taken into account. When you are using cloud services, not only your IT infrastructure, but also all your data are in the hands of a third party. And you necessarily rely on Internet access to have access to your data. Law firm management software typically is mission critical for a law firm. If your access is interrupted, or if the critical systems that are in the cloud fail, this could cause serious problems, even put a law firm out of business. There also are concerns of privacy and lawyer-client confidentiality: does the staff of the service provider have access to your clients’ data? Security typically is better in the cloud, but a breach typically also has bigger consequences, and service providers for lawyers are preferred targets for hackers. Continuity also is a concern: what happens to your data if the service provider goes out of business, e.g.?

In his article on cloud computing for lawyers, David Canton listed the following issues to consider:

  • how mission critical the system is
  • what the consequences are of a short term and long term outage
  • how confidential or personal the information is in the system
  • can the information be encrypted in transit and at rest
  • how robust the vendor’s continuity plan is
  • the need for the business to have its own continuity plan – such as a local copy of the data
  • how robust the vendor’s security is
  • does the vendor have third party security validation to accepted standards
  • does the vendor’s agreement have provisions that back these issues up with contractual terms and service levels with meaningful remedies

Because of these consideration, there are law firms who explicitly choose to not use the cloud. When questioned, these were the reasons they gave to stay away from cloud services:

  • Confidentiality/security concerns, 63%.
  • Concerns of having less control of your data because it’s hosted by the provider, not on your own server/computer, 54%.
  • Unfamiliarity with the technology, 50%.
  • Concerns of losing access to and ownership of your data, 39%.
  • Cost/effort of switching from your current solution, 31%.
  • Cost of services, 28%.
  • Preference for owning software rather than paying a monthly subscription, 25%.
  • Non-web-based software programs you use are sufficient for current needs, 24%.
  • Lack of professional responsibility/ethics guidance, 24%.
  • Uncertainty over longevity of vendor, 20%.

 

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Artificial Intelligence and Law

Legal Artificial Intelligence has made the news’ headlines often, recently. There are chat bots, e.g., that help you appeal against a parking ticket (www.donotpay.co.uk), or give you a first advice if you are considering a divorce (divorce bot). There is software that predicts the likely outcome of court cases. IBM offers legal AI services for eDiscovery and legal research with its Watson supercomputer: Ross, as the service is called, uses Natural Language Processing, and can also be used for cognitive computing, e.g., to review contracts (www.rossintelligence.com). Then there is RPA (Robotics Process Automation) who are creating software robots for law firms. The idea is that any repetitive task that lawyers and paralegals do at a computer can be performed by a software robot. These are two examples of AI doing the work that is often done by paralegals and lawyers.

So, what is the current state of affairs? What is being used and developed within law firms, and what do service providers have to offer when it comes to artificial intelligence for lawyers? Basically, there are three main pillars, where AI is currently being used:

  • Research and Data Analysis: Legal Research, eDiscovery, triage services for those two, predictive systems, other analytics (statistics, correlations, etc.),
  • Cognitive systems: expert systems, contract review
  • Task automation: bots (advice, automate repetitive tasks)

Let us explore these a bit further.

Legal Research: Looking for legal information that is relevant to a case you’re handling? Legal databases are increasingly using AI to present you with the relevant laws, statutes, case law, etc.

eDiscovery: While legal research deals with legal information, eDiscovery focuses on finding evidence that is stored in a digital format. More and more evidence is stored electronically, on computers, smart phones, but also in the cloud (think, e.g., of social media). The task of finding evidence that is pertinent to a case more and more becomes like looking for a needle in a haystack. No wonder that AI is increasingly being used to assist in eDiscovery.

Triage services: So, you have used programs for legal research and eDiscovery. Often that is just the first round, i.e. finding relevant information. If you’re confronted with thousands of results, you need a second round, which is the triage: determining what is most relevant and sorting the results accordingly. Triage services are often built into the software you are using, but are also being offered by independent third party service providers.

Predictive systems: A previous article was dedicated to a software system that could accurately predict the outcome of court cases dealing with Human Rights. It was right in 79% of the cases. Several service providers have announced similar products for other areas of law. But predictive systems are not limited to case outcome predictions. US data scientists have, e.g., developed a new algorithmic analysis they believe could help judges reduce crime by up to 25% in certain situations. The software performs a risk assessment and advises a judge whether a defendant awaiting their court date for an alleged crime should or should not be released to go home before the trial starts.

