All posts by Manuel Lamiroy

The dark web

In this article, we explore the dark web. We will be answering questions like, “What is the dark?”, “What can you find on the dark web?”, ” Why is the dark web important?”, “What do you need to access the dark web?”, and “How to safely access the dark web?” In a follow-up article, we’ll look at how it is relevant for lawyers.

What is the dark web?

To properly explain what the dark web is, it is best to put it in context. Usually, when we use the World Wide Web, we consult websites we know, and we use search engines to find other information that is publicly accessible. This part of the Internet that is available to the public and can be found through search engines is often referred to as the surface web. (The terms clear web and Clearnet are also occasionally used). It’s one part of the Internet that most of us access on a daily basis.

Apart from that, there is information that is not freely accessible to all and that is not indexed by search engines. This includes all the information where access is restricted, and you need credentials to be able to access it. This is called the deep web. It comprises all kinds of subscriptions you may have, all the information your service providers keep on their private databases, your bank account and medical records, email & financial information, academic and scientific databases, legal documents, etc. If, as a lawyer, you use a cloud-based solution to run your firm, all that information is stored in the deep web, too. Even most social media are not indexed by search engines, and therefore are part of the deep web. Most of us access the deep web, too, on a daily basis.

This deep web is by large the biggest part of the Internet. Estimates about what percentage of the Internet is publicly accessible range between 0.1 to 10 percent. In other words, anywhere between 90 to 99.9 percent of the Internet belongs to the deep web.

The dark web, sometimes called the darknet, is a part of the deep web for which you need extra tools to gain access to it. The information is encrypted, and you need at least a specialised browser to access it. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) and good antivirus software and a firewall are usually recommended as well if you want to access it safely.

Summarizing, there are three parts of the World Wide Web: a) the publicly accessible and indexed part, called the surface web, b) the part that is not indexed by search engines and is not accessible to everyone, called the deep web, a c) a part that is hidden and for which special tools are needed, referred to as the dark web.

What can you find on the dark web?

When we think of the dark web, we typically think of hackers, illegal markets and pornography, pirated content, and other types of cybercrimes. But there are positive aspects to the dark web too. It provides safe ways, e.g., for activists and whistleblowers to share information. There are chat rooms for developers. And you’ll even find copies of popular websites on the dark web, which allow people who live in locations where Internet access is restricted to still access them.

Here is a list of examples of what you can find:

  • Link directories to find the URLs for websites on the dark web. (As the content is not indexed by search engines, you have to rely on these link directories).
  • Dark web versions of popular websites: most social media and news outlets, e.g., also have dark net versions.
  • Email services.
  • File uploads and transfers. These include both perfectly legal as well as illegal – e.g., pirated – files.
  • Forums and chat boards, including forums for freedom fighters and protestors, developers, journalists, but also hackers.
  • Whistleblowing websites and tip-off pages, which are commonly used by the press.
  • Blogs run by privacy-conscious individuals.
  • Black Markets.
  • Bitcoin / cryptocurrency services.
  • Hacking groups and services.
  • Financing and fraud.
  • Illegal pornography.
  • Hoaxes and unverified content.
  • Pirated Content.

A report, called Into the Web of Profit and discussed in the CSO Online article, identified 12 categories of tools or services that could present a risk in the form of a network or data breach compromise:

  • Infection or attacks, including malware, distributed denial of service (DDoS) and botnets
  • Access, including remote access Trojans (RATs), keyloggers and exploits
  • Espionage, including services, customization and targeting
  • Support services such as tutorials
  • Credentials
  • Phishing
  • Refunds
  • Customer data
  • Operational data
  • Financial data
  • Intellectual property/trade secrets
  • Other emerging threats

“The report also outlined three risk variables for each category:

  • Devaluing the enterprise, which could include undermining brand trust, reputational damage or losing ground to a competitor
  • Disrupting the enterprise, which could include DDoS attacks or other malware that affects business operations
  • Defrauding the enterprise, which could include IP theft or espionage that impairs a company’s ability to compete or causes a direct financial loss”.

Why is it important?

With all the illegal activity going on, on the dark web, the question is often raised whether it would not be better to shut it down altogether. But that would be a clear case of throwing out the baby with the bath water, as the dark web offers some essential services.

Historically, the dark web was created for US intelligence and counterintelligence services to safely exchange information. Then several civil rights groups started using it as well because it allowed them to also exchange information safely and anonymously.  And then the criminals hopped on board too.

By now, it is also being used by journalists, activists, whistleblowers, and freedom fighters. And as mentioned above, copies of popular websites on the dark web provide access to people who could otherwise would not be able to access them.

What do you need to access it?

So, how can you safely access the dark web? To safely access the dark web, three or four items are recommended. First, you need a browser for the dark web. Next, it is recommended that you always use a Virtual Private Network (VPN), and that you have up-to-date antivirus software. A good firewall comes in handy, too.

A browser for the dark web: the dark web uses encrypted information on web addresses that end on a .onion extension. By default, most browsers cannot read these websites. The TOR browser was created specifically for the dark web. It is a customised version of the Firefox browser with specific enhancements to guarantee privacy and anonymity. It can also route information through trusted nodes, so it cannot be intercepted. But note, that by default, if a normal internet connection is available, Tor will use that one, and you must choose to use the Tor network to make use of its own nodes.

The Tor browser is not the only one that can be used to access the dark web. Two popular browsers, Firefox and Opera, can easily be configured, too, to access the dark web. This is, however, not recommended as they do not have other privacy protecting enhancements built in. Several companies have created customised versions on the Tor browser, typically with enhanced functionality like higher encryption, etc. These include Subgraph OS, Waterfox, Tails, and Whoix.

A Virtual Private Network (VPN): in essence, a virtual private network is a tool that allows you to surf anonymously on the Internet. Usually, when you surf the web, your IP address is visible not only to all websites you visit, but also to all the Internet nodes that relay the information between your computer or mobile device and that website. What a VPN does, is route that traffic through a server and the IP address of that server is used instead. VPN service providers typically have servers in many countries, so you can choose which country you pretend to be surfing from. On top of that, all communication is also encrypted for enhanced security.

Up-to-date antivirus and a firewall: the dark web can be a very dangerous place and accessing dark web websites can be risky. Websites with illegal content will almost always try and install malware on your device, but other sites may be infected, too. Up-to-date antivirus software and a firewall help reduce the risk but cannot eliminate it altogether.

How to access the dark web in five easy steps

The safest way to access the dark web is on a desktop, rather than a mobile device. (Some security experts explicitly advise against using a mobile device to access the dark web). Once you’ve installed TOR, or a compatible browser, and you’ve installed your VPN, you can access the dark web in five easy steps.

  1. The first step is to open your VPN software.
  2. In your VPN software, connect to a server in a different country.
  3. Open the Tor browser.
  4. Click the “Connect” button.
  5. You are now ready to begin browsing the dark web.

Remember, the content of the dark web is not indexed. So, you can’t really use a search engine to find information. Your alternative is to use one of the many dark web directories. But keep in mind that these get outdated fast. Only the dark web versions of popular surface web websites tend to keep the same URLs.

Extra recommendations for safe access

The dark web can be a dangerous place. It is therefore good to take some extra safety measures.

  • Create a Tor-specific user account. Never use an email address or even a password that you have used before. Use an anonymous encrypted email account and aliases that you have never used before either and that cannot be traced to you. Never use this user account outside Tor.
  • Don’t use your mobile phone for 2-step verification on Tor.
  • Never use your real name or photos. Don’t post any of your personal information.
  • Never have dark web stores mail packages delivered to your real address — use a PO box.
  • Don’t send unencrypted data over Tor. For that same reason, do not use HTTP websites on Tor, because they are not encrypted.
  • Don’t forget to delete cookies and local website data.
  • Don’t use Tor for Google search.
  • Don’t connect to the same server with and without Tor simultaneously.
  • Don’t install browser plugins, as they can be manipulated into revealing your IP address.
  • You may even consider using the TAILS operating system (which is booted as a live DVD or live USB), as this leaves no digital footprint on the host machine.

In a follow-up article, we will look at what lawyers need to know about the dark web.

 

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Artificial Intelligence Regulation

In previous articles, we have discussed how artificial intelligence is biased, and on how this problem of biased artificial intelligence persists. As artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming ever more prevalent, this poses many ethical problems. The question was raised whether the industry could be trusted to self-regulate or whether legal frameworks would be necessary. In this article, we explore current initiatives for Artificial Intelligence regulation. We look at initiatives within the industry to regulate artificial intelligence as well as at attempts to create legal frameworks for Artificial Intelligence. But first we investigate why regulation is necessary.

