AI Predicts Outcome of Human Rights Cases

It’s the stuff of science fiction: an artificial intelligence judges the merits of a court case and reaches a verdict. We are now one step closer to that being a reality. Researchers have created an artificial intelligence system that has accurately predicted the outcomes of many cases heard at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Out of 584 cases, the system had a success rate of 79% where it correctly decided whether there had been a Human Rights’ violation or not.

The project was carried out by researchers at University College London and the universities of Sheffield and Pennsylvania. The method consisted of automatically analyzing case text using a machine learning algorithm. For the learning phase, equal amounts of cases with violations and without violations were used. In developing the method, the team found that judgements by the ECHR are highly correlated to non-legal facts rather than directly legal arguments, suggesting that judges of the Court are, in the jargon of legal theory, ‘realists’ rather than ‘formalists’.

The most reliable factors for predicting the court’s decision were found to be the language used, as well as the topics and ‘circumstances’ mentioned in the case text. The ‘circumstances’ section of the text includes information about the factual background to the case.

The team identified English language data sets for 584 cases related to three articles of the Convention on Human Rights:

  • Article 3: cases involving torture or degrading treatment, good for 250 cases
  • Article 6: rights to a fair trial, good for 80 cases
  • Article 8: respect for private life, good for 254 cases

By combining the information extracted from a) the abstract ‘topics’ that the cases cover and b) the ‘circumstances’ across data for all three articles, an accuracy of 79% was achieved.

The 21% of cases where the prediction was not correct involved situations where there were similar cases but with different outcomes. This could be an indication that in those cases, the finer subtleties of the law were missed by the artificial intelligence.

One of the key researchers, Dr Nikolaos Aletras, who led the study at UCL, said the following about using AI to predict cases: ‘We don’t see AI replacing judges or lawyers, but we think they’d find it useful for rapidly identifying patterns in cases that lead to certain outcomes. It could also be a valuable tool for highlighting which cases are most likely to be violations of the European Convention on Human Rights.’

Given the huge numbers of cases that the ECHR’s legal staff has to consider every year, the program could indeed prove very useful: in 2015, e.g., the court had to process 40,650 applications for a hearing, while in 2014 it processed 56,200 cases.

It is easy to see how such programs could benefit law firms as well. Having intelligent software at your office to predict the outcome of a case would offer a clear and objective view of the strengths and weaknesses of your case and argumentation. This could then help devise a different argumentation if necessary. Alternatively, it could help avoiding the costs of litigation if similar cases were not considered ‘winnable’.

Does this mean lawyers or judges should start fearing for their jobs? No, it doesn’t. The program still misses the finer subtleties of the law. As Dr Aletras pointed out, it is meant as a tool to assist, not to replace. In the long run, though, it could result in lawyers and judges dealing with more complex or specialized cases, while the processing of simpler cases gets more automated.

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Cyberattacks: are you prepared?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that in an online world, cybercrime is on the rise. Not a week goes by without some cybercrime event in the headlines. So, we thought it would be a good idea to have some articles on cybersecurity. In this article, we will focus on cyberattacks, and more specifically on security breaches. Criminal security breaches typically happen for one of two purposes: hackers break into your system to either steal (and sell) your data, or to hold them for ransom by encrypting them with keys only they have.

Lawyers are not exempt from this risk, on the contrary. Because of all the sensitive data they store, law firms are appealing targets for hackers. A survey in the US taught that 80% of law firms have already been hacked at some stage. (The reporter writing the article suggested that the other 20% was either unaware, or lying about it).

Lawyers keep a lot of sensitive information on their clients. Because of the attorney-client privilege, they have an obligation to secure and protect that privileged information and data breaches erode the foundation of that attorney-client privilege. Data breaches can lead to fines, to law suits for malpractice and/or other damages, and to a loss of clientele. It is therefore important to take appropriate measures.

Now, typically, storing your information in the cloud is considered more secure and cheaper, as a) the hosting company will have all the know-how in-house, and b) the cost of security is shared, as it is spread over the different customers. But one must keep in mind that with a cloud solution, because it is always accessible, from anywhere, by anyone, at any time, that each additional user and each additional device increase the risk of a data breach. Most security breaches in the cloud are due, not to poor security on the host’s side, but to insecure devices or insecure behaviour by the users.

