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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Robot Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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An Introduction to Legal Project Management, part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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An Introduction to Legal Project Management, part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Alternative Legal Service Providers

Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in the amount of Alternative Legal Service Providers (ALSPs) on the market. This is the result of a growing demand for legal services that are more efficient and affordable. Maybe surprisingly, not only businesses, but law firms and legal departments, too, are increasingly using the services of these ALSPs. Let’s have a closer look.

What are Alternative Legal Service Providers?

Alternative Legal Service Providers are service providers that offer legal services outside of the traditional model of legal professions and organizations. The Georgetown Law Center for the Study of the Legal Profession, the University of Oxford Saïd Business School, and Thomson Reuters, published a report last year on ALSPs. In it, they “considered ALSPs to encompass activities performed by non-traditional legal service providers (including independent affiliates of law firms), that are directly related to the provision of legal services. The definition excludes other nonlegal activities that might be outsourced such as accounting, IT support, HR management, etc. And it also excludes companies that provide legal-related software only rather than services.”

So, what legal services do they provide?

ASLPS tend to be niche companies that specialize in one or more specific tasks. These tasks typically require a certain amount of expertise and are in high demand. The services they provide include:

  • Discovery and eDiscovery (electronic discovery)
  • Document review (including contract review)
  • Contract management
  • Litigation support
  • Contract lawyers and staffing
  • Investigation support and legal research
  • IP (intellectual Property) management, etc.

What makes them ‘alternative’?

They are alternative in two ways. Firstly, the entity that delivers the legal service is usually not a law firm. Secondly, the services, too, are delivered via a model that departs from the traditional law firm delivery model.

From an article titled “What is an alternative legal service provider?” on the paralegaledu.org website:

“The thing that makes an ALSP alternative is that it is not, and does not pretend to be, a law firm. Instead, it is a legal services business that can provide one or more services that law firms would traditionally offer, but often at a lower cost or with other advantages, including increased expertise, flexibility, and speed. Because they do not have to fit into the structure and hierarchy of a typical law firm environment, ALSPs may be free to alter their business practices to increase efficiency using technology or other innovative practices.”

ALSPs tend to be more tech-savvy than traditional law firms, and some of the services they provide rely on cutting edge technology. Great progress was made, e.g., in areas like eDiscovery, contract and document review by using Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning. The market share of ALSPS is expected to grow because they take advantage of increasingly sophisticated Artificial Intelligence technology.

Who is using the services of ALSPs?

As was mentioned in the introduction: ALSPs are not only used by businesses, but also by legal departments and law firms. The report mentioned above found that 51% of law firms and 60% of corporate legal departments are already using Alternative Legal Service Providers for at least one type of service. And those numbers are expected to grow.

More specifically, the findings show that law firms are more inclined to use litigation support services (e.g., e-discovery, document review, litigation and investigative support), while corporations are more likely to use services in specialized areas (e.g., regulatory risk and compliance services, specialized legal advice, legal research and IP management).

Why use ALSPs – What are the benefits?

There are several good reasons to consider working with an ASLP. Initially, people turned to ALSPs because they could offer legal services at a lower cost than law firms did. The report found that these days people also use ALSPs because they tend to be more efficient than law firms. They usually can deliver their services faster than law firms can. Lastly, and increasingly more important: because they specialize in specific tasks they can offer a level of expertise that others don’t have.

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Law Firms and Innovation

Making headlines some days ago, was a story of how the UK government is spending 1 billion GBP to modernise its court system. The aim of this innovation project is to cut annual spending by £250m and staff by 40%, while at the same time improving access to Justice, as well as the speed and quality of service delivery (e.g. by the use of online forms for petitions).

Lawyers, too, are being urged to be innovative. Last year, the British Law Society published a 116-page guide on innovation for law firms, called Capturing Technological Innovation in Legal Services. And there are good reasons to being innovative. It gives a competitive advantage, improves productivity, profitability, and, as mentioned above, the speed and quality of service delivery.