Why is Artificial Intelligence Regulation necessary?

Last year, the Council of Europe published a paper where it concluded that a legal framework was needed because there were substantive and procedural gaps. UNESCO, too, identified key issues in its Recommendation on Ethics in Artificial Intelligence. Similarly, in its White Paper on Trustworthy AI, The Mozilla Foundation identifies a series of key challenges that need to be addressed and that makes regulation desirable. These are:

  • Monopoly and centralization: Large-scale AI requires a lot of resources and at present only a handful of tech giants have those. This has a stifling effect on innovation and competition.
  • Data privacy and governance:  Developing complex AI systems necessitates vast amounts of data. Many AI systems that are currently being developed by large tech companies harvest people’s personal data through invasive techniques, and often without their knowledge or explicit consent.
  • Bias and discrimination: As was discussed in previous articles, AI relies on computational models, data, and frameworks that reflect existing biases. This in turn results in biased or discriminatory outcomes.
  • Accountability and transparency: Many AI systems just present an outcome without being able to explain how that result was reached. This can be the product of the algorithms and machine learning techniques that are being used, or it may be by design to maintain corporate secrecy. Transparency is needed for accountability and to allow third-party validation.
  • Industry norms: Tech companies tend to build and deploy tech rapidly. As a result, many AI systems are embedded with values and assumptions that are not questioned in the development cycle.
  • Exploitation of workers: Research shows that tech workers who perform the invisible maintenance of AI are vulnerable to exploitation and overwork.
  • Exploitation of the environment: The amount of energy needed for AI data mining makes it very environment unfriendly. The development of large AI systems intensifies energy consumption and speeds up the extraction of natural resources.
  • Safety and security: Cybercriminals have embraced AI. They are able to carry out increasingly sophisticated attacks by exploiting AI systems.

For all these reasons, the regulation of AI is necessary. Many large tech companies still promote the idea that the industry should be allowed to regulate itself. Many countries, as well as the EU, on the other hand believe the time is ripe for governments to impose a legal framework to regulate AI.

Initiatives within the industry to regulate Artificial Intelligence

Firefox and the Mozilla Foundation

The Mozilla Foundation is one of the leaders in the field when it comes to promoting trustworthy AI. They already have launched several initiatives, including advocacy campaigns, responsible computer science challenges, research, funds, and fellowships. The Foundation also points out that “developing a trustworthy AI ecosystem will require a major shift in the norms that underpin our current computing environment and society. The changes we want to see are ambitious, but they are possible.” They are convinced that the “best way to make this happen is to work like a movement: collaborating with citizens, companies, technologists, governments, and organizations around the world.”

IBM

IBM, too, promotes an ethical and trustworthy AI, and has created its own ethics board. It believes AI should be built on the following principles:

  • The purpose of AI is to augment human intelligence
  • Data and insights belong to their creator
  • Technology must be transparent and explainable

To that end, it identified five pillars:

  • Explainability: Good design does not sacrifice transparency in creating a seamless experience.
  • Fairness: Properly calibrated, AI can assist humans in making fairer choices.
  • Robustness: As systems are employed to make crucial decisions, AI must be secure and robust.
  • Transparency: Transparency reinforces trust, and the best way to promote transparency is through disclosure.
  • Privacy: AI systems must prioritize and safeguard consumers’ privacy and data rights.

Google

Google says it “aspires to create technologies that solve important problems and help people in their daily lives. We are optimistic about the incredible potential for AI and other advanced technologies to empower people, widely benefit current and future generations, and work for the common good.

  1. Be socially beneficial
  2. Avoid creating or reinforcing unfair bias
  3. Be built and tested for safety
  4. Be accountable to people
  5. Incorporate privacy design principles
  6. Uphold high standards of scientific excellence
  7. Be made available for uses that accord with these principles.”

It also made it clear that it “will not design or deploy AI in the following application areas:

  1. Technologies that cause or are likely to cause overall harm. Where there is a material risk of harm, we will proceed only where we believe that the benefits substantially outweigh the risks and will incorporate appropriate safety constraints.
  2. Weapons or other technologies whose principal purpose or implementation is to cause or directly facilitate injury to people.
  3. Technologies that gather or use information for surveillance violating internationally accepted norms.
  4. Technologies whose purpose contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights.”

It adds that that list may evolve.

Still, Google seems to have a troubled relationship with ethical AI. It notoriously fired its entire ethics board in 2019, to replace it with a team of ethical AI researchers. When subsequently, on separate occasions, two of those were fired too, it again made headlines.

Facebook / Meta

Whereas others talk about trustworthy and ethical Ai, Meta (the parent company of Facebook) on the other hand has different priorities and talks about responsible AI. It, too, identifies five (or ten) pillars:

  1. Privacy & Security
  2. Fairness & Inclusion
  3. Robustness & Safety
  4. Transparency & Control
  5. Accountability & Governance

Legal frameworks for Artificial Intelligence

Apart from those initiatives within the industry, there are proposals for legal frameworks as well. Best known is the EU AI Act. Others are following suit.

The EU AI Act

The EU describes its AI act as “a proposed European law on artificial intelligence (AI) – the first law on AI by a major regulator anywhere. The law assigns applications of AI to three risk categories. First, applications and systems that create an unacceptable risk, such as government-run social scoring of the type used in China, are banned. Second, high-risk applications, such as a CV-scanning tool that ranks job applicants, are subject to specific legal requirements. Lastly, applications not explicitly banned or listed as high-risk are largely left unregulated.”

The text can be misleading as, effectively, the proposal distinguishes not three but four levels of risk for AI applications: 1) unacceptable risk, which are banned, 2) high-risk, which must be regulated with specific legal requirements, 3) low risk, where most of the time no regulation will be necessary, and 4) no risk, which do not have to be regulated at all.

By including an ‘unacceptable risk‘ category, the proposal introduces the idea that certain types of AI applications should be forbidden because they violate basic human rights. All applications that manipulate human behaviour to deprive users of their free will, as well as systems that allow social scoring fall in this category. Exceptions are allowed for military purposes and law enforcement purposes.

High risk systems “include biometric identification, management of critical infrastructure (water, energy etc), AI systems intended for assignment in educational institutions or for human resources management, and AI applications for access to essential services (bank credits, public services, social benefits, justice, etc.), use for police missions as well as migration management and border control.” Again, there are exceptions, many of which have to do with cases where biometric identification is allowed. These include, e.g., missing children, suspects of terrorism, trafficking, and child pornography. The EU wants to create a database that keeps track of all high-risk applications.

Limited risk or low risk applications includes various bots which companies use to interact with their customers. The idea here is that transparency is required. Users must know, e.g., that they are interacting with a chat bot and to what information the chat bot has access.

All AI systems that do not pose any risk to citizen’s rights are considered no risk applications for which no regulation is necessary. These applications include games, spam filters, etc.

Who does the EU AI Act apply to? As is the case with the GDPR, the EU AI Act does not apply exclusively to EU-based organizations and citizens. It also applies to anybody outside of the EU who is offering an AI application (product or service) within the EU, or if an AI system uses information about EU citizens or organizations. Furthermore, it also applies to systems outside of the EU that use results that are generated by AI systems within the EU.

A work in progress: the EU AI Act is still very much a work in progress. The Commission made its proposal and now the legislators can give feedback. At present, more than a thousand amendments have been submitted. Some factions think the framework goes too far, while others claim it does not go far enough. Much of the discussions deal with both defining and categorizing AI systems.

Other noteworthy initiatives

Apart from the European AI Act, there are some other noteworthy initiatives.

Council of Europe: The Council of Europe (responsible for the European Convention on Human Rights) created its own Ad Hoc Committee on Artificial Intelligence. This Ad Hoc Committee published a paper in 2021, called A Legal Framework for AI Systems. The paper was a feasibility study explored the reasons as to why a legal framework on the development, design, and application of AI, based on Council of Europe’s standards on human rights, democracy and the rule of law is needed. It identified several substantive and procedural gaps and concluded that a comprehensive legal framework is needed, combining both binding and non-binding instruments.

UNESCO published a series of Recommendations on Ethics of Artificial Intelligence, which were endorsed by 193 countries in November 2021.

US: On 4 October, the White House released the Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights to set up a framework that can protect people from the negative effects of AI.

No government initiatives exist yet in the UK. But Cambridge University, on 16 September 2022, published a paper on A Legal Framework for Artificial Intelligence Fairness Reporting.

