Category Archives: Legal IT

Articles on Legal IT

The Legal Technology Trends of 2019, Part 1

Traditionally, towards the end of the calendar year, two reports are published that shed a light on the state of, and current trends in legal technology. The American Bar Association (ABA) publishes its annual Legal Technology Report (often referred to as the ABA Tech Report), while Clio also publishes an annual report on trends related to legal technology. These two reports differ greatly in scope: where the ABA report is comprehensive, the Clio report tends to focus on one specific aspect. Also noteworthy is that after the ABA publishes its full report, it always publishes a series of articles, focusing on a specific theme. For each of these, it offers a summary and analysis of the findings of the report. Those articles are published over several weeks. At the time of writing, six out of nine have been published. In this article, we’ll have a look at the Clio Report, and at the first three articles on the ABA Tech Report. Next month, when all the articles will have been published, we’ll have a look at the remaining six articles on the ABA Tech Report.

In this year’s legal trends report, Clio investigated how 1000 law firms responded to prospective new clients who asked them some questions, either by mail or by telephone. They chose five common topics, and then sent 1000 mails with related questions to law firms that deal with those topics. They also made 500 phone calls.

The surprising findings of the report clearly demonstrate that law firms struggle to adequately respond to client inquiries. An astonishing sixty percent of law firms did not respond to the emails at all, and twenty-seven percent of firms did not answer or return phone calls. As part of its investigation, Clio also surveyed 2000 legal consumers on what their expectations were when approaching a law firm with their legal issue. Based on how these expectations were met, they created a scorecard for each of the 1000 law firms. Only two of the 1,000 firms surveyed got an excellent rating when it came to replying to emails. Things were only slightly better for the telephone responses, where 20 firms — or 7 percent of the total — received an excellent rating. There clearly is a lot of work to be done.

Let us now continue with the ABA Tech Report and have a closer look on its findings with regard to cloud computing, security, and websites and marketing.

Cloud computing

As was to be expected, the number of lawyers that use cloud services is still growing, with 58% of lawyers replying they were doing so, compared to 55% in 2018. As was the case in previous years, solo and small law firms lead the way, with cloud adoption around 60%. But compared to the rest of the business world, lawyers are still slow to move to the cloud.

The most important finding regarding cloud usage by lawyers, however, was the lack of security measures taken by lawyers when working in the cloud. The report warns that the situation is reaching a crisis point, as there were significant drops in the use of very standard cybersecurity practices. “Although lawyers say that confidentiality, security, data control and ownership, ethics, vendor reputation and longevity, and other concerns weigh heavily on their minds, the employment of precautionary security measures is quite low, with no more than 35% (down from 38%) of respondents actually taking any one of the specific standard cautionary cybersecurity measures listed in the 2019 Survey question on the topic.” (Law Technology Today).

Security

Last year’s report concluded that ” All attorneys and law firms should have appropriate comprehensive, risk-based security programs that include appropriate safeguards, training, periodic review and updating, and constant security awareness.” The same still holds true in 2019. In some areas, progress has been made, but as the situation with cloud usage demonstrates, other areas still need a lot of work. Most law firms need to take extra steps in designing and implementing security solutions.

Some statistics:

  • 26% of law firms reported having experienced a security breach in the last year, while a staggering 19% didn’t know.
  • In 2019, 31% of law firms reported having an incident response plan, up from 25% in 2018.
  • When it comes to encryption, 44% of lawyers encrypt their files; 38% encrypt their mail, and 22% use full disk encryption.
  • 33% of lawyers have cyber liability insurance, compared to 34% in 2018.

Websites and marketing

When it comes to marketing, the report again found there is much room for improvement, especially for solo lawyers and small law firms. The survey revealed that most of them do not have a planned approach to marketing in general, are clueless about online marketing, and may instead be engaging in “random acts of marketing.” For many law firms, it is unclear who oversees marketing, who is making the decisions and why. Law Technology Today summarizes the findings as follows: “The 2019 Survey results show that law firms—and especially solos and small firms—have a long way to go. Unless they begin to develop marketing plans and budgets, establish an online presence and regularly analyze whether their firms are reaching their targets, they will continue to face increasing difficulty competing for business.”