Other analytics: Machine learning and data mining is also used to provide us with (other) statistics, relevant correlations, etc.

Expert systems: The first cognitive systems already were developed in the 90s. Expert systems are intelligent checklists that have the built-in ability to reason, i.e., perform logical operations and functions.

Contract review: One area where cognitive systems are shining at present is contract review. Important, e.g., is the ability to point out clauses that are lacking in a contract.

Task automation: Bots are intelligent software robots that are created to automate specific tasks. In the introduction of this article, we gave the examples of chat bots that can give advice, and other bots that are being designed to perform any task a lawyer or paralegal does repetitively on a computer.

What does this all mean for lawyers? Richard Tromans, at www.artificiallawyer.com, sums it up perfectly:  ” … the arrival of AI marks a Renaissance for the legal industry because it permits lawyers to be real lawyers again and not tired process units counting down the hours of their day. After all, isn’t the definition of a lawyer a person who is doing something special in society, i.e. taking on a client’s problems and making it their duty to help them? Isn’t that why membership of the profession is so jealously guarded and so heavily regulated? If this is just any other office job, then why all the fuss to become a lawyer? But of course, it’s not just any other office job. In which case, maybe AI is the best thing that has happened to lawyers in many decades.”

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Social Media for Lawyers: an Introduction

In a previous article, we explained why social media matter for lawyers. Lawyers have been slow adopters when it comes to social media, but by now, a clear majority of them have caught on. In the US, 76% of lawyers use social media for professional purposes, and 74% of US law firms are present on Social Media.

What are they using social media for? According to a recently published report, lawyers use social media for several reasons, including career development and networking (73%), client development (51%), but also for education and current awareness (35%), and for case research and investigation (21%).

When it comes to who uses what, the available statistics are not consistent when it comes to the actual numbers, so we’ll use approximations below. The published statistics, however, do all agree on the ranking.

  1. LinkedIn is the most popular network, with approximately two out of three of law firms reporting a presence on LinkedIn. It is the medium of preference for large law firms.
  2. Facebook comes in second place, with, depending on the published data, one third to about half of the law firms saying they have a professional Facebook page. (Up to 90% of lawyers are on Facebook in a private capacity).
  3. Twitter is third in the rankings, with approximately one quarter of firms using it. Of the four main social media, it is the one that is most used for research and current awareness.
  4. Google Plus comes in last, with 10% of firms reporting a Google Plus presence.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the oldest network, and was launched in 2003. It is intended for professional networking. It was the first, and still is the largest “business social network”, meaning that is meant for professionals.

Because LinkedIn’s main goal is professional networking, most lawyers feel comfortable using it. One report states that, in the US, 91% of firms of 100 or more attorneys have a presence in LinkedIn. They are followed by 85% of solo practitioners, 76% of mid-sized firms with 10 to 49 lawyers, and 63% of smaller firms with 2 to 9 lawyers.

On LinkedIn, you can create a profile, which reads like a professional résumé. You can add contacts to build a network of connections. There are sections for skills & endorsements. You can create pages (like a mini website). You can publish a blog and/or articles. You can set up groups where you can have discussions.

LinkedIn comes in a free and a Pro version.

Facebook

Facebook was founded in 2004, and has been open to public at large since 2006. It is the largest social media network: in the fourth quarter of 2016, it had 1.8 billion active monthly users.

On Facebook, as an individual you can create a personal profile, which is not the case for legal entities. Most law firms therefore create ‘Pages’, which are like a mini website on Facebook. Pages can be ‘liked’, and you can invite people to do so. It is also possible to create ‘Groups’ on Facebook, to which you can add people to interact with. Both pages and groups can have posts; you also can add videos, and photos or images, etc.

Interestingly, the most active lawyers on Facebook for professional purposes are solos at 48%, followed by 41% of lawyers from small firms (2-9 attorneys). Mid-sized firms with 10-49 lawyers were next at 22%, with lawyers at firms with 100 or more lawyers coming in last, at only 16%.

Membership of Facebook is free.

Twitter

Twitter was launched in 2006, and is one of the ten most used sites in the world. It is often called the SMS of the Internet. It is an online news and social networking service where users post and interact with messages, which are called “tweets.” Tweets are restricted to 140 characters, and, as a rule, can be read by everyone (unless you make them private).