 

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Web3 for Lawyers

In this article, we have a look at Web 3 for lawyers. We answer questions like “What is Web3?” and “What are the promised benefits of Web3?”. We look at the concerns about Web3 and at how Web3 and the Metaverse relate to each other. We also pay attention at the relevance of Web3 for lawyers.

What is Web3?

Web 3 (web3, web 3.0) is the name used for what could be the next version of the Internet. Proponents claim it will be based on concepts like decentralization and blockchain technologies. The Wikipedia also includes the concept of token-based economics as a third pillar of web 3. (Think of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) as an example of token-based economics. A future article will be dedicated to token-based economics. In the past, we have already published articles on blockchain and on how it is relevant for lawyers).

But why call it web3? To understand the name, we need to look at the history of the Internet. Before the Internet was accessible to the public in the form of the World Wide Web, there was ARPANET (sometimes referred to as DARPANET). Military strategists had come to the conclusion that centralizing strategic information on just one or some computer servers could leave one vulnerable. So, instead, they built a network of computers that were connected and that replicated crucial information. The information became decentralized. As long as one server remained up and running, essential information would remain accessible.

From this came the first incarnation of the public Internet, the world wide web, which was later also referred to as Web 1.0. It was the Internet of mainly static pages, where the users were in charge of the information they put online. In this setup, the information remained decentralized, where websites were on specific web servers. Then, slowly, we saw the rise of ‘Big Tech’. When social media arrived, they dramatically changed the Internet. Facebook, e.g., became like a privately owned Internet. In this new Internet, which people started referring to as Web 2.0, the information became centralized again in the hands of the Big Tech companies. Microsoft, Google (including YouTube), Meta (Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp), and Amazon, e.g., are responsible for most of the traffic on the Internet. These companies have tremendous amounts of information on their users, and that information is centralized on their servers. More importantly, users no longer exclusively own what they put on these social media. The Big Tech companies are in control and can use that information. One of the things they do, is monetize this information about their users for marketing purposes, where these users typically do not share in the profits.

With the arrival of cryptocurrencies, the idea of Web 3.0 was born. The purpose of cryptocurrencies was mainly to break away from the power of centralized financial institutions. Similarly, the idea for web3 was to decentralize information and to put users in charge again of their own information, while maintaining their privacy. This would be done by cutting out the Big Tech middlemen and by using the same blockchain technology that had made cryptocurrencies possible. The idea appealed and led to the creation of the Web3 Foundation.

What are the promised benefits of Web3?

By now, billions have already been invested in Web 3 and the underlying technologies. People are enthusiastic because the promises and benefits it holds. Let us have a look at those.

Web 3 will give control back to the users and let the users monetize their information instead of Big Tech. In the article in Livewire, Jeremy Laukkonen writes, “It will represent a transition from big companies controlling and monetizing content on the internet to individual creators and consumers sharing content and interacting through decentralized networks.” NFTs are an example of this, where the creator of a digital artwork is able to sell some rights to his digital artwork. This is done by assigning a unique digital token to the piece of artwork, and all transactions with regard to this token are registered in a Blockchain ledger.

Web 3 will offer increased privacy-protection

If the information is no longer shared with Big Tech companies, users are back in control over their personal data. If you make digital artwork and sell it as NFTs, e.g., the buyer does not need to know anything about you. They just need to know that the token that refers to it is authentic.

Decentralization

With decentralization, the information gets distributed over the Internet again, instead of being in the hands of a handful of Big Tech companies. Dion Hinchcliffe, in ZD Net, describes decentralization as, “the notion that instead of large sections of the Internet being owned and controlled by centralized entities, ownership is instead distributed among its builders and users.”

Technological innovation

The technologies that form the basis for Web 3 already have changed the landscape of Internet technologies. Blockchain is a prime example of that. Web 3 comes with its own set of challenges (see below), and for some of those innovative technological solutions are being proposed. These include solutions to make the Internet more environmentally friendly and sustainable energy-wise. The link between web 3 and the Metaverse also is responsible for the innovations in visual communications, network speed, etc.

Opportunities for enterprises

Commentators identify seven key areas in which Web 3 creates new opportunities for enterprises:

  1. The Metaverse is often cited as an implementation of Web3 technologies, where all its virtual marketplaces rely on them.
  2. Distributed (or Decentralized) Autonomous Organizations (DAOs). “The concept of a DAO is embodied in a smart contract, with the rules posted for all to see. Tokens are issued, and stakeholders have a well-defined decision-making process. Essentially a new type of digital corporation, DAOs can be used in an enterprise context for everything from open innovation and investment to IP-based professional services or industry-scale consortiums.” (Dion Hinchcliffe).
  3. Web3 Apps
  4. Creator Economy for Web3
  5. Crypto & Digital Assets
  6. Blockchain and Distributed Ledger (DLT)
  7. Decentralization

(For more information on this, see the article on ZD Net listed below in the sources, on how decentralization and Web3 will impact the enterprise).

Other benefits

Some advocates of Web 3 also claim it will bring increased data security (because of encryption by default) and increased scalability.

Concerns about Web3

While many people are enthusiastic about the idea of Web 3, there also are some concerns that still must be addressed. A short overview:

Regulation

As most countries by now have Internet-related legislation, the current Internet is largely regulated. That is not the case with web 3, which makes it extremely attractive to cybercriminals. In an environment that is not regulated, the risks of getting exposed to hacking, fraud, theft, harassment and bullying, the dissemination of harmful content like child abuse, unfair business practices, etc., are substantial. An unregulated Web3 is a paradise for criminals.

Environmental Impact

One of the biggest concerns about blockchain technology is its impact on the environment. Blockchain technology requires constant complex calculations that require an exorbitant amount of computing power, which in turn requires a lot of energy. An entire Internet running on Blockchain technology would have a detrimental impact on the environment. Thankfully, new technologies are already being developed that still use the idea of distributed, encrypted ledgers but that require far less computer power. Etherium, e.g., has just moved to such a new technology.

Security

One of the advantages of a centralized network is that typically more attention is being paid to security. (That is why cloud-based solutions typically are safer than technologies that are run on site). In a decentralized Internet, the users become responsible again for security. And that can be problematic. Experience has taught that users still are the most fallible factor in any security solution. (At the moment of writing this article, a hacker made headlines after successfully hacking the Uber network. All he had to was to make one authorized user believe that he was a colleague who needed access).

In a decentralized setup, all the information is in the hands of the users again. Identity theft and identity fraud will be as rampant as it is today, and probably with worse effects for the users whose identities were compromised. In fact, a recent report confirmed that social engineering attacks are already dominating the Metaverse and Web 3.

And there is more. The Pentagon also investigated blockchain technology to see if it could be useful for them. Instead, their investigation found some concerning vulnerabilities on blockchain. Their report revealed that blockchain is neither decentralized nor updated. The market that uses blockchain registered transactions only has a handful of players and it is through them that most transactions take place. On top of that, the report found that it can take a long time for certain transactions to register. That leaves the possibility open for a cybercriminal to, e.g., make a blockchain purchase and then keep on selling the same item several times to different people for as long as the transactions aren’t registered.

Negative impact on innovation

Technological innovation is being touted as one of the benefits of Web 3. But there is another side to the coin. Research has shown that decentralization tends to slow down innovation and progress because it hampers technological standardization. It’s the traditional ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ problem. E-mail is a classic example of decentralization. After 3 decades of the world wide web, there still are no standards for e-mail encryption. If you look at something like WhatsApp or Teams, which are centralized technologies, they had secure encryption by default, shortly after they were launched.

This slowing down of innovation is one of the main reasons many Big Tech companies are revising their position on working from home.

Other controversies

Several high-profile people within Big Tech are warning that Web 3 is more of a hype or marketing buzz than reality. More importantly, they point out that there won’t be much decentralization, as at present the investments in Web 3 start-ups are all being made by a small group of investment bankers. Instead of control over the Internet being centralized in the hands of just a few Big Tech companies, control over Web 3 would be in the hands of a small group of investors and venture capitalists.

Web 3 and the Metaverse

Web3 and the Metaverse are often mentioned in the same breath. Yet, they are not the same thing. The Metaverse has to do with immersive digital worlds that are typically experienced as a virtual or enhanced reality. Web3 has to do with new technologies and concepts like decentralization and token-based economics. There is a considerable overlap, of course: virtual marketplaces that are part of the Metaverse rely heavily on web3 technologies. But one of the main differences is who the proponents of each are. The Metaverse is being promoted by Big Tech companies who see it as a way of maintaining their control, while Web3 is being promoted by investors and venture capitalists who want to cash in on our digital lives.