A recent example comes to mind. A firm in the US asked a security expert to test their security. It took him only 20 minutes to gain access to their data, with administrator privileges. How did he do it? He first looked for staff members on professional social media. Then he checked whether any of their accounts on social media or with other online service providers had ever been hacked. (You may remember the Yahoo or LinkedIn hacks, e.g., where data of millions of users were put online). Within minutes he found that an account of an administrator had been hacked, and that his login credentials were available online. When he tried to use the same credentials (user-id and password) to gain access to the law firm’s data, his attempt was successful. The weak link in the otherwise fairly secure setup was that a user was still using a password he had used before in an online account that had been hacked.

One of the most common cause of data breaches is the use of insecure devices. Laptops, tablets and phones are prime targets for thieves. Yet, many lawyers still store unencrypted client data on a laptop or on a mobile device.

So, is your firm secure? What can you do to increase security? Here are some suggestions:

  • Install intrusion detection and prevention systems, and enterprise-grade firewalls, not just on your servers but also on desktops and laptops. After all, gaining access to one device is enough to gain access to the information.
  • Enable encryption on all devices, including on mobile devices like phones, tablets and laptops.
  • Encryption should also be used for all communications between the devices.
  • Separate professional and private accounts. Don’t keep client data, e.g., on a private email account.
  • Only use secure servers. Can your server limit access to your data from everyone but yourself?
  • Continuously back up your data to secure servers. You may also consider using a trusted third-party to keep backups of your data.
  • Finally, make sure you have a response team in case of a breach, and enable a data loss / theft protocol, so everybody knows what steps must be taken when and by whom.

 

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Legal Case Management Software Checklist (part 2)

In part 1 of our legal case management software checklist we focused on the essential functionality that your software solution should provide. In part 2, we first pay attention to some optional modules and functionality that can be valuable for your firm. We will conclude with some general considerations with regard to the service providers and the services they provide.

Most service provides offer a range of additional modules, which often focus on specialized tasks, and therefore are optional. The reporting capabilities of a package are sometimes included and other times optional. They usually give a good insight in the maturity of the product. Further modules may focus on firm management, productivity, or logistics. Larger law firms will also be interested in knowledge management and data mining.

If your firm specializes in certain fields of activity, like, e.g. debt collection and recovery, mergers and acquisitions, liquidations, etc., special modules may be available that are specifically designed for those purposes. Sometimes other service providers offer such extended functionality, and you may have to work with more than one service provider.

If you are planning to use software solutions by other service providers, you must investigate whether these can be integrated in, or at least communicate with, your chosen software solution. We already gave the examples of third-party accounting software and optional specialized modules, but it also applies to more common scenarios. Most firms use Microsoft’s Office 365. And many people rely on either Gmail and Google Calendar, or on Outlook and/or Exchange for their email and calendar. If this applies to you, you will want a solution that offers a seamless integration with these applications as well.

These days, many companies use public cloud services (DropBox, Onedrive, Google Drive, etc.) for a number of reasons: to share documents or collaborate on them, to make backups of their data, etc. Does your software solution provide an integration with these services?

Security and Data are also important considerations. Does the software provide an easy user and permissions management solution with different levels of access? Are the data encrypted? Are email communications encrypted? Can the data be easily imported and exported? If you are looking at a cloud solution where the service provider hosts your data, what rights do you and the service provider have to the data? Can the service provider keep your data if you default on your payments, e.g.?

Thus far, we have given an overview of functionality requirements for your checklist. There are other important considerations, too. Apart from the functionality, you have to look at the User Experience (UX), e.g.: How intuitive and easy to use is the software? How are support and training organized? Are there manuals, tutorials, webinars or podcasts? When can the support desk be contacted and in what ways (phone, email, live chat, remote access, …)? The price, too, is of course an important consideration. Are there any hidden costs or costs that will increase over time? What about upgrades: what is the frequency, what are the conditions and what is the cost? Does the provider offer you a free trial period, and if so, for how long?

Last but not least, it is always a good practice to investigate to investigate the service providing company itself. What experience does it have in the field? How is its viability as a service provider?

Legal Case Management Software Checklist (part 1)

What do you have to pay attention to when you want to automate your law practice? We’re presenting you a two-part article with a check list. In the first part, we focus on the necessary modules and offer some thoughts on technology. In a second part, we will focus on optional modules and additional functionality.

