Introduction to Legal Design

An exciting new field of activity within Legal Technology is Legal Design. The underlying idea is simple: how can we apply principles of design (in the broad sense, including software design, graphic design, functional design) to the law in order to improve the user experience of all stakeholders? It is a vast field, to which books and courses are dedicated. So in this article, we will only be able to scratch the surface. If you are interested in Legal Design, and want to find out more, have a look at the websites of Margaret Hagan, www.lawbydesign.co, and of the Legal Design Lab of Stanford Law School and d. School, www.legaltechdesign.com.

How can Legal Design be defined? It is the application of human-centered design-thinking principles to the practice of law, to make legal systems, products, services and processes more useful, useable, understandable and engaging for all. “Legal Design is a way of assessing and creating legal services, with a focus on how usable, useful, and engaging these services are. It is an approach with three main sets of resources — process, mindsets, and mechanics — for legal professionals to use. These three resources can help us conceive, build, and test better ways of doing things in law, that will engage and empower both lay people and legal professionals. ” (Margaret Hagan)

Legal Design can be very useful. Virtually every aspect of our lives is regulated in some way or another. Unfortunately, there is a serious disconnect between the law and the legal consumers: contracts are made by lawyers and sometimes only understood by lawyers. The court system often is an incomprehensible maze that appears to be more interested in creating obstacles than in offering solutions for legal issues. Every product you buy or every service you use has terms and conditions that typically need to be studied in detail before you can understand them, etc.

With Legal Design, we can reduce that disconnect by focusing on a “human-centered approach in which the users’ needs, wants and desires are first identified and then used as a basis to design and develop solutions. The result is legal information and services that are transparent, accessible, visually clearer and as mentioned above, useable, understandable, useful and engaging. When applied in a strategic manner, legal design can improve performance, innovation, brand perception, audience engagement, conversion rates and many other metrics” (Meera Sivanathan).

As such, Legal Design aims to deliver legal services and products that are (1) usable, (2) useful, and (3) engaging. Legal Design therefore has three orders of goals:

  1. Helping the lay person and the legal professional;
  2. Creating a better front-end to the legal system and a better back-end;
  3. Working for incremental short-term improvements and breakthrough long-term change.

Some examples: somebody’s will or a contract or a regulation can be made more comprehensible if it is shown in a chart of infographic. Legal chatbots and robots like DoNotPay make taking legal action as easy as filling out online forms. Legal education, training and practice benefit from improved (typically visual) communication tools, etc.

Legal Design is already being applied in the following areas:

  • Legal Design Process (which typically deals with analysing processes and systems in order to streamline them and create a better user experience),
  • Visual Law and a Visual Law Library,
  • Access to Justice,
  • Legal Education & Practice,
  • Justice Innovation,
  • A better Legal Internet,
  • New Models of Legal Organizations,
  • Legal Communication Design, for which Smart Legal Tools (Communication) are being developed. Have a look, e.g., at the Legal Design Toolbox: legaltechdesign.com/LegalDesignToolbox/

In her online book, Law by Design, Margaret Hagan explains that Legal Design offers the following benefits:

  1. Improved Problem Solving: To be more forward-thinking and creative in generating solutions for problems.
  2. Client-centered Services: To put the focus on the client, and win clients in better ways, deliver them better services tailored to their explicit (and buried) needs — and to communicate information to them in clearer, more compelling, and more usable ways.
  3. Better Communication: To communicate information — particularly complex legal information — in a clearer, more compelling, and more usable way.
  4. Richer Legal Profession: To build a new set of professional paths and opportunities for lawyers, with new kinds of jobs and competencies.
  5. Better Legal Organizations & Worklife: To develop new ways of collaborating, improving processes and decision-making, and build stronger communities inside of legal workplaces.
  6. New Products & Services: To generate ideas of how to serve clients, lawyers, and the general public in new ways — through technology or otherwise, and to build ideas into viable products and businesses.

 

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An introduction to smart contracts

In a previous article, we have written about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and contracts. AI is having an impact in three areas when it comes to contracts: 1. contract review, 2. contract management and automation, and 3. smart contracts. While smart contracts are automated contracts, what sets them apart from other automated contracts is the usage of Blockchain technology.

What are smart contracts? We’ll combine elements from the definitions Tech Republic and the Investopedia to explain: A smart contract is a software-based contract between a buyer and a seller. The software automates the business processes and the conditions of fulfilment contained within the contract. The code programmed into the contract actually makes the contract self-executing so that it takes action whenever a specific condition is triggered within the contract. The code and the agreements contained therein exist across a distributed, decentralized Blockchain network. Smart contracts permit trusted transactions and agreements to be carried out among disparate, anonymous parties without the need for a central authority, legal system, or external enforcement mechanism. They render transactions traceable, transparent, and irreversible. Because the smart contract is software capable of automating business processes and contract fulfilment automatically, it eliminates the need for managers and middlemen supervision.

Let’s give an example: A is a supplier of products for B. Every month, B places an order with A. It makes sense to automate this process. The smart contract is a piece of software that, e.g., would contain the code that says if an order is received by A from B, and B is not in arrears, then that order must be executed. Now, with smart contracts these transactions are typically registered in a distributed, decentralized Blockchain network of ledgers. In a previous article we explained that Blockchain is a technology that registers transactions in a ledger, where everybody in the network has a copy of that ledger. Transactions are secured by using a verification code that is calculated based on all previous transactions in the ledger. In essence, to forge a transaction, one would therefore have to forge all registrations of all transactions in all ledgers.