The relevance of web3 for lawyers

A recent conference in Austin, Texas, concluded there are nine areas where web 3 and web 3 technologies are already relevant for lawyers.

  1. Copyright laws regarding non-fungible tokens, or NFTs
  2. virtual real estate – lease or buy
  3. virtual event planning
  4. cryptocurrency theft
  5. NFT due diligence
  6. prosecuting crimes in the metaverse
  7. starting or ending a business in the metaverse
  8. metaverse marriage and divorce
  9. web3 skip-tracing / due diligence

It is worth pointing out that there already is a need for blockchain and cryptocurrency lawyers, where the demand outweighs the offer. It should also be clear that having knowledge about Web3 and the Metaverse gives lawyers a competitive advantage.

 

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Pinterest for Lawyers

Some weeks ago, I was asked by a lawyer whether Pinterest could be useful tool for him as a lawyer. In the past, we have already given introductions to other social media channels like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for lawyers. Pinterest can be a useful addition to that. So, in this article, we will look at Pinterest for Lawyers. We will answer questions like “What is Pinterest?”, “How does Pinterest work?”, “What are the benefits of Pinterest for lawyers?”. We will explain how to get started and what to post.

What is Pinterest?

The Wikipedia describes Pinterest as “an image sharing and social media service designed to enable saving and discovery of information (specifically “ideas”) on the internet using images, and on a smaller scale, animated GIFs and videos, in the form of pinboards.” It has also been described as a social networking tool for visual bookmarking. One author called it a visual Twitter.

Pinterest was created in December 2009 and has its headquarters in San Francisco. Like several other social media, it is a free website that requires registration to use. The service is currently accessible through a web browser, and apps for iOS, Android, and Windows 10 and 11 PCs. In February 2022, it had more than 430 million global monthly active users. (That is approximately 100 million more than Twitter at that time). Interestingly, over 60% of its global users are women.

How does Pinterest work?

So, how does it work? What is the philosophy about it? Think of digital pinboards that you can pin your interests on. (Hence the name). Pinboards are collections of pins. You can create multiple pinboards, all dedicated to different topics that interest you. Say you are browsing the web and find an interesting article, then you can save it as a pin to one of your pinboards. The pinned article will get a thumbnail image that is presented along with the title of the article on your pinboard. All your pins are visually displayed on your pinboard. By default, pinboards and pins are accessible to the public. Just as is the case with other social media networks, you can follow other Pinterest users or just individual pinboards. Pins that are saved on one users’ board can be saved to another user’s board. Pinterest uses advanced keyword analytics to recommend pins and boards on topics of interest to its users.

Pinterest uses its own terminology. The article by Allison C. Shields on LegalEase provides the following mini glossary of Pinterest terms:

  • Pin:An image or video posted to Pinterest by a user.
  • Pinboard:A collection of pins created by a Pinterest user, usually organized around a particular theme.
  • Pinner:A Pinterest user.
  • Pinning:The act of posting content to Pinterest.
  • Repin:Users can share others’ content on Pinterest by “re-pinning” (the equivalent of “re-tweeting” on Twitter). When content is re-pinned, the original “Pinner” receives a notification from Pinterest.

What are the benefits of Pinterest for lawyers?

There are two main areas where Pinterest can be useful for lawyers. These are legal research and social media marketing.

Research: The description of Pinterest as a visual bookmarking tool is quite apt. As lawyer, you can create different pinboards to organize information on the topics that you specialize in. It is possible to create sub-boards, which helps to structure the information. As a family lawyer, e.g., you could create boards for marriage, adoption, divorce, child custody, etc. And as you come across relevant information, you can save it to the appropriate board or sub-board. Keep in mind, though, that Pinterest is not a reference tool like Mendeley or Zotero. But it offers a very easy way to keep track of information: with the Pinterest browser add-on, it is as easy as clicking a button and then choosing the board you want to pin the information on. Also worth knowing is that there is such thing as collaborative pinboards, which means you can give other people access permissions to your pinboard, so you can collaborate with them.

Marketing: like all social media, Pinterest can be a useful marketing channel. Pinboards and pins can be viewed by the public. So, you can create pinboards to provide information to potential clients. And any content you create – blog, podcast, videos, infographics – should also be shared in pins. In other words, your pins and pinboards offer yet another way to attract potential clients to your content. Pinterest therefore can be a useful content marketing tool and can have its place in your content marketing strategy.

Noteworthy is that if you have a Pinterest business account, you have access to analytics. So, you can verify how your pins are performing and whether your content strategy needs fine-tuning.

Getting started with Pinterest

If you haven’t used Pinterest before, it may be useful to use it for a while as a non-professional user first to familiarise yourself with it. Pinterest also has business accounts. One of the advantages of a business account is that it offers analytics and metrics. You can choose a business account when you set up your profile, or you can later convert your private account to a business one.

Once you registered, you set up your profile. Make sure to mention your business name and include a link to your website. Remember to “verify” your website with Pinterest. Provide a compelling professional bio where you address some of the legal issues your potential clients could be dealing with. Don’t forget to include your location. For your profile photo, it is always better to use a photo of you, rather than a company logo. People relate better to other people than to abstract logos.

What to post?

The rule of thumb that applies to other social media applies to Pinterest as well. You want to post both professional information that is relevant to your potential clients, and personal information. Legal consumers want to know the person they will be dealing with.

As mentioned before, you should always include links to the content you create: your blog or vlog, your podcast, any articles you have published on other media. You also want to provide links to relevant pages in your website. As is the case with other social media, here, too, it is a good practice to include links to content provided by other lawyers on relevant topics.

Other items that are popular on Pinterest include quotes and/or one-liners, and “How-to” posts. You can put up photos from events you attended or spoke at. You could even add photos of clients, with their permission. Your pins should portray what you stand for and represent your law firm’s values and culture. In other words, use Pinterest to show value and earn trust.

To cultivate a following, you should also interact with your followers and your colleagues. You can repurpose your best content. Use hashtags and keywords, so your pins can easily be found.

Finally, use the provided analytics to finetune your strategy.

Some additional remarks

Pinterest has full access to the entire browsing history that is saved on your device. So, there may be privacy and confidentiality concerns. This is especially the case if you are using cloud-based software in your law firm that is accessed in a browser.

Another area of concern is copyright infringement. Does pinning and re-pinning on publicly accessible boards constitute copying and distributing the information, or does this fall under fair use? It is a grey area. As a rule of thumb, if there is a complaint about a copyright violation, Pinterest will remove the pins.

In its default setup, Pinterest tends to be overactive in the notifications that it sends. You may want to finetune what you get emails and notifications for.

One annoying aspect of Pinterest is that it is not possible to exclude certain topics. If Pinterest thinks it will be of interest to you because it is of interest to other people who share similar interest, then you will keep receiving suggestions. There is an option where you can click “I don’t want to see this”, but it is of little help.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Pinterest can be useful for lawyers in two ways. It can be a beneficial additional social media marketing channel. It is also useful for keeping track of your legal research.

 

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Mind mapping for lawyers

In this article, we have a look at mind mapping for lawyers. Mind mapping is a commonly used and highly effective tool that assists in creative intellectual processes. Yet, somehow most lawyers seem to be unfamiliar with mind maps. So, in this article we will introduce you to mind maps. We answer questions like, “What is mind mapping?’, ‘What are the benefits of mind mapping?’, ‘How can lawyers use mind maps?’, and ‘How to create a mind map?’ We also have a cursory glance at the benefits of mind mapping software.

What is mind mapping?

A mind map is a visual diagram that is composed of concepts, texts, relations and/or pictures. These are arranged in the form of a tree structure – or hierarchy – around a central theme. It shows the relationships among the pieces of the whole. In mind maps, the major ideas are typically connected directly to the central concept, while other ideas branch out from those major ideas. One author defines a mind map as a multidimensional graphic way of generating, visually representing and organizing information and ideas. Another author describes them as a form of fluid, visual notetaking arranged around a core idea.

Mind maps are used to support creative processes and to assist in capturing and structuring ideas and information. This also makes them useful for remembering and learning.

Mind maps have the following key characteristics:

  • Mind maps usually have one central topic. All information and ideas in the mind map relate to that central topic.
  • Mind maps have an expansive tree structure. One author describes mind maps as having “one core in the center, with dendrites (lines) branching out from the core to connect different concepts. The lines may incorporate images, words, colors, numbers, and other visual representations of concepts.”
  • Mind maps are keyword focused. Mind maps consist of ideas and key words, rather than long sentences or blocks of text. This makes it easier to scan for the relevant information.