Essential functionality overview

As a rule, any legal case management software should offer the following functionality:

  • Contact Management
  • Case Management
  • Document Management
  • Task Management
  • Billing & Invoicing
  • Accounting
  • Client Portal

Contact Management

Lawyers don’t just deal with customers. They deal with a wide range of people and legal entities, in different capacities and roles. This is why many regular CRM programs won’t be sufficient. A decent contact management module is the cornerstone of any well-functioning law firm.

Case Management

As a lawyer, you work on cases. You need to meticulously keep track of everything that’s going on in the cases and the matters you’re handling. Typically, your case management is the central hub of your software that ties in with all other modules.

Document Management

There are two aspects to document management. On the one hand, as a lawyer you are likely to be confronted with thousands of documents, which may or may not pertain to one or more cases. You need a system to store, allocate and retrieve documents efficiently. On the other hand, as a lawyer, you constantly produce documents as well. That is the second aspect of Document Management: you need a module or app for document assembly (sometimes called an ‘act generator’). It uses templates that are filled out with the relevant data relating to the case.

Task Management

You also need to keep track of everything you have done, and everything you still have to do. Time Management in its widest sense covers several aspects, and often consists of several modules or apps. In order to increase efficiency, most programs work with predefined lists of frequently recurring tasks. Typically, there will be an app for fee management linked to that, that allows you to define default fees for specific tasks. You also will want the program to keep track of all the tasks you have already performed. As many lawyers work with a system of billable hours, a module for time tracking may come in handy, too.

You not only want to keep track of what you’ve done already, you also need to keep track of what you still have to do. As a lawyer, specific tasks often have to be performed at specific times, which is why you need an agenda and/or calendaring app.

Billing & Invoicing

Once you keep track of all the tasks you have performed, billing and invoicing becomes a piece of cake. Typically, the billing / invoicing module will not only allow you to create invoices. It also will allow you to generate statements, work with commissions, create intermediary overviews, etc.

Accounting

Ideally, your legal case management software should also have an accounting module that keeps track of all the payments you make and receive. Alternatively, your firm may want to use existing accounting software. If an accounting module is not included, then you should make sure there is a seamless integration between your legal case management software and the existing accounting software. And if you are dealing with third party payments, where you collect money on behalf of your clients, make sure the accounting module is designed to process those payments, as well.

Client Portal

As our articles on the new legal consumers indicated, these days a client portal is a must, too. A client portal is a place on the Internet where your customers can view, and possibly edit, their own data. Usually it’s a web site that is accessible with a browser, but it could just as well be a mobile app. In the context of law firms, client portals offer clients to ability to get an overview of their case or cases: what has been done, what still needs to be done, what has been billed, what has been paid, what third party payments have been received, etc. Often, a client portal will also offer the built-in ability to directly communicate with the client, allowing the client to ask questions.

An additional note on technology

These days, the majority of people are online on mobile devices. The software you choose should be able to offer web access, either through apps for mobile devices, and/or through mobile friendly web pages. Most leading software packages for legal case management are using cloud technology, be it private, hybrid or public cloud technologies, allowing you and your clients to access information from anywhere, at any time. Make sure you’re not choosing software that can’t be accessed over the Internet.

Continued in Legal Case Management Software Checklist (part 2)

Why Social Media Matter

Generally speaking, lawyers tend to be slow to adopt new technologies. Social media are no exception: many lawyers still, and incorrectly, assume there are no real benefits to using social media. In previous articles, we discovered that the new legal consumer behaves differently, and operates in an online paradigm. A three-pronged approach was suggested to attract the new legal consumers. The keywords were: cultivate / offer / engage. Many websites focus mainly on the offer aspect. Social media play an important role in the both the cultivate and engage aspects.

In order to elaborate on this, it is good to pay some attention first to social media marketing in general. You probably already have a website, but somehow the percentage of visitors to your website that results in actual new customers is rather low. That is because the old ways of turning visitors into customers are not the most effective in an online paradigm. In the new online marketplace, everybody offering products or services must realise that they also are publishers, and that potential customers are content consumers. The way to turn website visitors into customers is to turn them into regular content consumers first.