Some statistics:

  • Only 47% of law firms have a marketing budget, with some considerable discrepancies depending on the size of the firm: 94% of large firms, 61% of medium-sized firms (10 to 49 lawyers), 21 % of small firms (2-9 lawyers), and 17% of solo lawyers.
  • 86% of law firms have a website: solo lawyers are again lagging behind, with only 57% of them having one, whereas over 90% of all the others have a website.
  • The number of law firms with a blog has remained stable since 2016 at 30%, with solo lawyers again staying behind at only 9%.
  • More lawyers than ever – about 80% – are using social media. LinkedIn is still the most used platform at 79%, followed by Facebook (54%), Martindale (38%), and Avvo (23%). Noteworthy is that the reported use of Facebook and Avvo has declined over the past year.

Next month, we will have a look at the other findings of the report.

 

Sources:

Podcasting for Lawyers

In previous articles, we’ve discovered that legal consumers have become online consumers. To attract these online consumers, lawyers have to be active online, and build a solid online reputation. To achieve this, the most common medium lawyers use, are blogs. But there are many other ways, too, to stand out from the crowd. These include podcasting, live video streaming, and, e.g., Instagram. So, in this article, we will have a look at podcasting for lawyers. And for what it’s worth, Pat Flynn called podcasting the #1 content platform.

What is a podcast? The easy explanation is that it is a type of on-demand radio that you can listen to online, on your phone, computer, tablet, or internet radio. The Wikipedia goes into more detail and defines it as “an episodic series of digital audio or video files which a user can download in order to listen. Alternatively, the word ‘podcast’ may refer to the individual component of such a series or to an individual media file. Podcasting often uses a subscription model, whereby new episodes automatically download via web syndication to a user’s own local computer, mobile application, or portable media player.”

Podcasts are popular. Statistics for the US reveal that half of the population has listened to podcasts; 32% are monthly podcast listeners, while 22% listen on a weekly basis. The popularity of podcasts keeps growing, and their reach keeps expanding. That also applies to legal podcasts. (The list with sources below includes an article with some of the best current podcasts for lawyers).

Why should you, as a lawyer, consider starting a podcast, apart from the fact that they’re popular? There are plenty of reasons.

  • Podcasts are fairly easy to create. You only need a decent microphone and some recording software (which your phone, tablet or pc may have preinstalled), and once you’ve recorded your podcast, you can use one of the available platforms to distribute your podcast.
  • A podcast helps build credibility and trust, as well as a connection with your audience.
  • It’s easy to attract the right audience.
  • It’s a solid – and usually easier – alternative to video.
  • Podcasting fits into people’s lives: podcasting is the only online content platform that allows for passive, or indirect consumption. People can listen to your podcast while they’re doing something else, even while they’re driving.
  • You can get people’s attention for longer periods of time: the average YouTube video is 4 minutes and 20 seconds long. Podcasts on the other hand, typically are between half an hour to 2 hours long.
  • There is at present far less competition in podcasting than there is on other platforms. There are approx. 200 000 active podcasts, while there are 19 million active blogs and 1 billion YouTube users.
  • Podcasting Is the best way to scale intimacy: it allows you to build a stronger relationship with your audience, faster.
  • You can connect with influencers.
  • Scalability: with a podcast, you have your own scalable stage. Anybody anywhere can listen, and it’s easy to grow your audience.
  • In an online world, social proof is important. With podcasts, it’s easy to get plenty of testimonials: you can, e.g., feature members of your own audience who have done something or who have taken action after hearing your podcast. It shows that you inspire people and that you love your audience.
  • You learn to become a better communicator.
  • While this may be less appropriate for or applicable to lawyers, podcasts typically also present monetization possibilities, as many of them are offered on a subscription model. (There are many podcasts that, e.g., offer the first half of the podcast for free, and the second half is only available to paying subscribers).

So how do you get started?

