Tag Archives: Legal Tech

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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Legal Tech Trends Predictions for 2018

The beginning of a new calendar year traditionally is a time where the experts publish reviews of the year that has been, and make predictions for the year that is starting. Let us have a look at what 2017 brought to the field of legal technology, and at some predictions for 2018.

Review of 2017

Legal Tech News published a slide show on the three technologies that redefined legal technology in 2017. They are Artificial Intelligence (AI), Blockchain, and the Internet of Things (IoT).

2017 saw an increase of AI in the legal workplace. It is being used already in contract management, eDiscovery, cybersecurity, and in legal research. And some major law firms started using AI legal assistants. Robot lawyers and legal chatbots, too, frequently made headlines. And when it comes to the legal aspects of using AI, a court ordered that there should be more transparency in to how AI systems reach their conclusions, and that the algorithms they use must be published.

Bitcoin often was in the news, too. Its underlying technology, Blockchain, however is not just important for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies but is already being used, e.g., for smart contracts that are made and executed automatically.

2017 also saw a growth of the Internet of Things, as more and more devices are being connected to the Internet. Not surprisingly, we also saw more lawyers embracing cloud technologies, with more than half of the US based lawyers making use of them.

When it comes to cybersecurity, the Internet has become a more dangerous place in 2017. There has been an increase in systems being hacked, in denial of services attacks, in malware and, notably, in occurrences of ransomware. What we’ve witnessed in 2017 was that IoT devices like webcams, printers, routers, etc. that are connected to the Internet, were being used in cyberattacks. As a rule, large law firms are targeted more often than smaller ones, and those law firms that operate in the cloud are typically the least affected by cybercrime.

In 2017, legal tech solution providers all focused on using technology to streamline law firm processes, be it eDiscovery or Law Firm Management, etc.

Finally, we also saw several courts going online.

Predictions for 2018

Virtually all authors agree that most of the trends of 2017 will continue in 2018.

One evolution we are already witnessing is in increase in the integration between the 3 technologies that dominated 2017. Cloud-based AI is being built into IoT devices, e.g. in the user interfaces, security, and data mining to make predictive suggestions. Smart and intelligent contracts are just one example of AI teaming up with Blockchain technology. We can expect to see a lot of progress on that front.

Many experts made predictions with regard to AI. They expect AI to become more practical and less visible. They also expect AI to become more ubiquitous. Better Natural Language Processing will lead to better and more intelligent user interfaces. We will also witness the integration of AI in web and mobile apps. The rise of machine learning and data mining solutions will continue. In 2018, we will also encounter far more legal and other chatbots. Overall, AI will have a pivotal role in communication and collaboration.

Experts also expect a shift in the way lawyers approach marketing. As they slowly become more familiar with cloud technologies and social media, lawyers are expected to start trying newer ways of marketing, to replace the more traditional approach. Client-centred communication becomes more important. And more lawyers will start using marketing automation software.

When it comes to software for law firms, authors predict a further automation of practice and workflow processes. The efficiencies in the delivery of legal services brought about by innovation and technology will only increase. In 2018, the implementation of “smart automation” will deliver the most immediate results to organizations.

As far as cybercrime and cybersecurity are concerned, the experts expect more of the same. We will see that the IoT will be used more often for criminal purposes, which will make the challenge to remain safe online tougher. The experts also predict that cybercriminals will start using more AI to be able to stage more sophisticated attacks. One alarming evolution is the increase in fake professional social media profiles that are being used by cybercriminals. Because of this increase in cyberthreats, more lawyers are expected to increase their cybersecurity budget in 2018. They are looking into securing their physical network, as well as their information. More lawyers will start using encryption in 2018.

Many experts also predict that more lawyers will start using more cloud-based solutions in 2018.

And we can expect more courts to go online.

 

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Lawyers in the Cloud

The American Bar Association recently published the results of its 2017 Legal Technology Survey. One of the key findings that really stand out, is that in 2017 more than half of the lawyers are using cloud computing. Where in 2015 only 30%, and in 2016 38% of lawyers were active in the cloud, that number has jumped to 52% in 2017.

The enthusiasm for cloud-based solutions is not shared equally by all lawyers. As was the case in previous years, cloud services are most embraced by solo and small law firm (2 to 9 lawyers), with 56% in both groups relying on cloud computing. For medium sized law firms, the number stands at 52% who are using web-based computing. Large law firms trail behind, with only 42%. As the graph below shows, for each group, there has been a steady growth in cloud adoption over the last few years.