In her book, The Zen of Social Media Marketing: An Easier Way to Build Credibility, Generate Buzz, and Increase Revenue Shama Kabani explains the ACT Methodology for social media marketing: ACT is short for Attract – Convert – Transform.

act-methodology
ACT Methodology: Attract-Convert-Transform

A stands for Attract. You want to draw attention or stand out. Practically, this means attracting traffic to your website, as well as to your presence on social media. Needless to say, you need to be active on social media, if you want to use them as a channel to attract visitors.

C is for Convert. Conversion happens when you turn a stranger into a consumer or a customer. As mentioned above, there is a difference between the two. By converting a website or social media visitor into a content consumer, you create a relationship with him or her. Over time, this relationship increases the likelihood of that content consumer becoming a customer, provided you present them with quality content. The more is at stake, the longer this may take. This means that you constantly have to work to convert people into consumers and customers. Social Media are a great tool for turning strangers into content consumers.

T stands for Transform. Transformation is when you turn past and present successes into magnetic forces of attraction. In a previous article, we found out that many people looking for a lawyer consider online reviews and testimonials important. Indeed, testimonials and reviews by existing customers help attract and subsequently convert new consumers and costumers. Social Media provide an extra, and important, platform for your existing customers to provide you with the glowing feedback which will help to do so.

As a content provider, you must think of everything you publish online in function of one of the three aspects of the ACT methodology: how does what I put out there help attract, convert or transform? The same applies to the three-pronged approach of cultivating, adapting your offer and engaging with the new legal consumers: each has to be done with the purpose of attracting, converting or transforming.

Social media are very well suited to cultivate the new legal consumers and engage with them. Media like LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, or Reddit, e.g., are ideal platforms to offer assistance, or to start or take part in discussions. If you want to demonstrate your expertise, a blog on your website is not the only possible way to publish specialized articles. Social media like LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ also offer the same ability, with the added benefit of reaching a larger audience.

In summary, social media have a role to play in attracting and transforming new consumers and customers, and are crucial in converting strangers into content consumers. They offer a platform to cultivate the new legal consumers and to engage with them.

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The New Legal Consumer (part 2)

In part 1 of this article, we learned that the new legal consumer is an online consumer who is informed, connected and picky. In part 2, we’ll first look at some statistics that will help us better understand the new legal consumers. Then we’ll have a look at how to accommodate them.

Some statistics

The research done by avvo.com reveals new patterns of behaviour of online legal consumers, as the following statistics illustrate.

What are they doing online?

  • 42% are doing their own legal research online.
  • 31% are doing research on the lawyers whose services they consider using.
  • 17% are using online legal forms to solve their problems.
  • 16% visit legal forums to get assistance with their legal issues.

How do they solve legal problems? The new legal consumers first try to solve their problems on their own.

  • 42% solve the problem on their own.
  • 42% hire a lawyer.

Interestingly, 20% of the interviewees thought they would end up knowing as much as a lawyer about their issue by doing online research.

While trying to solve their legal problem, they’re also looking for free online advice:

  • 32% get a free consult.
  • 21% get free advice from a lawyer by phone or email.
  • 15% call a legal help line.

Of those who use legal forms,

  • 66% get stuck at some point,
  • 39% get a consult from a lawyer, and
  • 33% end up hiring a lawyer.

How are they finding lawyers?

  • 31% find a lawyer by doing online research.
  • 25% find a lawyer through referrals, but 45% of those will then still first research the lawyer online.

Significant in this context is that 95% of those looking for a lawyer consider online reviews important. 45% even labelled online reviews ‘very important.’

56% of legal consumers say they value a hotline that connects them directly to a lawyer.
76% of respondents also said they prefer fixed fee billing.

Accommodating the new legal consumers

So what can we learn from all this to help us accommodate the new legal consumers? In his report, Nika Kabiri advises to reach the consumers where they are and to give them what they’re looking for. Stephen Furnari (from Law Firm Suites, www.lawfirmsuites.com) suggests a three-pronged approach to achieve this. The key words are: cultivate / offer / engage.

Cultivate online consumers: make sure you have a strong online presence. If allowed, publish online reviews by your customers, and/or use review sites. Offer assistance via email and chat, either online or on mobile.

Offer what they are looking for: offer unbundled services, where they can ask your assistance, e.g., for one specific item. Offer fixed fee projects. Offer to review forms and documents. Offer strategy sessions.