  • The first step is to choose a topic you can commit to. Above all, make sure you would want to listen to your podcast. If you already have a blog, you can repurpose your existing content
  • Then you define your show description and organize the necessary artwork (logo, e.g.).
  • This step and the next are interchangeable: set up and thoroughly test your equipment, and
  • Create a plan or roadmap for your episodes (and stick to it, unless you have a good reason not to). Apart from repurposing blog articles, you can do interviews, have guests or even guest hosts. You can do mini episodes in between in, e.g., a FAQ format, where you answer one question.
  • Record your episodes and remember that audio quality is key: poor quality will instantly cause people to stop listening.
  • Edit your episodes: typically, some editing will be necessary to cut out hesitations while speaking, etc.
  • Publish your episodes: there are several platforms available, specifically for podcasting.
  • Launch your podcast to your audience.

It is beyond the scope of this article to go into more detail, but you can find more comprehensive instructions in the articles listed below.

Happy Podcasting!

 

Sources:

The New Legal Economy

In an article, published in Law 21, on 20 September 2019, Jordan Furlong shared his insights on the emergence of “the new legal economy.” In it, he describes how the legal profession first evolved from being the profession of lawyers into a legal market. And now we are seeing the next major transformation, where a new legal economy is starting to take shape. Several evolutions indicate that this indeed seems to be the case. Let’s have a closer look at what’s happening, and what the implications are.

Less than a century ago, the legal profession consisted only of lawyers, and they were the only ones offering legal services to legal consumers. Then, in the last decades we saw how a new legal market came into being. Two evolutions played an important part in that. The first one was that law firms started being managed like companies, which meant that more and more non-lawyers started playing a part in law firms, and that lawyers started changing the way they worked. A second evolution was the rise of Alternative Legal Service Providers, where the market was disrupted by non-lawyers offering legal services.

Evolution 1 – the de-lawyering of law firms: As law firms became commercial legal service providers, they started focusing on service delivery, on productivity and profitability. Running a law firm these days requires skillsets like project management, data analytics, design, business basics, digital basics, risk prediction and management, talent management, strategic planning, financial management, vendor management, technology support, knowledge management, growth and development management, communications, litigation support, workflow automation, and others. Law firms now often have law librarians, legal knowledge engineers, legal data analysts among their staff. Some bar associations are even considering allowing law firms to have equity partners. In this new market, law firms must serve more clients and serve them more efficiently, holistically, empathetically, and cost-effectively. This evolution has led to changes in who works at law firms, and in how lawyers work.

Evolution 2 – Alternative Legal Service Providers (ALSPs): In recent years, we have also seen a sharp increase in non-lawyers providing legal services. The services they offer at this stage typically focus on litigation support, legal research, document review and e-discovery. In less than three years, the number of law firms in the US that use the services of these ALSPs has tripled. By now, more than 1 in 4 law firms already uses their services. And a recently published survey by Thomson Reuters revealed that about 52 percent of corporate Canada either already uses alternative legal service providers for litigation support or will do so within the next five years.

Apart from these two main evolutions, there are other changes affecting the legal market as well. These include “the rise of legal process improvement and outsourcing, the technology-driven commoditization of legal work, the growing sophistication of large law firms and law departments, and the slow but steady liberalization of legal regulation.”

Furlong notes that throughout all these market changes, one thing has remained largely constant, and that is what lawyers do. The market evolutions described above are changing the how lawyers work, and to some degree who is active on the legal market as well. But thus far, it has had relatively little impact on the what lawyers do. And now that too is about to change.

Traditionally, lawyers did mainly two things: offer legal advice (including the drafting of contracts, etc.), and litigation. With the progress being made in Legal AI, we are seeing ALSPs who are offering legal advice, and are offering services like automated and smart contracts. (Though a German court has just ruled that automated contracts still have to be supervised by lawyers).  And more and more, legal consumers are going out of their way to find ways to avoid litigation. Both of these changes directly affect what lawyers do.

Furlong: “The old legal economy consisted of paying lawyers by the hour to do every legal task that needed to be done. In the new legal economy, systems, software, and structures are going to integrate, automate, delegate, and eliminate countless legal tasks by which lawyers once made a living.”

Because of this, it becomes essential to redefine what lawyers as well as law firms are and what they do. In this context, Furlong says three important questions must be answered:

  1. What now constitutes “legal work”?
  2. How will legal work be done?
  3. What will lawyers do?

Something to think about.