Lawyers in the cloud
Percentage of Lawyers using Cloud Services in 2017

Overall, 31% of lawyers make online backups of their data. Again, the solo lawyers lead the way with 48% of solo lawyers making cloud back-ups.

The predictions for 2018 are that the popularity of cloud-based solutions will continue to grow. In a recent panel discussion, the panel members were asked to make legal technology and management predictions for 2018. Four out of nine members mentioned an accelerated adoption of legal cloud services. Overall, resistance to adoption is decreasing among lawyers as most providers of cloud-based services for lawyers have been on the market for a long time, and have plenty of experience. Because most lawyers are using Office 365, they have also become more familiar with using cloud services. One panel member observed that cloud services have become more all-encompassing and a lot less trouble and expensive than on-premise solutions.

The American Bar Association also asked why lawyers were using the cloud. The most important reasons are:

  • Easy browser access (73%). Everybody can use a browser and there’s at least one installed on every device with online access.
  • 24/7 availability (64%). You can have access at any time, from anywhere.
  • Low and predictable cost (48%). The entry fees for cloud-based legal solutions are fairly low, and they are typically billed either monthly or annually, making the cost predictable. Add to that, that you need to invest far less in hardware infrastructure.
  • Robust data backup and recovery (45%). If you use cloud-based solutions, the service provider typically takes care of data backups, and they have the in-house expertise to quickly get everything back up and running if needed. They typically also have disaster recovery plans (and the necessary infrastructure) that can be implemented instantly, or on very short notice.
  • Ability to quickly get it up and running (38%). Typically, all you need is a device with access to the Internet, and your subscription to the cloud service to get started. No need to buy, install or configure new hardware or software on premises.
  • Elimination of IT & software management requirements (30%). This is an important consideration for mainly solo lawyers and small law firms, as they don’t have to invest in managing an entire IT and software infrastructure. The cloud service provider makes sure the software works and is up to date.
  • Better security than can be provided in-house (25%). When you host your own servers, and provide Internet access to them, security is a constant concern. It’s not obvious to always have the latest patches, a perfectly configured firewall, etc. Because it’s part of their core business, external cloud service providers are experts in secure provision. More likely than not, your data will be safer in the cloud.

It is also worth noting that when using cloud-based services, you’re staying ahead of the curve, without having to worry whether the technology will cause any problems. This can be used as a business advantage. Cloud services also can give your law firm extra flexibility, which, again, can be used as a business advantage.

 

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Digital Marketing for Lawyers, part 2

This is a follow-up article to an article we published three months ago, which also dealt with digital marketing for lawyers. In it, we explained why digital marketing is important for lawyers and we also focused on some of the tools lawyers have at their disposal: websites, blogging, SEO, social media, reputation management and reviews.

Marketing often is something that lawyers see as a necessary evil. To make matters worse, online marketing is substantially different from traditional marketing. Some of this was discussed in our ‘Why Social Media Matter‘ article. In it, we explained that “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 this new marketplace, lawyers must publish websites and blogs, and engage with potential customers on social media. They must take things into account like user experience and website design; mobile functionality and local search presence. They have to focus on online intake of new clients, on customer service and client experience, as well as on reviews, reputation and authority. And most importantly, they have to work on how to turn website and blog visitors into regular content consumers, before they can be converted to clients.

So, practically speaking, where does one start? The first step is to know your audience and competitors. One of the advantages of the online marketplace is that we can have better access to all the pertinent data. We can learn who visits our website or blog, as well as who we are connected with on social media. This allows us to create visitor profiles, which then in turn allows us to better accommodate their wishes and expectations. It is important to keep the focus on potential customers, when determining what content to provide. At the same time, it is also important to keep track of what the competition is doing, so we can a) differentiate ourselves sufficiently, and b) remain competitive.

The next step is to then define an engagement strategy. The adage that content is king still applies. Know where your potential customers are on social media, and offer them relevant content. What has changed in 2017 is that the content people are looking for is no longer limited to quality text content. They also want visual content: infographics, e.g., are more popular than ever before, as is video content. So, make sure you use those. (In a future article, we’ll deal more in depth with content marketing specifically).

The way to further finetune your strategies and to find out what works for your law firm is, again, to diligently keep track of the relevant metrics. Find out what pages on your website and blog are popular. Discover how people found them. Learn what posts on social media led to visitors of your website and blog.