When you sign up to Twitter, you can choose to ‘follow’ other people, which means their tweets will appear in your (news) feed. The idea is to create your own followers who then get your tweets on their feed.

The strength of Twitter, however, lies in the use of so-called hashtags which allow to perform fast searches. A hashtag is a keyword or expression (without spaces!) which are preceded by a #-sign. Using the correct hashtags will make it easy for people who are not followers to find your tweets. If, e.g., you wrote an article on divorce, you could use #divorce and #lawyer as keywords when announcing your article on Twitter.

The largest pool of lawyers using Twitter can be found in mid-sized firms, with 26% maintaining a Twitter account, followed by 25% of solos, 25% of large firm lawyers, and 24% of small firm lawyers.

Membership of Twitter is free.

Google+

Google Plus is an interest-based social network that is owned and operated by Google. It was launched in 2011, as Google’s response to Facebook. Its functionality is fairly similar to that of Facebook: you can have pages and groups, where you can make posts, upload videos (YouTube) and photos, etc.

Membership of Google+ is free.

Other Social Media

Apart from the social media mentioned above, lawyers also use Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest, mainly to share images and videos.

Instagram is an online mobile photo-sharing site that allows its users to share pictures and videos either publicly or privately on the app, as well as through a variety of other social networking platforms. It was launched in 2010, and acquired by Facebook I 2013. Membership is free.

YouTube is a video-sharing site. It was started in 2005, and bought by Google in 2006. It comes in a free and paid version.

Pinterest is a photo-sharing website where you can organize them in virtual pinboards. Its CEO Ben Silbermann summarized the company as a “catalog of ideas,” rather than as a social network. It was launched in 2010.

 

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The Death of the Billable Hour

In recent weeks, several articles have been published that proclaimed the death of the billable hour. One author declared that he could confidently state that the “traditional” hourly billing is dead. Another even wrote a eulogy. Most of these articles refer to the 2017 Report on the State of the Legal Market, released on 12 January 2017 by Georgetown Law’s Center for the Study of the Legal Profession and Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute.

The publication of the report was accompanied by a press release that stated: “The billable hour model of decades past where law firms experienced little pushback on rates or number of hours spent is effectively dead, and the traditional law firm franchise is increasingly at risk after a decade of stagnant demand for law firm services.

In a comment on the report, the American Bar Association (ABA) Journal observed that “largely because of budgets and caps imposed by clients, 80 to 90 percent of law firm work is done outside of the traditional billable hour model, according to the 2017 Report on the State of the Legal Market.

The report itself explicitly says: “One of the most potentially significant, though rarely acknowledged, changes of the past decade has been the effective death of the traditional billable hour pricing model in most law firms, (…) Plainly, the imposition of budget discipline on law firm matters forces firms to a very different pricing model than the traditional approach of simply recording time and passing the associated ‘costs’ through to the client on a billable-hour basis.

The report found that the death of the traditional billable hour is due to the rise in so called “Alternative Fee Arrangements” (AFAs). The most common alternative fee arrangement, good for 65-70% of revenue in law firms, are capped fees, which means that cases are allocated a specific budget. Other alternative fee arrangements are being used, too, but amount to only 15-20% of revenues. Combined, this means that the alternative fee arrangements may well account for 80-90% of all revenues.

So, what are the alternative fee arrangements that are being used?

  1. Capped Fees: under a capped fee agreement, the client pays on an hourly basis, but the law firm agrees that the total bill will not exceed the capped amount. A cap is often accompanied by a minimum fee, which together are sometimes referred to as a “collared fee” agreement.
  2. Flat Fees / Fixed Price: the firm agrees to represent the client in exchange for a specified fee, i.e. at a fixed price, regardless of the number of billable hours. Because it can sometimes be hard to predict how a case will go, sometimes variations on the flat fee are used where parties agree, e.g., to a flat fee per stage, etc. Sometimes flat fees are combined with performance bonuses, where the law firm can charge an extra amount if the case is won, e.g.
  3. Contingency / “no cure, no pay”: in a contingency agreement, the law firm only gets paid if it wins the case. (Contingency agreements are illegal in some countries, like, e.g., Belgium).
  4. Holdback: traditionally, a holdback is a sum of money that remains unpaid until certain conditions are met. As an alternative fee arrangement, the law firm and its client agree on percentages of billable hours, where what is actually paid is determined by different criteria the parties set. (E.g., if the case is lost, only 75% of the fees will be paid).
  5. Blended Fees: with blended fees, the client pays the law firm a specified hourly rate, regardless of the individual lawyers’ hourly rates. This incentivizes the firm to appropriately delegate to less expensive attorneys rather than have its more expensive attorneys working at substantially reduced rates.
  6. Cost-plus model: the cost-plus model means that the client reimburses the costs the law firm makes, in addition to a reasonable profit.
  7. Subscription model: in a subscription model, the client pays the law firm a recurring fee to take care of all its legal business.