But rest assured that we here at INFORMA keep on closely following all these evolutions to be better able to serve you.

 

Sources:

Using a CMS for your website

A question that is frequently asked, is what CMS to use for your law firm’s website. In this article, we’ll first look at what a CMS is, and analyze some statistics. Then we’ll consider whether you need one, and if so, what all to consider when you make your choice.

What is a CMS, or Content Management System? The E-Digital defines a CMS as “a software application or set of intertwined programs that allows you to create and manage your website’s digital content. In other words, a CMS grants you the ability to upload, edit, and delete content from a website without having to know HTML, CSS, or other coding languages.”

Let’s have a look at some statistics. There are close to 1.5 billion websites on the Internet. Of those, about 172 million are active. A majority of websites, 56.4%, use a CMS. WordPress, Joomla and Drupal are the most popular CMSs. WordPress powers 34.6% of the websites on the Internet, while Joomla is used for 4.9%, and Drupal for 3.1%. When we look at CMSs on the Internet, WordPress is good of 61% of those, while Joomla is good for 2.8% of the CMS market, and Drupal for 1.7%.

The first question to investigate, is whether you need a CMS, or whether you’re better off without one. There are pros and cons to each.

Pro:

  • With a CMS, no web programming experience is required. Most ISPs have wizards that install your CMS for you, and you can be up and running within a short period of time. Adding content is fairly easy.
  • Easy collaboration and Access: a CMS typically allows several users to publish content, which also allows them to collaborate.
  • Search Engine Optimization: most CMSs have tools, either preinstalled or as optional plugins, to manage and improve Search Engine Optimization.
  • A CMS can – but doesn’t automatically – offer better security. (See below). When there is a serious new security threat, typically within hours a patch may be available.
  • Cost effective and affordable: WordPress, Joomla and Drupal are all available for free, and will probably offer the functionality you need, without having to hire a programmer to customize them for you.
  • CMSs are constantly being updated. There are quite a number of ISPs who specialize in one or more of the CMSs, and where those updates of the CMS are included in the hosting price.
  • CMSs typically also come with built-in search components that allow the visitors of your website to search your content.
  • The functionality of a CMS can easily be extended with plugins, which may be available for free or at a price.

Con:

  • Overkill: if you just want to create an online brochure of your website, and its content won’t change much for several months or years, then a CMS is probably overkill.
  • Bloat: a CMS has a lot of built-in functionality that you may not need but can’t remove. The content you may want to publish may be limited, and with a CMS you may end up with a system that is many times the size of your content.
  • Database access: to run a CMS, you need to have a database included in your hosting package, which may make hosting more expensive.
  • Maintenance: CMSs are constantly being updated, as are their plugins. With a WordPress website that is not hosted with an ISP that does the CMS maintenance for you, you should check at least once a week whether there are updates for your CMS or plugins.
  • Security: if there is a security risk for a CMS or for a plugin you are using, then your site is at risk. Popular CMSs and plugins are targeted constantly by cybercriminals.
  • The themes and plugins that are available for your CMS may not be exactly what you need or want, in which case you will have to hire someone for customizations. That will probably end up costing more than if they were done for a website that doesn’t use a CMS.
  • CMSs allow more people to publish content, but each additional user increases the chances of something going wrong.

So, is a CMS right for you? As a rule of thumb, you can’t really go wrong with a CMS, especially if you plan to have a blog or publish articles, etc. But if you’re only planning to have a website that functions as an online brochure, with content that won’t change much for months or years, then a CMS is probably overkill.

The next question then is which one to choose. For that, several items should be taken into account:

  • The overall cost: there is the cost of hosting, and possibly of configuring your CMS. To get the layout and functionality you want or need, you may have to use themes and plugins that come at a cost. Customizations will add to that cost.
  • Ease of use and maintenance: not only of the actual CMS, but also of the plugins and themes you plan to use.
  • Ability to customize: does the CMS offer what you want it to? Can plugins help?
  • Performance and system requirements: the system requirements for Drupal are typically higher than for Joomla or WordPress.
  • User and permission management.
  • Support for multilingual sites.