What are the benefits of mind mapping?

The major benefit of mind mapping is that it helps develop and organize ideas and information. It does this in three ways. The first is simplification. Visually working with keywords is easier to understand and memorize. A second way is that mind maps use tree structures which assist in categorization. Categories are branches and subcategories are sub-branches, etc. The tree structure makes it easy to navigate and can present complex information in a way that is easier to grasp. A third way is contextualization. The mind map maps out the relationships between the key words. So, we can see how all the pieces of information connect to one another. As a result, mind maps help distinguish the main issues from the secondary ones.

Mind maps offer several other benefits. They boost productivity. If you are using mind mapping software, it is possible to share and collaborate on mind maps. Creating the mind map helps you identify the key concepts and their relationships, which assists in storing the information more effectively in long-term memory. They make the information compact and manageable. This in turn also helps prevent information overload.

How can lawyers use mind maps?

Mind maps are useful for notetaking, writing, brainstorming and choosing ideas, planning and strategizing, problem solving and decision making, learning new information, and for collaborating with others. All of these are things that lawyers do.

In general, whether you are working on some advice, a contract, or preparing for negotiations or litigation, mind maps can assist you in focusing on the key legal issues. They contribute to intelligent information management through better analyses, structured files, and improved communication with colleagues and clients. They also are ideal tools for working out strategies.

More specifically for litigation, winning a case is about information and how it is presented. Mind maps offer the best way to collect, organize, and present information. Another benefit of mind maps is that they make it easier to present your oral arguments. With a mind map, you can go through all the relevant information in structured and exhaustive way, without having to rely on printed text with long sentences. Your mind map acts as a navigation and orientation point that allows you to present your case in a complete, comprehensible, and coherent way.

Mind maps are also ideal tools to prepare for legal tests and exams, to keep track of changes in law and jurisprudence, and for legal research in general.

How to create a mind map?

Creating mind maps is easy as it follows the natural flow of your thinking. You always start with the central theme. That can be a litigation case; it can be a specific legal subject you want to explore, a contract or a legal advice you want to prepare, etc. Then you think of items that are relevant to this theme and write them down. You can do this by yourself, or you can do it together with others in a brainstorming session. Then you start structuring the information, where you identify the main categories and sub-categories, and you organize them accordingly in the tree structure. Then, you can start formatting the mind map: add colour to topics and branches, change fonts, thickness of lines, add images, etc. If you are using an electronic mind map, you can add notes, links to other mind maps or to documents or to research, etc. At any stage, you can ask for feedback, and with electronic mind maps, you can share them and collaborate on them.

Mind mapping software

Mind maps can be drawn manually, or they can be created with software. Several free and paying options are available. The last article mentioned in the sources gives an overview of current popular software packages.

Using mind mapping software offers several additional benefits. 1) It simplifies mind map creation. Adding a branch is usually as simple as pressing a key and reorganizing the information typically can be done by dragging and dropping the branches in a different location. 2) Mind mapping software enables map collaboration. Typically, one can assign different permissions to different users you share the mind map with, where some can comment, while others can restructure and/or add information. 3) Mind maps created with software typically allow you to go beyond the simple tree map. One keyword in a branch can be clickable and lead to another mind map. This is very useful for legal research and for working with legal concepts. You can even integrate videos and other diagrams. 4) Software mind maps often also integrate with your other apps. 5) Finally, mind mapping software frequently offers additional tools like export, backup, version control, access management, etc.

Conclusion

Mind maps offer a useful tool to organize and present information. They are ideal for the intellectual work lawyers do. They boost productivity and keep information manageable. Unfortunately, most lawyers still are not familiar with them. But that can easily be changed. Mind mapping is easy to learn and offers fast and tangible benefits. If you are not using them yet, what are you waiting for?

 

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The legal technology renaissance

In this article, we discuss the legal technology renaissance that is occurring. We look at the recent legal technology boom, at some examples, and at the benefits. We observe what is driving this renaissance and what obstacles it has to overcome. We look at the consequences for the legal market, and at how to make it work for you.

The Recent Legal Technology Boom

In recent years, we have experienced a veritable legal technology renaissance, or legal tech boom, as some call it. A multitude of factors contributed to this. We have more computing power than ever before, with cloud computers doing the heavy lifting. We have made significant breakthroughs in artificial intelligence. The legal market has been changing dramatically and the legal technology market has followed suit. Finally, the pandemic too has been a catalyst for change. Law firms were forced to reorganize the way they work and invest in technology to be able to do so. In the process, many law firms took this as an opportunity to also invest in technology to improve their service delivery model. As of June and July 2021, we witnessed the first legal technology IPOs.

This boom is expected to continue in the next few years. In fact, some say this renaissance is only starting, as the demand for legal expertise is exploding. Gartner, e.g., made the following predictions:

  1. By 2025, legal departments will increase their spend on legal technology threefold.
  2. By 2024, legal departments will replace 20% of generalist lawyers with non-lawyer staff.
  3. By 2024, legal departments will have automated 50% of legal work related to major corporate transactions.
  4. By 2025, corporate legal departments will capture only 30% of the potential benefit of their contract life cycle management investments.
  5. By 2025, at least 25% of spending on corporate legal applications will go to non-specialist technology providers.

Big law firms and legal departments have taken the lead in this legal technology renaissance. By now, mid-size law firms and small law firms are catching up and starting to reap the benefits as well.

Some examples

Let us have a look at some examples where legal technology has changed the ways law firms and legal departments operate. A first area has to do with streamlining the administrative operations of the law firm or legal department. Examples here include document automation, E-Billing, and E-Filing. A second area has to do with streamlining casework, where progress has been made with eDiscovery software and with case management software. In both areas, far more aspects of the overall process have been automated than ever before. A third area has to do with collaboration and exchange of ideas. We are seeing a steady rise in online collaboration tools, in the use of AI-enabled chatbots and virtual legal assistants, in online education, and in video conferencing, where the pandemic resulted in a sharp increase in the available tools. Finally, major progress has also been made in the availability and usage of different kinds of analytics. These provide us with new insights in how law firms and legal departments can be run more efficiently. They also offer new insights into patterns when conducting legal research. Predictive analytics, e.g., allow to predict the chances of success in specific cases.

Benefits

The benefits of this legal technology renaissance are threefold. A first benefit is greater efficiency and better service delivery. Automation reduces errors, speeds up and improves the quality of legal service delivery. It also allows for greater scalability. A second benefit is the greater insight we gain. These are the result of Machine Learning and analytics, but also of analyzing our workflows for automation so they can be optimized. Finally, the boom in legal technology is helping to bridge the Access to Justice gap.

What drives this legal technology renaissance?

There are three key concepts that are central to this legal technology renaissance. First, it Is about automation. The technological progress that has been made allows to automate far more of the legal service delivery process. The mantra has become to automate where possible to increase productivity and efficiency. If law firms want to remain competitive, automation is inevitable.

A second aspect of this boom has to do with Legal Digital Transformation. The Global Tech Council describes it as the digitizing all areas of legal expertise, including service delivery, workflow, procedures, team communication, and client interaction in the legal sector. The Internet has changed the way we live, where we spend part of our lives online, in a digital world. With some delay, the legal sector is becoming part of that digital world, too.

Finally, the legal technology renaissance is about a new legal services delivery model that is more efficiency-driven, more client-centred, and provides all stakeholders with more insight.

Issues / Obstacles

Not everybody is reaping the benefits yet of these technological breakthroughs. Lawyers are traditionally rather conservative when it comes to their adoption of new technologies. Richard Tromans points to two main issues that are obstacles to greater adoption.

A first issue is “the belief that any of the above applications that relate to automation and improved workflows are somehow an answer in and of themselves, rather than part of a much larger integrated approach to legal services delivery.”

The other challenge stems from the fact that these technologies change the way law firms operate. It isn’t as simple as plug and play. The technologies may not meet over-elevated expectations. And the implementation of new technologies needs to be part of a bigger strategy around service delivery. In essence, these changes need an engagement from not only the IT team, but from the lawyers as well, who will need a hybrid mix of skills. Tromans warns that this can lead to disillusionment and people backing away.

Consequences on the legal market

This legal technology boom is changing the legal market. We already pointed out that it changes the way law firms and legal departments operate. As mentioned above, this technology boom is introducing new legal services delivery models that focus on being more client-centred, on increased efficiency, and increased insight.