Engage with online consumers: offer on-demand services. Answer legal questions online. Participate in discussions on online forums and/or community chats that deal with legal matters.

This three-pronged approach of cultivating and engaging with consumers, and adapting the services you offer, will help converting online consumers into customers.

Sources

The New Legal Consumer (part 1)

The Internet started a technological revolution, which in turn sparked a consumer revolution. You probably already have bought books, CDs or DVDs online. Or you may have opted for eBooks, mp3s and/or on demand streaming services for movies, TV shows and music. Many people buy their tickets for concerts and performances online. The same goes for plane tickets. Restaurants and hotels allow you to make online reservations, while fast-food chains even let you place your order online. Chances are your local supermarket offers the opportunity for you to order your groceries online, and then they’ll organize delivery for you. In short, we have become online consumers.

As we have become online consumers, our purchasing behaviour has changed as well. How we buy online is different from how we used to buy. In the past, before the Internet, the traditional ‘path to purchase’ model was very straightforward, and involved 3 steps: awareness (of the product or service), consideration, and purchase. That linear model no longer applies. If I want to buy a product or service, I’ll do some research on it first. I’ll compare what’s on offer, and what the prices are. I’ll read reviews written by other consumers who have bought the product or used the service, and, if available, I’ll check out what rating other consumers give, etc. In other words, the process that leads to the actual purchase has become far more complex, and involves far more factors than before.

This change in consumer behaviour also applies to the legal consumer. There are examples of people who have settled their divorces without employing any lawyers. People write their own wills and their prenuptial agreements, using forms and legal document generators they find online. Some have set up companies with limited liability, etc. And with all the information that is available on the Internet, people are more prone to first do their own research, before consulting a lawyer.

Some months ago, Avvo.com published an interesting study on the new legal consumer: Nikka Kabiri, Sink or swim: How to adapt to the New Legal Consumer, 27 April 2016, avvo.com. (A free copy can be obtained at http://go.avvo.com/new-legal-consumer-download, but registration is required).

On the behaviour of the new legal consumers, Kabiri says (p.5): “Consumers have described their process of finding a legal solution as unmethodical, a mix of online and offline behavior with no real strategic process, largely because of the information and solutions available to them on the internet. People follow advice from lawyers they don’t even know – because these lawyers happened to be online. They hire a lawyer but then go back online to do research. While online, they follow one link after another to a variety of different sources, often reading the same information more than once, much of this information found on other lawyers’ websites. They may do this over days, weeks, even months, until their issue is resolved. Eighty-five percent go online weekly to resolve their legal issue (40% are online daily). All of this consumer behavior, taken in aggregate, reveals no one clear journey, no single discernible order to resolving legal issues. The New Legal Consumer’s “legal shopping” behavior is an unsystematic exploration of a variety of options that, before the internet, was simply unavailable to them.

In spite of this unmethodical and unsystematic approach to finding solutions for legal problems, Kabiri finds three major characteristics that can help us understand the behaviour of the new legal consumers (p.6 ff.). He describes them as informed, connected, and picky.

Informed

There is plenty of legal information available online, and people are using it. They want to know more about their issue, and they are researching it online, by themselves, before even considering using the services of a lawyer. And they don’t shy away from the professional legal literature. The new legal consumers are reading legal articles; they value state codes as well as case law, where they look for precedents that provide information that may be relevant for their legal issue.

Connected

Because of the Internet, we are witnessing the emergence of communities of legal consumers. The new legal consumers have access to other legal consumers online. They look for others who have had similar issues, and they read others’ experiences in online forums and communities. They also specifically look for online reviews of legal services that are being offered, and are more likely to use the services for which they can find reviews.

Picky

The new legal consumers have access to diverse legal solutions online. They are using online forms and legal document generators. If given the choice, they prefer fixed-fee options. They also are attracted to unbundled services: they may, e.g., be filling out a form and get stuck on one or more items for which they need assistance. They will look for a lawyer online who can answer that question for them, and they’ll use his or her services for just that item.

As the legal market is changing, legal service provides have to adapt. In part 2, we’ll have a closer look at certain tendencies in the behaviour of the new legal consumer, and at the ways to accommodate the new legal consumers.