Probably each one of the three major players will meet your needs. WordPress typically is the easiest to use and maintain of the three, while Drupal is – by far – the most complex. I would generally not recommend Drupal for smaller or medium-sized law firms, unless you have a whiz kid that’s familiar with it. For bigger law firms, especially if they have their own servers as well as their own IT department and want to use an internal system for documentation or knowledge management, Drupal can be a good fit.

For smaller and medium-sized law firms, WordPress and Joomla are good options, and WordPress is used for far more websites than Joomla. That doesn’t necessarily make it the best fit for your website, though. When you want more advanced user management or if you want to have a multilingual website, that functionality is built in in Joomla, where WordPress relies on third-party plugins. For multilingual sites, to do things properly, WordPress has to be set up as a multi-site WordPress configuration, which complicates things. Joomla supports multilingual sites out of the box.

 

Sources:

 

Legal AI is still biased in 2019

In October 2017, we published an article on how legal Artificial Intelligence systems had turned out to be as biased as we are. One of the cases that had made headlines was the COMPAS system, which is risk assessment software that is used to predict the likelihood of somebody being repeat offender. It turned out the system had a double racial bias, one in favour of white defendants, and one against black defendants.

To this day, the problems persist. By now, other cases have come to light. Similar to the problems with the COMPAS system, e.g., algorithms used in Kentucky for cash bail applications consistently preferred white defendants. The situation is similar in the UK, where a committee concluded that bias and inaccuracy render artificial intelligence (AI) algorithmic criminal justice tools unsuitable for assessing risk when making decisions on whether to imprison people or release them. Algorithmic bias was also discovered in systems to rank teachers, and for natural language processing. In the latter, there was a racial bias with regard to hate speech, as well as a gender bias in general.

To research and address the problems with Artificial Intelligence, the ‘AI Now Institute’ was created.  Bias is one of the four areas they specifically focus on. They found that bias may exist in all sorts of services and products. A key challenge we face in addressing the problems is that “crucial stakeholders, including the companies that develop and apply machine learning systems and government regulators, show little interest in monitoring and limiting algorithmic bias. Financial and technology companies use all sorts of mathematical models and aren’t transparent about how they operate.”

So, what is algorithmic bias? The Wikipedia defines it as “systematic and repeatable errors in a computer system that create unfair outcomes, such as privileging one arbitrary group of users over others. Bias can emerge due to many factors, including but not limited to the design of the algorithm or the unintended or unanticipated use or decisions relating to the way data is coded, collected, selected or used to train the algorithm.”

The AI Now Institute clarifies that artificial intelligence systems learn from data sets, and that those data sets reflect the social, historical and political conditions in which they were created. As such, they reflect existing biases.

It may be useful to make a distinction between different types of algorithmic bias. Eight different types have been identified thus far:

  1. Sample bias is the most common form of bias. It is when the samples used for the data sets are themselves contaminated with existing biases. The examples given above are all cases of sample bias.
  2. Prejudice bias is one of the causes of sample bias. Prejudice occurs as a result of cultural stereotypes in the people involved in the process. A good example of this are the New York Police Department’s stop and frisk practices. In approximately 83 percent of the cases, the person who was stopped was either African American or Hispanic, where both groups combined only make up just over half of the population. An AI system that learns form a data set like that will inherit the human racial bias that thinks people are more likely suspicious if they’re African American or Hispanic. So, because of prejudice, factors like social class, race, nationality, religion, and gender can creep into the model, and completely skew the results.
  3. Confirmation bias is another possible cause for sample bias. Confirmation bias is the tendency to give preference to information that confirm one’s existing beliefs. If AI systems are used to confirm certain hypotheses, the people selecting the data may – even subconsciously – be inclined to select the data in function of the hypothesis they’re trying to prove.
  4. Group Attribution Bias is the type of bias where the data set contains an asymmetric view of a certain group. An example for that was Amazon’s AI assistant for the Human Resources department. Because Amazon had far more male engineers working for them than female engineers, the system concluded that male engineers had to be given preference over female engineers.
  5. The Square Peg Bias has to do with selecting a data set that is not representative and is chosen because it just happens to be available. It is also known as the availability bias.
  6. The Bias-variance Trade-off. This is a bias that is introduced to the system by mathematically over-correcting for variance. (An example to clarify: Say you have a data set where 30% of the people involved are female. Therefore, females are effectively underrepresented in your data set. To compensate you use mathematical formulas to ‘correct’ the results). This mathematical correction can introduce new biases, especially in more complex data sets, where the corrections could lead to missing certain complexities.
  7. Measurement Bias has to do with technical flaws that contaminate the data set. Say you want to weigh people and use scales, but they’re not measuring correctly.
  8. Stereotype Bias. The example given above with Amazon also qualifies as a gender stereotype bias. There are more male engineers than female engineers. That may lead systems to favour male engineers, and/or to preserve the ratio existing in the data set.