As second consequence is the introduction of new players on the legal market. There are plenty of alternative legal service providers. Some of these offer services to legal consumers. These include, e.g., legal chatbots like DoNotPay or DivorceBot. Most of them, however, offer specialized services for law firms and legal departments. These include services like eDiscovery, document automation and review, legal research assistance, analytics, etc.

A third change has to do with the hybrid skill set that is needed in this changed service delivery model. More and more bar associations are opening up to changes in the corporate structure of firms offering legal services. Law firms are allowed to have shareholders, co-owners, and directors that are not lawyers. At the same time, corporate entities are being allowed to offer certain legal services. Some bars are even considering giving accreditation to some alternative legal service providers.

How to make the legal technology renaissance work for you

Making the legal technology renaissance work for you is not a guaranteed immediate success story. Here are some considerations that may be useful.

There are four key elements to planning your digital transformation process. The first two are the selection of 1) the best legal platform, 2) and the best IT infrastructure for that platform. This includes deciding whether to host on-site or in the cloud or opting for a hybrid solution. 3) Understand that optimizing workflows involves legal engineering. And 4) If you are going to use AI-powered solutions, you will need Machine Learning support.

When choosing your best legal platform, consider that the 2021 ABA Legal Tech Survey support observed that as a rule, most solutions work out-of-the-box, and that no customization is required. Experience has also shown that directly using the solution out-of-the-box allows to reap more benefits and faster.

Experience also demonstrated that an incremental implementation strategy tends to be more successful than a once-off big-bang transformation. Such a staged approach leads to success faster and more consistently.

Digital transformation projects tend to be more successful if the firm has some product champions, i.e., users who commit to familiarizing themselves with the solutions first. They can then assist others, show them how to reap the benefits of the new technologies, and convince others to start using them, too.

While implementing a digital transformation process, focus on business outcomes rather than on features. And set realistic ROI benchmarks.

Conclusion

The legal technology boom is disrupting the legal market for the better. As implementing these new technologies changes the way we work, some growing pains are to be expected. A balanced and staged implementation approach offers the biggest chances of success. To remain competitive in a changing market, law firms and legal departments have no choice but to adapt. Some fear that all these changes will make law firms obsolete. The experts don’t agree. Tromans points out that, while technology is very important in moving today’s legal sectors forward, there will undoubtedly always be a need for a human presence and personal connection with clients.

 

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Quantum computing for lawyers

In this article we have a look at the essentials of quantum computing for lawyers. We explain what quantum computing is, how it is different from traditional computing, what the benefits and its uses are, and how it is relevant for lawyers.

What is quantum computing?

To explain what quantum computing is, it is probably easier to first explain what a quantum computer is. A quantum computer is a highly advanced computer that makes use of the quantum states of subatomic particles to store information (Bing). Paraphrasing the definition on the Wikipedia, we can define quantum computing as a type of computation that harnesses the collective properties of quantum states of subatomic particles, such as superposition, interference, and entanglement, to perform calculations.

Differences with traditional computing

How are quantum computers different from traditional computers? Traditional computers work with bits, which represent a value of either one or zero. Quantum computers, on the other hand, work with qubits, which are subatomic particles that store data, and which have multiple properties. In classical geometry, a dot has no dimensions. Bits are like zero-dimensional dots, they either are there (true, 1) or they are not (false, 0). Compare that to electrons around nucleus. Just to locate them you need three dimensions. So, the first major difference between classical and quantum computing lies in having three dimensions for the underlying data bits vs having just one on or off state for classical computers. This means that a qubit can store considerably more information than a bit can.

A second difference has to do with the interaction between bits. Bits have a logical value of false or true, which means their interactions are dominated by traditional Boolean logical operators: NOT, AND, and OR. Interactions between electrons are far more complex. Here you also have to take phenomena into consideration like superposition, entanglement, and interference. This implies not only that they can integrate far more information but also are capable of far more complex calculations.

The third and final major difference between classical and quantum computing has to do with their efficiency. In essence, every action a traditional computer takes consists of very fast sequences of switching an electric current on and off. This is a one-directional process that is not reversible, and it produces heat. Quantum operators on the other hand are bi-directional, which means actions can be undone, and the original state of the electron can be reinstated This implies they have more processing information per operation, which in turn translates into being able to operate faster, and without necessarily producing the heat that traditional computers generate.

What this all means is that quantum computers will be millions of times more powerful than today’s most powerful computers.

What are the benefits of quantum computing?

Needless to say, quantum computers offer many benefits. We already highlighted a first benefit, i.e., that they can process far more information simultaneously, and incredibly faster than traditional computers. As an example, in late 2019, Google’s Sycamore quantum computer managed to calculate something in 200 seconds that would take millennia on a traditional device. In other words, quantum computing can solve problems that would be virtually impossible on a traditional system.

A second series of benefits has to do with all the things quantum computers can be used for. Now, most usage scenarios that are typically predicted are not in the legal field. They include things like discovering new drugs, creating better batteries, predicting the weather, picking stocks, processing language, helping to solve the travelling salesman problem. (If a company has multiple salespeople, how can they best be deployed geographically and timewise?) Another usage benefit of quantum computers is the enhanced security they can offer. The other side of the coin of this that those who work on traditional devices will have a far weaker security that can easily be broken by quantum computers. This has serious implications for presently secure technologies like Blockchain, which no longer would be secure. Quantum computers will also revolutionize cloud computing, allowing for faster, virtually instantaneous communications.

A last series of benefits has to do with artificial intelligence, where major breakthroughs are expected. One of the substantial problems AI faces is that co-occurrence does not necessarily imply correlation, and that correlation does not necessarily imply causation. Present-day machine learning is getting better at discovering correlations. With quantum computing, AI is expected to be far better at discovering causality, rather than correlation. A second expectation is that Trusted AI will take centre stage. With quantum computers, AI is expected to learn to discover and neutralise its biases, and to explain why it came to certain conclusions.

What is the relevance of quantum computers for lawyers?

Because the computing capacity of quantum computers is so enormously greater than that of traditional computers, they carry with them some troubling potential. The first area where this manifests, is in cybersecurity. Many of the technologies that are now considered secure when used with traditional computers will no longer be secure at all. An example that was already mentioned is Blockchain, where quantum computers will be able to easily break the encryption used in Blockchain. Most of the current cybersecurity defences will be useless against quantum computers. This creates a severe imbalance between those who have access to quantum computers and those who have not.

A second area where quantum computers pose a threat is the protection of privacy and personal data. Big tech companies like Google and Facebook already have a tremendous amount of information on people. Imagine what information they could gather if they were using quantum computers. Or think of government agencies with quantum computers that could easily access any traditional device whenever they want to. One author rightfully points out that this would effectively jeopardize all legitimate whistleblowers as their anonymity could no longer be guaranteed.

There are of course many areas where quantum computers can be beneficial. A first such area where they will be a useful tool is language processing. Quantum computers will be far better at text analysis. This includes legal texts, where they are expected to be able to better understand context. They will also improve the quality of translations.

Quantum computers will also dramatically change the way lawyers work, as they will revolutionize the optimization of the processes and workflows involved. This will not only apply to the way law firms are run, but also to the legal services lawyers offer. Quantum computers will be able to streamline legal research as well as paperwork more effectively.

A related area where quantum computers are expected to modify how legal services are offered is through automated legal advice and automated legal service delivery. Quantum computers will effectively become smarter than even the smartest lawyers. This will give rise to tremendous progress in the field of computational law, which, where possible, automates legal reasoning. (For more information on how this is already being done, read our article on productizing legal services).

Quantum computers will also allow machine learning to become far more effective. This will result in predictive analytics that will project the chances of success for different strategies in a given situation. One author called this prescient investigation.

A final area where quantum computers will be beneficial to lawyers is collaboration, where data can be shared in a more effective way. This will also facilitate cooperation over great distances.

Conclusion

So, should your law firm start looking into quantum computers already? Several IT experts advise to start doing so now, but companies like Deloitte and Gardner are more cautious. They recognize the great potential but point out that not enough of that potential is realized. Their advice is to remain informed about progress that is being made, but that it is too early to make any investments yet.

Shannon Flynn, in Legal Technology Today, predicts that when quantum computers break through, there will be a “short-term pain for lawyers and aspiring lawyers, but the benefits for the average citizen will be clear. Among the benefits will be better representation, lower cost, and greater efficiency. For society, the change will be a net positive.”