But what does it mean for a law firm to be innovative? The first thought that usually comes to mind, which is also reflected in the title of the Law Society document, is the use of new technologies. Lawyers have already successfully been automating many aspects of their law practice for over three decades. New advances in the fields of artificial intelligence and machine learning are heralding a new age, a second wave if you want, of office automation.

Some examples: law firms can already use virtual legal assistants to do legal research. They can even use virtual receptionists. Document assembly and document review can now be done more efficiently by AI than by their human counterparts. In fact, many specific tasks that have a sufficient degree of repetition can already be automated, as the advent of robot lawyers and legal chatbots has proven. Progress is also being made with smart contracts, where human intervention is often no longer required. AI is proving useful, too, in knowledge management and eDiscovery, as well as in predicting the possible outcome of cases.

These advancements in legal technology are resulting in a change in the professional demography of law firms. With new technology comes a demand for new skill sets, which in turn leads to new roles and positions that need to be filled in law firms. It is not uncommon, these days, to find law firms who employ specialized programmers, statisticians and data scientists, chief data officers, and project managers.

One of the more novel new occupations is that of Data Analytics Attorneys (often shortened to either data attorneys or analytics attorneys). In their article on legal innovation, Wendy Butler Curtis and Kate Orr explain that “the data analytics attorney understands the needs of the client, the function of the tools, and the value of the data. They know it is necessary to train and maintain the artificial intelligence and the richness and quality of the data to predict the accuracy and value of the AI output. Analytics attorneys are also adept at identifying tasks that can and should be automated.”

But just as innovation in law firms is not limited to the use of new technologies, so are the new roles in law firms not limited to tech related jobs. Gone are the days where lawyers were solitary consultants who would charge by the hour. Lawyers now are professionals who are running a business that delivers legal services and products. They are concerned with optimizing and automating processes and work flows, with improving service delivery, as well as customer relations and customer satisfaction. As a result, law firms started employing non-lawyers to run their company (CEO), to keep their finances in check (CFO), and to handle their accounting, marketing, and even customer relations.

As these examples show, innovation requires a different approach, which can affect each aspect of being a lawyer and running a law firm. The first part of the Law Society’s paper focuses on technological innovation in practice. It deals with working smart (which involves putting the client first, innovation hubs, Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Machine learning and Artificial Intelligence, and predictive analytics), with agile resourcing (where attention is paid to a fluid workforce), with new pricing models, as well as with innovating for Access to Justice.

 

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Legal Document Assembly

Lawyers produce documents, lots of documents. They write letters, warnings and exhortations, briefs, reports, contracts, etc. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that one of the first areas where law firm automation started was document assembly (also called document automation or document generation). In fact, lawyers have successfully been using document assembly for over three decades.

Document assembly is one of the four pillars of law firm management that can be automated to a large extent without the need for AI. The others are customer relation management(CRM) or contact management; the combination of billing, invoicing, and collections; as well as managing tasks and deadlines.

The principle behind document assembly is simple. You take frequently used documents, and create a template for them, that can then be used to create new documents by automatically adding the relevant data. It’s a standard feature in word processors. By using macros or elements built into the firm management software, or a combination of both, it is possible to integrate more advanced features like check lists (for which items to include), optional clauses, rules and calculations, etc.

There are many benefits to using document assembly. The most important one is that it improves productivity and efficiency. Typically, document assembly is a part of practice management software, which has access to the relevant data that have to be merged into the template. Creating a new document (or the basis for a new document) therefore takes a fraction of the time it would take to do the same thing manually. It also leads to less errors in the text than would be the case with manual input. And another way that document assembly increases productivity and efficiency is that, once the process is fine-tuned, it can easily be done by newly hired or junior staff, with minimal training.

Document assembly also helps increase revenue in other ways. By using commercially available professional templates for legal documents (or by swapping templates with other lawyers), you can widen the range of services that you offer. You could even use a client portal (like CICERO Web View) where you give your clients access to these templates. They have to fill out an online form to provide the necessary information that the system doesn’t have yet, and then they can create the new documents by themselves. You could also put some commonly used simple templates and forms online as a free service to attract new clients.