 

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Legal Technology Trends for 2017

It is common, at the beginning of the year, to ponder upon what the year ahead will bring. Several experts have published their predictions for trends we can expect in legal technology, in 2017. So, what are they saying? Generally speaking, they expect lawyers to become more mobile, more collaborative (using the cloud do to do), and more responsive (using social media to engage with clients and potential clients). 2017 is also expected to see a rise in the usage of AI (Artificial Intelligence), and to be the year that E-Discovery goes mainstream. Cybercrime & Cyberwarfare, too, will remain in the news.

Let’s have a closer look at these items.

More Mobile

In 2016, for the first time worldwide, we saw more mobile devices being used online than desktops. This trend is expected to continue. More lawyers will start using mobile apps. They also will start accommodating their mobile clients – and potential clients – more. (We recently published two articles on the subject, where you can find more information).

Cloud

2017 will see a further increase in cloud usage. The could will play an increasingly important role in collaboration between lawyers. Bigger law firms are expected to start using big data analytics. The cloud will also play a significant role in the further development of AI and E-Discovery (see below).

Cybersecurity

Cybercrime will continue to rise, and will continue to become more and more sophisticated. AI will increasingly be used in cyber-protection, as well as in attacks. Experts also expect an increase in cyberwarfare.

Social Media – Business Social

More lawyers will start embracing social media, and as a result they will become more responsive, i.e. engage more with clients and potential clients. More specifically, for lawyers, an increase is expected in the usage of professional or business social media. Some experts foresee an important role for new players (service providers) on this market.

AI

In 2017, AI will continue its rise, and become more omnipresent. The main focus of artificial intelligence in legal tech will remain on Machine Learning. More specifically, AI will continue to push legal technology in the fields of Legal Research (with, e.g., virtual Legal Research assistants), Contract Review, Security, and E-Discovery (see further). One expert also expects AI to be introduced in legal practice management, as well as legal project management, which, in turn could lead to significant advances being made in those fields.

E-Discovery

Last, but not least, 2017 is the year E-discovery is expected to go mainstream. E-Discovery, also spelled eDiscovery, stands for electronic discovery. It refers to the discovery of relevant information in legal proceedings – such as litigation, government investigations, or Freedom of Information Act requests – where the information that is being analyzed is stored in an electronic format. Think, e.g., about the recent example of the FBI analyzing tens of thousands of emails that were leaked by WikiLeaks, in just four days. As more and more information is being stored electronically, E-Discovery is becoming more and more important. In 2017, it is expected to go mainstream.

Experts predict the following trends for E-Discovery in 2017:

  • The increase in social media usage implies that E-Discovery will have to be able to incorporate the analysis of social media information as well.
  • The Internet of Things will also have a serious impact on E-Discovery, as it will have to learn to process the data that are produced by billions of devices. In the US, e.g., there is a murder case where Amazon is asked to give access to the data one of its digital Echo devices (virtual assistants) may have recorded as evidence.
  • Because of these two developments (social media & Internet of Things), data privacy is becoming more important than ever.
  • Machine Learning is expected to become the most important technology for E-Discovery.
  • Cross-border compliance will continue shaping E-Discovery: multinationals, e.g., must comply with laws in several countries. This has implications on what can be stored where, which in turn has its effects on E-Discovery.

 

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Starting a blog

At present, 26 percent of law firms in the US have their own blog, according to the 2016 Legal Technology Survey Report, which was recently published by the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center. The larger the firms, the more likely they are to have a blog: among firms of 500 or more attorneys, 60 percent have blogs, while at firms of 100 to 499 attorneys, 52 percent have blogs. In contrast, only 20 percent of firms of 2 to 9 attorneys have blogs, while just 12 percent of attorneys in solo practices have their own blogs.

So, what is a blog, and should you consider starting your own, if you don’t have one? The word blog comes from weblog (web log).  It is often defined as a regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group, that is written in an informal or conversational style. Blog articles are not academic papers. They’re meant to inform the general public.