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The bots are coming

In last week’s article, we mentioned the rise of virtual offices and websites that offer legal services. One of those, www.donotpay.co.uk, has drawn a lot of attention, recently. The website is the brain child of nineteen-year-old Joshua Browder, who refers to it as the world’s first robot lawyer. He created the website after he received more than thirty unfair traffic fines in London in just a few months, and wanted to appeal them. The website is designed to make that process as easy as answering a few questions, either by filling out a form, or in a chatroom. The website then files the appeal on your behalf, for free.

That Browder chose a chatroom solution that uses a chat bot shouldn’t come as a surprise. Indeed, experts have been predicting that the use of chat bots to interact with customers would constitute one of the biggest new technology shifts. After all, chatting apps are extremely popular, and offer users a familiar interface. Chances are you’ve already used a chat room to interact with IT support services or with companies’ customer services. The natural next step was that chat bots would get involved to automate and streamline the process. Tests have shown that the artificial intelligence used in chat bots has sufficiently matured to pass the Turing Test, i.e., the person interacting with the chat bot does not realise he or she is interacting with a chat bot. In the US, e.g., chat bots are already being used successfully in fast food chains to process online orders. Or you can just call an Uber through Facebook Messenger. Chat bots can also get you news headlines, weather forecasts, or traffic information. IT companies like Slack.com, e.g., already use a chat bot (called slackbot) for their online customer support. Microsoft acknowledged the potential of chat bots when it started working in March on tools that allow you to create your own chat bot on Skype.

With DoNotPay, the first legal chat bot is now a fact, too. When the website started offering Londoners an easy way to appeal unfair traffic fines for free, it did so with huge success: in less than two years’ time, 250 000 appeals were submitted and 160 000 of those were successful. As a result, approximately four million USD worth in parking tickets did not have to be paid. By now, people in New York can use the service as well. Seattle is next, and South Africa may follow as well. And that’s not all. Given its success, the website intends to extend the services it offers. Apart from appealing parking tickets, the website can now also assist you in claiming compensation if your flight was delayed.

In an interview with Fortune Magazine Catherine Bamford, a former lawyer in Leeds who advises law firms and corporate legal departments on automation, underlined how important this evolution is. “Access to justice for the non-wealthy is a serious concern. Legal aid budgets have been slashed in recent years. With helper bots like DoNotPay, some willing lawyers and expert programmers, legal advice could become cheap and accessible to everyone via the Internet. This is a real step in the right direction.”

The DoNotPay website wasn’t Joshua Browder’s first endeavour. The second-year IT student at Stanford, indeed has a nice track record already. As a thirteen-year-old he created an app for ‘Pret-a-manger,’ a sandwich chain, that became so popular that the company adopted it as its official app. He also contacted several human rights organizations offering his services for free. Some, like Freedom House (a human rights watchdog) and International Bridges for Justice accepted his offer.

We are likely to encounter more and more intelligent chat bots in the near future. And they won’t be limited to just support departments or customer services. One startup, x.ai, is already working on a virtual personal assistant, and uses the built-in chat bot to interact with people, e.g., to set up appointments, suggesting possible times, etc. It’s probably just a matter of time before law firms start using virtual legal assistants. In fact, IBM already offers a virtual legal research assistant. And that’s just the beginning. We can expect artificial intelligence aspects to be integrated in the user interfaces of legal software, replacing the more traditional wizards. And Law still is a field that deals with a lot of formalities. Robot lawyers that assist people with those, e.g., could be really useful, and could make things more transparent and accessible.

So, should lawyers be worried that legal robots will be taking over their jobs? Not really! After all, with each new technology arise new opportunities for lawyers, too. Take, e.g., liability questions: what if the robot lawyer makes a mistake, or if your virtual legal assistant sends out the wrong information? As long as there are legal conflicts, the need for lawyers will remain. (And that’s a good thing, because otherwise we would be out of job, too).

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The changing shape of the legal market

I always keep a close eye on how the legal market evolves. In the last ten years, we have witnessed quite a number of evolutions that have disrupted the traditional legal market. In a presentation at Lexpo 2016, held in March, Chris Bull gave an interesting overview of ten ways in which innovative business models have changed the market. (Chris Bull, An uncharted world: 10 ways in which innovative business models have changed the shape of the legal market forever, presentation at Lexpo 2016. Available on video at http://lexpo.com/videos). Here are the highlights.