If you are familiar with some of the more traditional marketing techniques, then Teresa Matich’s article on “How to Take Your Old School Marketing Techniques Online” on the Wishpond blog can be useful. She illustrates how online marketing uses different tools, and that we have to move:

  • from business cards to websites: 96% of people with a legal issue turn to the Internet first, and nearly 40% of people needing a lawyer look on the Internet first to find one.
  • from public speaking to blogging: you build a reputation by publishing high quality articles on the Internet.
  • from the phone book to online ratings directories: people no longer just want to find a lawyer, they want to know whether he or she is any good, and they will look for online reviews.
  • from bus stop ads to Facebook ads: people looking for a lawyer spend just over a quarter of their time doing so on social media, so it makes sense to advertise on them.

 

Alex Barthet, a Miami based lawyer, gives some additional useful advice, based on his personal experiences with online marketing.

  • Claim your online profiles: online services like Google, Yelp, and Avvo let you create profiles. Often these are among the first places potential clients go looking.
  • Also claim your social profiles on sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
  • Be careful with paid profiles: they usually offer very little extra value.
  • Use pay-per-click (PPC) advertising carefully, and make sure to determine a maximum budget that cannot be exceeded.
  • Don’t fall for sales pitches from marketing companies that want to lock you into long-term contracts.

 

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Blockchain and the Law

In our previous article, we explained what Blockchain is. In this follow-up article, we look at how it is pertinent for lawyers. In short, it is relevant in two ways: on the one hand, there are the legal aspects of using Blockchain: Blockchain is changing the way things are done in several industries, and lawyers active in those fields should be prepared for that. On the other hand, there already are new legal applications, like e.g. smart contracts, that are built on Blockchain. We can expect many more of those to come.

Legal aspects of Blockchain

A lot of the work lawyers do, has to do with helping to facilitate the secure transfers of assets. Blockchain was developed for exactly that purpose: it creates real-time digital records that verify and confirm that the transactions, detailing such transfers of assets, did happen at a certain time, and in a specific order. In other words, Blockchain offers proof that at present is as good as irrefutable.

In his book Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin Is Changing Money, Business and the World, Dan Tapscott states: “anything of value – money, but also titles, deeds, identities, even votes – can be moved, stored and managed securely and privately. Trust is established through mass collaboration and clever code rather than by powerful intermediaries like governments and banks.”

Blockchain has already started disrupting markets, and is expected to affect many more industries. In fact, it has the potential to affect most of them. The most obvious example is the world of finance, where Bitcoin and Blockchain started. Thanks to Blockchain, virtual currencies are a reliable alternative to traditional currencies. Blockchain is also being used in post trade settlements (Securities). Intellectual property, too, is a prime candidate for a Blockchain overhaul: applications are already being developed with regard to digital rights management which will affect music, eBooks, and other online content you purchase or rent. For trademarks, too, Blockchain technology can prove that a certain trademark was registered by a specific party at a specific date. Applications that rely on the Blockchain technology are being developed for real estate (transfer of title deeds), health care (patient data), insurance, energy (peer to peer market for energy), digital voting, gambling, etc.

If you, as a lawyer, represent clients in Blockchain-affected industries, you’ll need to get acquainted with how Blockchain affects those industries. Doing it early offers a competitive edge, as you become a greater resource as trusted adviser to your clients.

As Blockchain is changing the way business is being done, we can also expect the law to start regulating the use of Blockchain. A recent example of this was in the US, where the SEC made a ruling on 25 July 2017 in a case of an ICO, i.e. an Initial Coin Offering:  instead of launching an IPO (Initial Public Offering), a company wished to raise capital using a cryptocurrency instead of US dollars. The SEC ruled that “federal securities laws apply to those who offer and sell securities in the United States, regardless whether the issuing entity is a traditional company or a decentralized autonomous organization, regardless whether those securities are purchased using U.S. dollars or virtual currencies, and regardless whether they are distributed in certificated form or through distributed ledger technology.”

Legal applications using Blockchain

One of the areas where Blockchain is expected to make great strides is ‘smart contracts.’ OpenLaw, e.g., is a joint US and Swiss project that is working on a smart contract platform that will allow lawyers to make legally binding, and self-executing agreements. The platform uses Ethereum, which is an alternative to Bitcoin but is also built on Blockchain. In a first step, lawyers can choose one of many contract templates that can then be further customized online. If the parties for whom the contract is made agree, they can confirm and activate the contract on the Ethereum Blockchain, and then have the contract self-execute its key agreements via the same Blockchain.