With the growing demand for Alternative Fee Arrangements (AFA), document assembly also offers a better way of controlling costs that benefits both you and your clients. With automatically assembled documents you can charge a fixed fee per document, rather than charging the client by the hour or minute. That way, both parties know exactly what they’re getting in advance.

As was illustrated above, it is possible the further improve productivity by using your standard documents in combination with online forms to capture the relevant data. If your client enters the data online, it saves you the trouble of having to do so. And don’t forget that document assembly can also be used to compose emails. By creating a set of standard templates for emails, you can further increase productivity.

Artificial Intelligence is already taking document assembly to new levels. There already is the example of an Artificial Intelligence system (Kira) that scanned documents to then extract the relevant data by itself that had to be merged into a (Hotdocs) template, generating a legal document all by itself. In other words, nobody had to look for or enter the relevant data as the Machine Learning algorithms were able to do it.

Machine Learning algorithms have also successfully discovered certain rules that are being used to combine or omit certain clauses in legal documents. And there are Artificial Intelligence solutions available that will review legal documents and point out certain problem they may have. They do it faster and generally more accurately than their human counterparts do.

Experts expect Artificial Intelligence to further disrupt how document assembly is being used. They predict that it will evolve in a way where a different approach will be needed, where more is automated, and more is tested and validated.

 

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Productizing Legal Services

Three evolutions have put the idea of productizing legal services firmly in the spotlight. First, there is the increased demand for Alternative Fee Arrangements (AFAs): clients don’t like billable hours because they prefer to know in advance how much something will cost. So, lawyers started using fixed fees for certain services (e.g., a non-disclosure agreement will cost you amount X), or started offering subscription billing, e.g., as an option. With subscription billing a client pays a monthly fee, which entitles him or her to x amount of work, or, e g., to so many contracts, etc.

Another area where productizing legal services pops up is in software that analyses and automates workflows in law firms. The increased usage of AI is leading to major progress in automating workflows, which in turn allows these workflows to be productized.

But the best examples of legal services being productized are probably the services offered by robot lawyers and legal chatbots. These services have completely been automated and turned into products that offer a solution to a legal problem. There already are solutions, e.g., to create legal documents and forms, to review contracts, to appeal parking and other traffic tickets, to offer first advice on divorce, or that will submit damage claims for you with regard to flights, that assist you with requesting maternity leave or in case of landlord contract violations, etc. And the list is growing on an almost daily basis.

So, what does it mean to productize legal services? Simply put, productizing legal services means that you are turning your legal services into products. Services are normally delivered one at a time. (Which implies that there is a limit to the number of billable hours one can do over a given period of time). Products on the other hand can be produced and sold at scale. Producing more products is a matter of enhancing production capacity. And with software solutions, that is not hard to do. Now, obviously, not all legal services lend themselves to being productized. But the three evolutions described above show that many can. A study found that, at present, 23% of the work a lawyer does can be automated. With the continued progress that is being made in the field of legal Artificial Intelligence, that percentage will only rise.

There are several benefits to productizing legal services. The first one, already hinted at above, is scalability. Not only does a robot lawyer, e.g., take seconds to review a contract, where a lawyer takes hours, but if it reaches its capacity, it’s just a matter of increasing that capacity, typically at minimal cost. A second benefit is predictability: With a product, you know in advance how much it will cost. A third benefit is a better match between offer and demand, as the client knows in advance what he or she will be receiving for his or her money. As a result of this, you gain consumer trust, which is a fourth benefit. A fifth benefit is that when you start productizing your legal services, you are really maximizing your productivity.

As the above examples illustrated, the role played by technology is crucial in productizing legal services. Only now have we reached a point where the technology is available to start productizing legal services. These technologies allow to automate the workflow and thus maximize your operational efficiency. They also allow the scalability of the solutions offered.