The benefits of smart contracts are clear: the whole process of transactions between parties can be automated, and by using Blockchain technology one has virtually irrefutable proof of the transactions. Add to that that programming code tends to be less ambiguous than the generic legalese of traditional contracts, so the chances of disputes about the interpretation of smart contracts are smaller.

The usage of smart contracts is expected to grow fast. A survey published in Forbes Magazine predicts that by 2022, 25% of all companies will be using them. Basically in any market where Blockchain technology is useful, one can expect smart contracts to be useful, too.  Smart contracts can also be the perfect complement to E.D.I. At present, smart contract applications are already being used in – or developed for – supply chains and logistics, in finance and securities, real estate, management and operations, healthcare, insurance, etc.

Still, one has to be aware of the limitations of smart contracts, as there are a number of legal issues to take into account. The name ‘smart contracts’ is misleading in that they aren’t really contracts but software. As such, there are legal concerns with regard to:

  • Offer and acceptance: is there even a binding contract, if there is no human interaction or supervision, and the transaction is completely executed automatically?
  • The evidentiary value: smart contracts are not written evidence of agreed rights and obligations because they encapsulate only a portion of any rights and obligations that is related to contractual performance
  • Jurisdiction: is the area of jurisdiction clearly defined in case of a conflict or dispute?
  • Dispute Resolution: are there any dispute resolution mechanisms in place?

When considering working with smart contracts, it is therefore a good idea to first come to a framework agreement in which these issues are addressed. And those will preferably still be written by lawyers.

 

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Email Marketing for Lawyers

Email marketing is a valuable tool for lawyers, with many benefits. It is still seen as the top medium for return on investment by 70% of digital marketers. It is pretty straightforward to get started, and with limited resources you can reach a global audience, have an instant impact, maintain customer loyalty, etc. Add to that that emails are easy to share, and that their impact is easy to measure. You can deliver targeted messages, drive revenue, etc. One of the most obvious advantages of email marketing is its lower cost compared to mainstream marketing channels. As a lawyer, however, you must keep in mind that there are not only legal (GDPR compliance, e.g.) but also ethical considerations.

What types of emails can or should you send? Joleena Louis mentions six different types:

  1. The Welcome Email, e.g. when you get a new client, but also when somebody signs up to your blog.
  2. The Tools or Resources Email, where you share helpful information with clients: URLs, seminars/webinars, eBooks, etc.
  3. The Asking Email, where you ask your clients for feedback or assistance.
  4. The Content Email, where, e.g., you share a new blog post you’ve written.
  5. The Curated Email, where you share interesting content by other authors.
  6. The Newsletter Email.

The list is not exhaustive. You can also send out different types of reminders, birthday and holiday wishes, etc.

So, how does one go about organizing an email campaign? In essence, there are four major aspects to keep in mind: your target audience(s); the message you want to deliver to that target audience; the presentation of the message; and how it will be delivered. Let’s have a look at those.

Your Target Audience: who do you send your email campaign to? The most obvious targets are your clients, as well as people who signed up to your blog. It is not a good idea to send the exact same content to all of your readers. It is recommended to use segmentation of your email list, e.g., by interest, by activity, by date, by type of reader (e.g. client vs. blog subscriber). But don’t make segmentation too complicated or time consuming.

Your Message: you have to define what the message for each target audience is. Remember to personalize your message: start with their name or, if applicable, the company name. Keep your emails concise and focused. When it comes to the actual content, it is important to not just pay attention to yourself and/or your services/products. The content has to be about and for the readers. Make sure to provide value. If in doubt or uninspired, you can ask your readers what information they want. It’s often also a good idea to include some fun facts and statistics.

The Presentation: how you present your message is important. Research has shown that it’s good to include images in your message. Using 1 to 3 images typically has the greatest impact. Make sure, however, that those images are not too large: They have to load fast. It is also recommended to not send out a mail that consists only of an image. (Those typically get marked as spam by spam filters). Use short plain texts from one or more real persons on your team.

Sometimes, it can be a good idea, too, to use video: don’t embed a video, but instead include a link to the video you’d like your readers to have a look at. This works best for first mails, e.g., for a welcome email. Using either static image with a play button, or an animated gif typically results in more people watching the video.

Also keep in mind that by now a majority of people read their mail on their mobile device. Make sure your message is mobile responsive.

The Delivery Method: how are you going to deliver your message to your audiences? If you are using Office Management software, chances are that it comes with a module for email campaigns.  If your law firm management software does not offer the option, you can use the services of service providers like Mailchimp, Litmus, Reachmail,  Cakemail, etc.

Some additional observations: it is recommended to automate the sending of emails where possible. That is the case, e.g., for welcome mails, reminders, holiday or birthday wishes, etc. When you start planning your email campaigns, it is recommended to start with a clear goal in mind. The biggest mistake people tend to make with email marketing is not having a strategic plan. Another important aspects of emails campaigns is to keep track of your results: how many mails were opened, and read? What topics are successful, and what works best for which target audience, etc.?

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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?

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