Smart contracts are expected to start pitching up everywhere. For this reason, on 15 August 2017, a new legal Blockchain consortium, called the Global Legal Blockchain Consortium (GLBC), was launched. An array of law firms and leading legal tech companies are involved, and their goal is to discuss and consider the issues around the use of Blockchain and smart contracts.

All of this creates new opportunities for lawyers: your law firm can become a Smart Contract Firm, or a Smart Contract Mediator, and/or a Smart Title Company. Individual lawyers can become ‘Distributed Ledger Lawyers’ who are Blockchain law and policy advisors.

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On the lighter side – July 2017

Sometimes Law and Technology combine in ways that one does not immediately anticipate. Here are some recent items that have been in the news.

A hardware keyboard for lawyers

Lawyer Brian Potts got frustrated when he was writing a brief and had to insert a section symbol (§) into the text. As the symbol is not on the keyboard, it takes just enough steps that have to be undertaken to interrupt one’s train of thought. So, it dawned on him that having the section symbol as a key on the keyboard would be easier.  He realised that there were other things, too, that lawyers use every day, which would make his life a lot easier if he could access that functionality straight from his keyboard.

Potts created the LegalBoard, which has specially designed function keys and keys on numeric pad that can be used to insert commonly used legal words or symbols, or to perform specific functions, like

  • Adding a section symbol, a paragraph symbol or a copyright symbol.
  • Or adding words and phrases that lawyers frequently use (like court of appeals, plaintiff, appellant, etc.) with a single keystroke.
  • Adding a bullet.
  • Turning italics, underline and bold on or off with a single keystroke.
  • Changing the line spacing.
  • Inserting a footnote or comment with a key stroke.
  • Turning track changes on and off.
  • Using the find function.

A software keyboard for lawyers

Emily Montgomery is an attorney in Las Vegas and a graduate of UCLA Law, who had a similar idea. She came up with the Citepad, which is a software (on-screen) keypad, rather than a physical keyboard.  It also comes with buttons for commonly used tasks involving citing legal references, inserting some often-used symbols, and some formatting, etc. Citepad can work with e.g. Lexis Nexis and Word, OpenOffice,  Google Docs, and is available for Mac OS and Windows 10.

Napping Pods

Some big law firms in the US have been installing napping pods, and they are well-received. The “energy pods” are lounge chairs with a domed privacy visor and they can play “relaxation rhythms” while the user snoozes. After 20 minutes, the pods use vibrations and soft lights to wake the user.

Wearables

Lawyers are using wearables, like smart watches, to help their practice, in three different ways. Smart watches are used to keep connected (retrieve email, etc.). Some law firms are experimenting with Virtual Reality Headsets, e.g., for interviewing witnesses, or for multisite meetings. Inspired by dash cams, some are experimenting with smart glasses to record evidence in situ.

An AI ‘Workspace assistant’ for lawyers

A legal software provider recently announced the launch of Workspace Assistant, which allows lawyers to perform time management functions using the Amazon Echo or other Alexa enabled devices. So, it is now possible for lawyers to just say, ‘Alexa, Track My Time,’ and it does. At present, it can perform time management functions like tracking billable hours and controlling time entry. As this functionality is hosted by an existing legal service provider, confidentiality aspects are covered by the agreement you have with the provider.

Emoji Law

Did you know there already is such a thing as ‘Emoji Law’? At present, there are three relevant legal aspects to emoticons. A first is how the courts will deal with questions of interpretation raised by emojis used in communication. Courts have already ruled that emoji can convey content. (Noteworthy in this context is that Emojis change depending on the version of the OS of the device: one study showed that people interpreted an earlier implementation of a grinning emoji to mean “ready to fight” while the later version is more clearly smiling and happy. Therefore, someone on a newer iPhone sending that emoji to someone using an older version of iOS could unintentionally appear threatening).

A second aspect has to do with intellectual property that underlies the small, digital pictographs themselves. Emoticons are graphic works, and as such are protected by copyright.

Finally, the topic of emoji is also relevant in eDiscovery. Recent court decisions stated that messages sent by SMS, MMS or instant messaging all had to be included in the discovery process. At present, however, nearly all text-based legal research tools fail to capture visual communications.