The way to start productizing legal services is by analysing processes and workflows, standardizing and automating them the maximum extent. If you want to launch yourself in the robot lawyer market, find a common problem, preferable in a niche that requires some expertise; analyse how much of the workflow can be automated, and if it can, offer an easy to deliver solution. Even without considering offering robot lawyer service, analysing workflows and processes at your law firm will allow you to automate them, which will benefit your firm.

 

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OneDrive for Lawyers

You may not have noticed, but Office 365 keeps on being updated, and a lot of the subtle enhancements have to do with the ongoing integration of additional cloud services. Let’s have a closer look at Word and OneDrive.

OneDrive comes in different versions with different features. Anybody can sign up for a free account, but, as a lawyer, you are typically expected to sign up for a professional version of ‘OneDrive for Business.’ Many law firm management software providers advise to use Office 365 Business Premium. (If, for some reason, you are using a version of OneDrive that does not offer certain features, it is good to know it may well be possible to subscribe to those features separately).

In Office 365, it is possible to save documents to the cloud, which is done by saving them to OneDrive. A first advantage of having a document in OneDrive, is that it can be accessed from anywhere at any time, and on most devices. There are apps for mobile devices and tablets, and it is even possible to use Office Online, a free web version (with a limited feature set) of the most popular Office applications.

Another advantage of using OneDrive is that the copies saved by autosave are saved in the cloud, too. If your device would crash while working on a document, you can continue working from another device. Microsoft also automatically makes backups of all your OneDrive documents.

One of the biggest advantages of using OneDrive, is that you can share files and folders with other people. If you need feedback from your client, from other lawyers, or even from an external consultant, there is no need to email anybody a copy of the document, you just give them access to the document in OneDrive. And you have the option to determine for each person whether they get access to just read or to edit the texts. etc. It is also possible to insert comments into the text, where Word will keep track of who said what. What’s more, the person you want to give access to one or more documents, doesn’t even need to have Office 365 themselves. They can use the free apps, or Office online to access the documents. All you have to do is send them an email with the link.

OneDrive is specifically designed for people to cooperate on documents. It has built-in capabilities such as advanced permissions management, versioning control, eDiscovery, and records management to ensure documents are managed, controlled, archived and can be retrieved in one place with reduced overhead.

“But is it safe?” you may wonder. The short answer is that it is. Typically, professional cloud service providers have excellent security measures in place. Your data is in all likelihood more secure in the cloud than it is on your own servers. Add to that that the professional version of OneDrive allows to use two-step authentication to access documents. OneDrive also offers a more advanced permission management system, called the Advanced Security Management (ASM), which will detect abnormal usage and allow you to monitor how your documents are being accessed and used. (If your version of OneDrive doesn’t include ASM, it is possible to order it separately).

It is important to remain aware of the terms and conditions of OneDrive, especially if, as a lawyer, you store evidence on OneDrive. Microsoft has strict policies when it comes to, e.g., nudity or graphic violence. Storing such content, even if it is evidence in a case, may be a violation of Microsoft’s terms and conditions, and may lead to your account being suspended. One possible workaround, is to sign up for ‘Customer Lockbox’ which gives you greater control over what Microsoft can scan on your OneDrive, but it offers no guarantees. If Microsoft does find anything it considers a violation of their terms and conditions, your account may be suspended.

We started this article by referring to the constant updates of Office 365 and the addition of additional cloud services. For many of these cloud services, is making progress with the integration of Artificial Intelligence. You may know that within Word, e.g., you have the option to translate text in a document to different languages. Those translations have been getting better and better. Another new feature is an intelligent dictionary for acronyms, which will tell you what a certain acronym in a certain context means. Specifically interesting for lawyers are the advancements Microsoft has been making in the field of eDiscovery on OneDrive.

Needless to say that the usage of OneDrive is integrated most modern software packages for law firm management.

PS: this article was written in reply to a request for information about OneDrive for Lawyers.

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