There are many reasons to start a blog. Some see blogs as a platform for lawyers to offer insight and commentary. As such the articles are a form of free first legal advice, and facilitate access to justice. One lawyer described these blog articles as ‘helping the little guys’. Blogs also helped democratizing publishing and marketing for smaller and solo law firms. And by now, blogs have become an essential marketing tool: the legal market has changed, and the new legal consumers are content consumers. In order to turn website visitors into customers, you must turn them into content consumers first. And that is what you use blogs and social media for!

How and where do you start? You have several options, some which you could even combine. If you have your own site, then it makes perfect sense to use it to publish your blog as well. If you are using existing CMS software, like WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal, for your website, then you already have all you need, as these come with built-in blogging solutions. If you don’t use an existing CMS package, you should be able to stick to the technical solution you already are using, or, alternatively, you could opt to start using blogging software for your blog only.

If you don’t have your own website, and you don’t want to host your own site, you could use one of the platforms that are specifically meant for blogging: WordPress, Blogger, Blogspot typically are most used, but Tumblr, Medium, Squarespace, Ghost, and Wix also offer solutions. The comparison chart at https://startbloggingonline.com/blog-platform-comparison-chart/ offers a good overview of pros and cons of the different solutions that are available. If you are active on social media, you could even use some of those: both Facebook and LinkedIn, e.g., offer the option to publish articles. And finally, your ISP may even offer you a free blog. You don’t even have to limit yourself to one solution. Some people publish their articles on their blogs, as well as on social media.

What should you write about? Many legal blogs offer insight and commentary on developments in the law, business and consumer affairs. Others focus on case law and regulatory developments. Ideally, you should write about something that you are passionate about. Being passionate about a topic makes it easier to be inspired, and will make the writing process more enjoyable. Blogging shouldn’t be a compulsory chore.

After you have written your article, it is good practice to promote it on social media, so you can attract more viewers. (And if you promote you articles on Twitter, use hashtags for the most important keywords. For an article like this one, e.g., you could use #legaltech and #blogging).

The next question is how often you should update your blog with a new article. There is no magical success formula, as it both depends on your target audience, and on the amount of time that you can spend. For larger firms, an update frequency of two to three new articles per week is often seen as ideal. For smaller firms and solo lawyers, one or two new articles per month usually is enough.

Starting a blog might seem a bit intimidating at first. But it is something that grows you on quite easily. Once you have written some articles, you’ll get the hang of it, especially if you write about topics you are passionate about.

 

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Mobile Apps for Lawyers

The mobile revolution changed the way we work and interact with each other. It also has provided lawyers with plenty of new, useful tools for their mobile devices. In this week’s article, we have a look at some interesting apps for lawyers. We’ll first focus on specifically legal apps, and then continue with more general apps that lawyers are also using to increase their productivity. If there are specific ones that stand out, we’ll mention them by name.

Legal Apps

Legal Case Management Software

Virtually all major legal case management software packages offer apps for mobile devices. Typically, these apps do not offer the full functionality of the package, but rather focus on the most commonly used actions: they provide access to case files, contacts, agendas, etc.

Legal Research

Many publishers of legal documentation offer apps and/or mobile access to their information. The same applies to some legal dictionaries.

Trial Presentations

If, as a lawyer, you do a lot of litigation, there is an app that can be used in court that is specifically designed to organize, annotate, and present evidence. TrialPad, www.litsoftware.com/trialpad/, includes powerful presentation tools that call out sections of documents, highlight text, create side-by-side document comparisons You can edit and show video clips, add exhibit stickers to documents, search document text, etc. (iOS devices only).

Other Apps to increase productivity

Apart from the specifically legal apps, there also are other apps that are very useful for lawyers. These are some of the most commonly used ones, arranged by the purpose of the app. Most of these apps store your information in the cloud, so it is available anywhere, at any time, and synchs between devices in real time.

Note taking

Evernote (evernote.com) and Microsoft’s OneNote (www.onenote.com) are the two apps that are most used for taking notes. Both offer excellent tools to organize, search and retrieve notes, and are available in different versions: web version, desktop applications, mobile apps.

For those who prefer to take handwritten notes, there even are apps for that, though most of them are available for iOS devices only.

PDF Annotation etc.

There are dozens of apps available that allow you to view and annotate PDF documents on your mobile device. Most offer the same core functionalities (view, annotate, highlight).