  1. Investment

Ten years ago, a law firm typically consisted of partners who co-owned the firm. Now we see law firms that have external investors on board who are not lawyers. These can be insurance companies, accounting and consulting companies or plain capital investment companies.

  1. Corporation

As the correlate of the first evolution, we find more and more law firms in a more traditional commercial corporation model. Where ten years ago, law firms were partnerships, many law firms have adopted a corporate structure of a Limited company. In this corporate structure, law firms often have directors (CFOs, COOs, CIOs, etc.) who are not lawyers.

  1. Outsourcing

Law firms tend to focus more on specializing in certain fields than before. As a result, anything that is not part of their core business is subcontracted to third parties.

  1. Insourcing

Another way in which the legal market has been disrupted is by an increase in the insourcing done by the customers of the law firms. Bigger corporations tend to have bigger legal departments and do more in-house than before.

  1. Agile Firms

In the last ten years, we have also witnessed the emergence of ‘agile firms’. Four aspects set an agile firm apart. A) Role: ‘role’ has to do with who plays what part/role in the company. Apart from the partners, agile firms tend to use more paralegals, and temps, and have a larger diversity in who works full time or part time, etc. B) Place: where does the firm operate from? These days, many firms operate in a multi-site set-up. At the same time, people spend less time in the physical office and work more from home. There even are ‘shared service centres’ for lawyers. Traditionally, law firms were located in the city. Now they may just have an office there, where the main site of operation has moved to the outskirts of the city because it’s cheaper. C) Time: more and more firms are using flexible hours. Some companies have moved to a system where work hours are counted on an annual basis instead of per week or per month. D) Source: where do you find your people? Recruitment is no longer a matter of just prospecting at law schools.

  1. Start-ups

Over the last ten years, we have seen a tendency where bigger firms merge. In spite of that, the number of law firms remains more or less the same. As big firms merge, people also leave to set up their own start-ups. These start-ups typically operate differently.

  1. Legal Tech

Legal tech has dramatically changed over the last ten years. New on the scene are online offices, which can take one of two forms. On the one hand, there is the ‘Remote Office’. Here, lawyers are still involved and do the actual work. They don’t necessarily ever meet the customer in person but operate through a website front. On the other hand, there are offices that are entirely virtual: the AI office. Here no lawyer is involved. Everything is done through and by the website, using an Artificial Intelligence engine.

  1. Fixed Price

The traditional law firm worked with timesheets and billable hours. But because of market demands, more and more firms offer to work for fixed prices. That way the customer knows exactly in advance how much what will cost.

  1. Group Structure

Traditionally, law firms were single legal entities. Now we also see group structures that can be national or international. There may even be a holding company.

  1. Collaboration

Over the last years, there also has been a sharp increase in collaboration between law firms. These can take the form of collaboration networks, franchises, membership groups, purchasing groups, joint ventures, and/or firms using a common brand name.

All of the aforementioned changes have a dramatic impact on how the firm operates. But for CICERO LawPack 10, this is not a problem. It is designed to be able to handle things like multi-site set-ups, corporate accounting, etc.

Apache mod_rewrite doesn’t seem to work in Windows

I had this strange phenomenon that mod_rewrite instructions in the .htaccess file worked online on my ISPs server, but not on my local Windows machine that also has an Apache server running on it.

I kept getting 404 errors: page not found.

Which is a bit annoying: I’ve got drupal, joomla and other software running on my local server, but none of them could use ‘clean URLs,’ which is what I want to use.

It turns out that the default configuration of Apache on windows is to NOT allow .htaccess to be used.

So the problem wasn’t that the mod_rewrite didn’t work. The real problem was that the .htaccess file was just ignored.

The best solution for that is to modify your httpd.conf file. (Stop the Apache service before you modify it. Start it again when completed).

If you’ve installed, e.g, drupal in a directory “c:\websites\drupal” and you want to use mod_rewrite for clean URLs, then you’d have to add the following lines to the httpd.conf file:

<Directory “C:/websites/drupal/”>
AllowOverride All
Order allow,deny
Allow from all
</Directory>

You have to do this for each directory / folder you want to use .htaccess in.

The – far less secure- alternative is to change the default settings of your Apache and by default allow .htaccess to be used.