 

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Managed Legal Services

In this article, we look at managed legal services. We explain what they are, and what the benefits are. We also look at how they work and at how they are priced. We end with some tips and considerations.

The legal market has changed dramatically over the last few decades. Initially, there were only two options. Larger companies would have in-house legal departments, who mainly offered first-line legal services. The other option were law firms, who offered first and second line (i.e., litigation) services. Over the last decades, that market has changed with several new players who are all offering managed legal services.

What are managed legal services (MLS)?

Let us start with managed services, and then expand into managed legal services. The Wikipedia defines managed services as “the practice of outsourcing on a proactive basis, certain processes and functions intended to improve operations and cut expenses.” It is something that is very common in the IT world. Companies who do not have a dedicated IT department may rely on a third party for their IT needs. Or companies may only outsource certain IT aspects, like e.g., security or hardware support to a third party with expertise in the field.

When the services that are being outsourced are legal services, then we are talking about managed legal services. Managed legal services could be described as a solution to a legal problem in the form of a predefined bundle of – mainly legal – services for a transparent price. It is a model that puts the client first and does so by introducing transparency, efficiency, and technology at scale. Managed legal services often are used as a solution to high-volume work that is time critical, cost sensitive, and carries a risk if not performed accurately. Examples include contracts and contract review, articles of incorporation, document review, compliance with specific legislation, debt collection, standard court appearances, etc.

These managed legal services are typically provided either by law firms or by alternative legal service provides who specialize in specific services. As we already dedicated a previous article to alternative legal service providers, the focus of this article will mainly be on law firms offering managed legal services.

What are the benefits of offering managed legal services?

Why would your law firm consider offering managed legal services? There are benefits both for your law firm and your clients. We talked in the past about productizing legal services, and managed legal services fall perfectly in this approach. By standardizing and automating as much as possible of the process, law firms can reduce the cost and improve efficiency. This leads to increased quality, timeliness, and transparency on the side of your law Firm. In turn it also results in greater transparency and cost-efficiency for the client, and typically also in reduced service times.

With managed legal services, clients typically know exactly in advance what they will be paying and what they will be getting. They may pay either a fixed fee for each service rendered (e.g., a customized contract that is generated), or they pay a fixed subscription fee. (More on that later). In other words, managed legal services do not rely on billable hours but instead use alternative fee arrangements (AFAs).

Another benefit for the law firm has to with knowledge management. By using managed legal services, the knowledge within the law firm is moved from individual lawyers to the underlying service infrastructure.

Danh Nguyen, in Legal Business World, described it as follows, “As a service model, it’s more considered and effective – and gives clients more bang for their buck – because it’s driven centrally from the clients’ own business objectives and needs. A managed legal services provider invests time and effort into understanding those objectives and needs and assembles a cross-functional team that works collaboratively (sometimes, cross-regionally) to co-design and deliver tech-enabled solutions.  These solutions integrate technical expertise in specified areas of the law, regulatory affairs and government relations, project management, and change and stakeholder management.”

How does it work?

How it works in practice entirely depends on the managed legal services you offer and on the needs of your clients. Clear communication and collaboration are the key elements when determining exactly what the client can expect and how technology can be integrated to automate processes. Typically, you will assign a team with members of your law firm as well as from your client to do this. You must be clear about what is covered and what is not. Often, managed legal services also use legal project management.

Types of managed legal services

There are different types or categories of managed legal services a law firms can offer. Overall, four different categories can be distinguished.

  1. Regional / geographic coverage: your law firm provides support for clients who don’t have a substantive legal presence, team, or capabilities in a particular geographic region. Often, for smaller businesses, e.g., smaller law firms can fulfil the role of an outsourced legal department.
  2. Expertise: your law firm can provide technical expertise or experience in certain specialised areas of the law that you happen to specialize in.
  3. High Volume work: your clients can outsource very specific high-volume tasks to you that involve lower risk legal, regulatory, or contractual projects (e.g., response to request for proposal (RFP) processes, review of high-volume transaction due diligence documents, etc).
  4. Repetitive work: your law firm can take on repetitive legal work, such as repetitive contracts and standardised playbooks.

 

Pricing

We mentioned earlier in this article that managed legal services typically use alternative fee arrangements. The two models that are most commonly used are subscription billing and itemized billing. Itemized billing can be used, e.g., for high volume and/or repetitive work. In both cases, clients know exactly what they are paying for.

You can also work out package deals with your client. Those can be tailor made, depending on what the client needs. And note that the package deal does not necessarily have to be limited to purely legal aspects. The big accounting companies all offer managed legal services where legal, fiscal, and compliance services are combined with accounting solutions.

Some additional tips

Clear communication remains essential once the project is up and running. This implies that you must make sure the teams on both sides get to know each other and know what to do to cooperate. It also means that you, as a managed legal service provider, need to keep your client up to date of everything you do for them. To this end, you can provide reports, organize meetings, use a client portal, etc.

As the dedicated legal service provider of your client, you represent your client in their relationship with their providers and customers. Parties must make sure that the way your law firm operates under these circumstances fits with the company culture of your client.

Accountability and performance reviews are also important. How and how often do you measure performance? Will you offer a service level agreement? What about troubleshooting and what do you do when issues arise? And what about escalation if more advanced expertise is needed?

It is recommended to work out these details in advance.

In conclusion, managed legal services are on the rise. They increase profitability and productivity for the law firm, while offering transparency, higher accuracy, and cost-efficiency for the client.

 

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Using Teams and SharePoint in Law Firms

Upon request, we will have a closer look in this article at using Teams and SharePoint in law firms. In previous articles, we already talked about running your law practice in the Cloud with law firm management software. We also highlighted how Microsoft 365 was an essential part of that. (It was still called Office 365 at the time). For optimal results for a law firm, Microsoft 365 Business Premium is the recommended solution.

Since the pandemic started, Microsoft has been steadily improving Microsoft Teams. By now, it can be used as the central communication and collaboration hub of your law firm. It consolidates the available Microsoft 365 tools and streamlines business processes by offering team members a centralized location for all files, documents, and firm information. It allows law firms to share critical communications with their clients and their entire team, quickly, efficiently, and securely! It also enables seamless collaboration for all projects, from in-depth cases to day-to-day work by using SharePoint with other Microsoft 365 tools.

Teams as your communication and collaboration hub

You can use Teams as the dashboard from which you coordinate your communications and collaboration. Teams seamlessly integrates with the other Microsoft 365 apps, like Word, Excel, Outlook, SharePoint, but also with apps like Planner or To Do. Outlook allows you to directly access the ‘Conversations’ of the Teams site, so you can manage all your saved emails through the Outlook interface. Teams comes with its own video chat for virtual meetings, which can be recorded and shared. The free MS Bookings app allows to easily set up meetings. But note that integration between Microsoft 365 and your law firm management software is essential. So, make sure this is the case.

One of the main benefits of using the Teams / SharePoint combination lies in its collaboration functionality.  Your team and clients can share documents and collaborate on them, securely and in real time. It is perfectly possible for several people to simultaneously work or comment on the same document. And because this solution is perfectly scalable, it can be used by law firms of any size. Worth noting is also that collaborating on a SharePoint server is more secure than sending documents by email, and therefore a better solution.

Using SharePoint also offers other benefits

It comes with built in version control, where it keeps track of all changes to a document, and where you can see the full history of all versions. Needless to say, it also automatically keeps backups of all those versions.

SharePoint also offer in depth-search functionality. You can perform searches on the full text, but also on meta data. It even comes with optional wiki functionality, and its search and KMS functionalities can be further extended with third party add-ons.

Important is also that it is easy to use Microsoft 365 in a way that is compliant with EU privacy legislation. All law firms that use its software have to do, is choose local European servers as their Microsoft 365 servers. As there are no other intermediate servers involved, you are completely compliant.

Security considerations

in its articles on the annual Legal Technology Survey, Law Technology Today explicitly recommends using cloud-based solutions like Microsoft 365 as it is the most secure solution, both for law firm communications and for file sharing / storage. It notes “Many (if not the majority of) law firms that favor on-premise or hosted solutions to cloud-based platforms will cite security as the reason they refuse to move their data to the cloud. But the truth is, cloud-based solutions are considerably more secure than on-premise or hosted software.”

After all, Microsoft encrypts all data transfers as well as all the stored data, which are encrypted at both disk and file level. In other words, the data you share inside SharePoint is secure, and it is more secure than keeping your data on a local OneDrive. (Microsoft 365 administrators are recommended to switch off synchronisation with a local OneDrive to reap the optimal benefits, including enhanced security, from using the SharePoint & Teams combination).