Research

One app that isn’t specifically designed for legal research, but that is frequently used to that purpose, is Feedly, feedly.com/i/welcome.  It allows you to keep track and organize content and documentation, to add your comments, and to share both (information and comments) with others. (Slack, mentioned further down, also could be used for legal research).

Dictation

Lawyers often dictate texts, and there are plenty of apps for that, too. They largely fall in one of two groups: they can either just record what you’re saying, or they can convert speech to text, in which case they’re usually language dependent.

Messaging / Communication

One of the most used apps for messaging and communication is Skype (www.skype.com). The free version allows video conferencing for up to 10 simultaneous users. Also commonly used, but only available for iOS devices, is FaceTime.

In a previous article, we pointed out that a lot of communication between lawyers and their customers (and suppliers) happens through Social Media: Facebook / Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.

Also worth having a look at, is Slack (slack.com): it calls itself a messaging app for teams and collaboration. You can have discussions, share documents, etc. It can also be used for research.

Storage

There are many reasons to store information in the cloud: as a backup, to be accessible anywhere at any time, on multiple devices with real-time synchronization, etc. All major cloud storage service providers have apps for mobile devices: Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, etc.

Task Management

If you are using legal case management software, you probably won’t need a separate app to manage your tasks, as it will be included in the package. If it is not, you may want to have a look at Todoist, todoist.com.

Automation

And finally, there is Zapier, zapier.com/. If you perform certain tasks routinely, then there’s a chance Zapier can automate that process for you. It connects your apps and automates workflows. Zapier can move info between your web apps automatically.

 

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Accommodating your clients in the mobile revolution

The mobile revolution is a fact. In October 2016, worldwide, more websites were visited with mobile devices than with desktops. Indeed, Statcounter, a research company that tracks Internet traffic, reported that 51.3 percent of websites were loaded onto mobile devices, thus overtaking traffic from desktops for the first time ever on a global scale.

How does that affect you? In this article, we’ll focus on how to accommodate your mobile clients. More specifically, we’ll deal with what this means for your website and for your interactions with your clients. In a follow-up article, we will pay attention to some new tools the mobile revolution is providing for lawyers.

Let us start with your website. The first question to ask yourself is whether your website is mobile-friendly. How does it look when viewed on a mobile device? Is the text going out of the screen? Do the images and videos fit within the screen width? Can the navigation of the site be used comfortably on a mobile device?

Gone are the days of fixed width wide screen layouts. A quick look at available statistics teaches that approximately one in three website visitors has a screen width between 320 and 360 pixels! So, your website must be accessible in these lower resolutions. You may also consider using a font size that keeps the text readable.

A next item to pay attention to is the structure of your website. Are the menus and navigation touch-friendly and is the site easy to navigate on mobile devices? Are the menu options sufficiently large so they can be tapped with fingers? Mobile visitors also expect pages to load faster. Typically, pages that are optimized for mobile usage tend to be shorter, which means that – compared with how things used to be – you may need to reorganize and split up the content of your website.

Don’t speculate that you can postpone making your site mobile-friendly, because you are already losing potential customers. People using mobile device are 50% less likely to use your services if they find you through a website that is not mobile-friendly! And search engines like Google punish websites that are not mobile-friendly in several ways. Non-mobile-friendly websites get a lower ranking in the search results, which means your website will be harder to find. That ranking is lowered even more if the user who is performing the search uses a mobile device. (As a site note, Google also punishes websites that do not have a sitemap, disclaimer, or privacy statement, as well as sites that do not meet accessibility requirements). If you want to find out how your site is doing, Google offers a website where you can test it, and see if it is mobile-friendly by Google’s standards: www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/

In previous articles, we pointed out that the new legal consumer prefers to work with lawyers who offer a client portal. In it, clients can have access to their data in a secure environment, and keep track of the evolution of their case(s). Preferably, that client portal, too, should be mobile friendly.

Finally, mobile media also affect how we communicate. 97% of the owners of mobile devices use it for texting through (social media) apps like Facebook Messenger, LinkedIn, Whatsapp, Skype, Google Hangouts, or other apps. Many use their mobile device for video chats. And 53 % of mobile users use their mobile devices to read and send email as well. Are the emails you send mobile friendly? Do the header and footer fit within the screen widths of mobile devices?

The mobile revolution is here. Make sure you don’t miss it!

 

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