 

 

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The Law Practice of the Future – part 1

Law firms are going through a phase of intense transformation. The way law practices are run has changed more in the last two decades than in the entire century before. One such change is that law firms largely have become corporate entities, and consequently are being run as such. Other changes are the result of the Internet and the emergence of new technologies. This has led to virtual practices, paperless offices, Artificial Intelligence assistants and even some robot lawyers. We work with digital devices, and we need to be aware of cybersecurity. On these devices, files and information are digitized, and as a result, evidence often is digital evidence, which in turn led to eDiscovery. Lawyers and clients find each other online, and interact through social media. Because of the cloud, traditional employment relationships are also disappearing. Most young people opt for self-employment and prefer to take assignments that can be performed at home. The need for a fixed workplace and fixed working hours seem to be obsolete.

These changes raise the question of what the future will hold for law practices. Will robots take the place of lawyers? Will offices disappear as everything moves to the cloud? How will the way lawyers work change? We will be looking at the law practice of the future in a two-part series, which is largely based on the Law 2023 Study (www.law2023.org). This study projected what a law firm will look like in 2023. For these two articles that information has been updated and complemented by more recent findings.

The Law 2023 Study predicts that law practices will evolve in seven ways:

  1. Technologies Will Enable Lawyers to Bill for Real Value
  2. Firms Will Develop Offerings That Transcend Jurisdiction
  3. Demand for Responsive Institutions Will Create New Markets for Accountability
  4. Firms Will Tap New Talent and Enable New Pathways to Practice
  5. Information Access/Transparency Will Push Firms to Seek Hyper-Specific Markets
  6. Firms Will Launch R&D Departments to Create New Offerings
  7. User/Anthropological Research Will Shape Client Experience of Legal Products

 

We will focus on the first three evolutions in the first part of this article, and the other four in the second part.

Evolution 1: Technologies Will Enable Lawyers to Bill for Real Value

The study found that “many lawyers are already experimenting with digital tools to enhance their practices. But the most powerful new technologies will likely be developed by innovators outside the traditional legal industry who are incentivized to offer basic legal services for radically lower costs.”

We are, in fact, already witnessing this with, e.g., the arrival of legal chat bots that offer legal assistance (often for free) with regard to parking tickets, damage to luggage claims, applying for refugee status, and even on divorce. A recent study found that approximately 23 % of the work lawyers do at present can be automated. Eager to seize that opportunity, there are dozens of startups that want to offer AI-driven services that offer very specific legal solutions.

It is perfectly possible that law firms will start integrating these new technologies in their offer. They would be wise to do so, as it will reduce their costs. And they may even start developing their own such tools (cf. evolution #6). But the main effect of these new technologies is that lawyers will have to start focusing on what brings real value to their clients. Often this will mean specializing in specific fields of expertise. Another effect of these new technologies is that they will lead to entirely new forms of practice, like computer-assisted law, that can only be pursued in this technological environment.

Evolution 2: Firms Will Develop Offerings That Transcend Jurisdiction

The study found that “as the pace of globalization quickens, the nature of jurisdiction will change. It’s not just that corporations and other institutions will need to navigate dozens or hundreds of sets of rules and regulations — they’ll also have a significantly greater need to choose among them. These clients will expect their counsel to keep up.”

Globalization creates a demand for global legal services, which creates new challenges and new opportunities. Proactive firms will develop methodologies and employ technologies to compare and assess how legal issues related to products or services are solved in different jurisdictions.

Evolution 3: Demand for Responsive Institutions Will Create New Markets for Accountability

The study found that “enabled by technology, citizens are demanding greater transparency and responsiveness from corporations, government and other institutions — which very frequently seem caught off-guard. In a world where a WikiLeaks is around every corner, institutions will need more than just good PR; they’ll need new tools to fortify their credibility and maintain public trust.”

Law firms who to tap into this new market must adhere to a ‘triple bottom line,’ evaluating their success using metrics beyond profits:

  1. Is your law firm the preferred place for the most profitable clients to do business?
  2. Is your law firm the preferred place for the most talented people to work?
  3. Is your law firm the preferred place where the most inspired leaders want to serve their communities and the larger world at hand?

Smart firms already understand how important the element of trust is to their long-term viability. This in turn creates a new market for lawyers who can help other institutions achieve transparency, accountability and responsiveness, by crafting the necessary policies and practices.

The demand for greater transparency and responsiveness will not only come from clients but also from the people who will work for the law firm: millennials prefer to work in companies that inspire, and that display a commitment to philanthropy and social responsibility. This ties in with evolution #4, which describes how law firms will tap in to new sources of talent. That will be one of the items discussed in part 2 of the article: The Law Practice of the Future – part 2.

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Artificial Intelligence and Law

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

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

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

Let us explore these a bit further.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Death of the Billable Hour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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