In short, using Microsoft 365 Premium Business edition offers you a centralized and secure communications and collaboration hub, which maintains client privacy as well as legal compliance. It improves the productivity of your law firm by allowing you to collaborate more effectively, from anywhere you have Internet access.

 

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Trends in Legal Technology in 2021

Every November, the American Bar Association (ABA) publishes its annual Legal Technology Survey Report. In it, it gives an overview of the trends in legal technology in 2021. And while the data for the 2020 report were mostly collected before the pandemic, the 2021 report does reflect the impact of the pandemic. Those effects were reflected, e.g., in the primary hardware people use, where their primary workplace is, in the flexibility of work hours, and in telecommuting.

Each year, the Law Technology Today website publishes a series of articles, providing a summary of the key findings of the report. Here are the most important highlights.

Demographics

The average age of respondents remains high, at 57 years old (compared to 58 last year). More than 60% of respondents have been practicing for 30 years or more. The youngest age group (25-39) made up only 13.6% of respondents.

The respondents came from firms with the following sizes: 24% came from solo firms, 20% from firms with 2-9 attorneys, 20% from firms with 10-49 attorneys, 6% from firms with 50-99 attorneys, 15% from firms with 100-499 attorneys, and 15% from firms with more than 500 attorneys. The size of a firm is significant in the survey, as larger firms typically have greater budgets for investing in legal technology and the necessary corresponding technology training.

Websites and Marketing

The survey pays a lot of attention to communications with clients and the role websites, and more specifically client portals play in these communications. (We have previously published an article on client portals for law firms). The report recommends using secure client portals because communications are more secure than through email or traditional mail. But even though client portals have been around for years, only 29% of respondents say their firm website includes a secure client portal. They are most common in firms with 100+ lawyers (51%), followed by firms of 10-49 lawyers (22%), 2-9 lawyers (19%), while only 9% of solos offer a client portal. Most lawyers use traditional email to communicate with their clients, with only a minority using more secure email modalities like registered or secured email (23%), encryption (43%), or password-protecting documents (32%).

Lawyers mainly use their websites for marketing purposes. By now, 94% of lawyers have a website. 69% of respondents said their website was mobile-friendly, 5% said it was not, and 26% did not know. Virtually all websites for law firms contain profiles of the lawyers. By now, 59% of law firm websites also provide legal articles and 51% provide information on recent cases of interest. 37% of law firms said they have a blog, 57% said they did not, and 6% did not know. The larger the law firm, the more likely it had a blog. Law firms are still underutilizing their websites and use them mainly for one-way communication. Lawyers need to find better ways to engage with their target audiences, rather than just push information out to them. And simple things like client-intake or scheduling of appointments also remain the exception, rather than the rule.

Social media have become an important marketing tool for law firms. 87% of respondents said they were active on LinkedIn, 61% on Facebook, 37% on Twitter, and 13% on Instagram. Client email alerts remain important, too, with 72% of law firms using them. Video is a medium that is barely utilized, with only 28% of respondents saying their law firms use video for marketing purposes. (If you would like to find out more about using video in your law firm, we published an article on the subject).

As was the case in previous years, the report concludes that law firms largely lack a strategic approach to marketing. They also are not paying attention to analytics, so they do not really know which strategies are working, and which are not.

Practice Management

Overall, the report found few noteworthy changes when it comes to practice management. The main exception pertains to hardware trends and changes. This is an area where effects of the pandemic were most clearly felt. With more attorneys working from home, for the first time, the majority of respondents (53%) indicated that they were using a laptop as their primary device, while 44% still use a desktop as their primary device.

The number of attorneys using e-books for legal research has remained unchanged at 52%. Website libraries remain the most convenient tool for legal research.

Document-related software can be split up in five categories: document assembly, metadata removal, document and records management, redlining, and PDF creation. All five categories stayed relatively constant in the last year.

Communication software can also be broken down in five categories: voice recognition, CRM (customer relations manager), instant messaging, electronic fax, contacts, and remote access. Here, too, there are no noteworthy changes compared to last year.

General office use and management software can be broken down into nine broader categories: project management, databases, presentation, accounting, electronic billing, time and billing, spreadsheets, calendaring, and word processing. Overall, “general office use” is the most popular reason to have software. Of these nine categories, usage of project management comes in last position, but did grow from 27 to 31% of law firms using it. Counterintuitively, the use of accounting software dropped from 78% to 72%.

Maybe surprisingly, the use of web-based software and cloud computing only rose from 59 to 60%. The firms not using cloud software mention concerns about confidentiality, privacy and security as their main reasons. Many of those concerns, however, are unfounded. (See below in the section on cloud computing).

Legal-specific software can be broken down into four broad categories: specialized practice, docket/calendaring, case/practice management, and conflict checking. Like other software areas, the access rates to these categories have stayed relatively constant.

Budgeting and Planning

2021 saw law firms increasing their technology budgets. The increases were most notable for solo practitioners and small firms. The report found, however, that solos and small firms still fall short when it comes to budgeting for security to protect confidential client information. The report urges all law firms to increase their budgets for security.

Technology Training

In the introduction, we mentioned that the larger the firm is, the larger the budget is for technology training. By now, 39 out of 50 states within the US have imposed a ‘duty of technological competence’ on their lawyers. More are in the process of doing so. This corresponded to 68% of respondents replying that they had a duty to stay abreast of the risks and benefits of technology.

Another important consideration regarding competency is whether attorneys have input into the types of technologies they use. 74% of respondents said that they were involved in the selection process for the technologies employed at their firm, which is down from 81% in 2020. The report recommends each law firm should set up a committee of potential users that identifies their needs, evaluates existing solutions, and make recommendations. 88% of respondents state they asked peers for advice for the chosen solutions.

While 74% of respondents mentioned they had the duty to be technology competent, only 59% considered themselves very comfortable in using the technology they had at their disposal, and only a dismal 29% thought they had received adequate training. 67% of respondents said they had some sort of technology training available at their firm, but this availability varies widely based on the size of the firm, with only 35% for solo practitioners, 56% for firms with 2-9 attorneys, 71% for forms with 10-49, and 99% for firms with more than 100 attorneys.

48% of respondents replied they have internal support staff, and again those numbers grow depending on the size of the firm, with 94% of +100 firms, and only 9% of solos.

By now, 62% of law firms have a technology budget, and about half of them have increased it in 2021. For solo lawyers, hardware was the biggest expense, while the largest firms invested more than ever in security. Noteworthy is that virtually no budgets were needed for software customizations.

2021 also saw an increase in law firms creating technology policies and procedures, with 83% of respondents replying that their law firms have them in place. (The pandemic and lawyers working from home plays a role in this).

Solo and Small Firms

2021 saw changes for the hardware solo and small law firms are using, with laptops becoming the primary work computers. Windows remains the most popular OS (77%), but the usage of MacOS devices has grown from 16 to 21%. The iPhone remains the most popular smart phone, with 81% of lawyers in small firms, and 61% of solos using one.

Probably the biggest change caused by the pandemic is the primary workplace. Where in 2020, 22% of solos listed their home as their primary workspace, in 2021 that number had nearly doubled to 43%. This major change in primary workplace also happened in the big law firms with more than 100 lawyers, where the number spectacularly jumped from 3% to 46%. In smaller and medium sized firms, the changes were not that dramatic.

Along with the shift in primary workplace came a shift in implementing a flexible work schedule. In 2021, 79% of solo practitioners had flexible hours, 75% of lawyers in law firms with 2 to -49 lawyers, and 93% of lawyers in firms with more than 100 lawyers.

In line with these shifts, telecommuting, too, increased due to the pandemic, with 64% of lawyers saying they had telecommuted in 2021, compared to 55% in 2020. Notable is that of those who did telecommute, 39% of them did so full time.

Cybersecurity

Law firms are primary targets for cybercrime. They have a lot of valuable, sensitive information, which makes them “one-shop-stops” for cybercriminals. And law firms’ security set-up often is not very advanced. This combination of more data and easy access is what makes them prime targets.

While about three quarter of law firms use solutions like antivirus and antispyware, only half use firewalls, multi-step authentication, or encryption.

The report urges lawyers to spend more resources on security and on teaching staff to use the security tools that are available to them.

The report also recommends law firms should a) create ‘Acceptable Use Policies’ that outline the use of the firms hard and software; b) adapt cloud-based technologies, as they are considerably more secure than on premise or hosted software; and c) develop an incident response plan.

 

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