The good news is that as we are getting better at understanding and identifying the different types of algorithmic bias, we also are getting better at finding solutions to counteract them.

 

Sources:

 

An introduction to Cloud Solutions for Law Firms

More and more law firms are using cloud solutions. The most recent statistics available show that in 2018 nearly 55% of law firms used cloud solutions. That also leaves 45% who still don’t. In this article, we will give a short introduction to cloud solutions for law firms. We will look at some definitions and at the differences between public, private and hybrid cloud. We’ll discuss what solutions are available for law firms, as well as the pros and cons of cloud solutions.

The following definitions (in quotes) all come from Margaret Rouse from techtarget.com.

Cloud computing is a general term for anything that involves delivering hosted services over the Internet. These services are broadly divided into three categories: Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). The name cloud computing was inspired by the cloud symbol that’s often used to represent the Internet in flowcharts and diagrams.”

“A public cloud is a platform that uses the standard cloud computing model to make resources, such as virtual machines (VMs), applications or storage, available to users remotely. Public cloud services may be free or offered through a variety of subscription or on-demand pricing schemes, including a pay-per-usage model.”

When we think of the cloud, we typically think of the public cloud: online music and video streaming services as well as social media services are typical examples. Gmail, Google Apps, OneDrive, SharePoint, e.g., all are public cloud services. You probably already use the public cloud to store media (photos, videos, …), document, backups, etc.

Private cloud is a type of cloud computing that delivers similar advantages to public cloud, including scalability and self-service, but through a proprietary architecture. Unlike public clouds, which deliver services to multiple organizations, a private cloud is dedicated to the needs and goals of a single organization.” Private clouds are typically used by major companies and educational organizations like universities who have their own IT departments. Law firms who use their own private cloud are rather rare. It typically only makes sense for large firms, with multiple sites and with their own full-blown IT departments, to even consider setting up private cloud servers.

What are the main differences between public cloud and private cloud solutions? With a private cloud, you are responsible for the entire acquisition, setup and management of the cloud solution. With a public cloud solution, your data are stored with the hosting provider who does the management and maintenance of the data centre. When choosing what is best for your law firm, you must take into consideration the overall cost (one-time vs. recurring), the data capacity, and the levels of reliability and security. For small to medium-sized law firms, a public cloud solution typically is recommended.

Hybrid cloud is a cloud computing environment that uses a mix of on-premises, private cloud and third-party, public cloud services with orchestration between the two platforms. By allowing workloads to move between private and public clouds as computing needs and costs change, hybrid cloud gives businesses greater flexibility and more data deployment options.”

What cloud applications are law firms using? Most law firms who use cloud solutions use cloud versions of Law Practice Management Software. Most providers of Law Practice Management Software offer a package of standard solutions with optional extra modules. There also are providers who focus on just one aspect like case or document management, or backups, or accounting, … Two other areas where cloud solutions are commonly used are eDiscovery and Legal Research.

What are the benefits of cloud solutions, compared to the more traditional setups?

  • Security: cloud hosting providers typically are more secure than local solutions. It is one of the most important reasons law firm decide to move to the cloud.
  • For most law firms, cloud solutions are more cost effective: there is low upfront cost because you don’t need to invest in servers, and there is a low maintenance cost as the hosting provider takes care of maintaining the servers and the software.
  • Cloud solutions typically have a simple setup and configuration: often it’s as easy as going online and signing up to be able to start working.
  • Cloud solutions have built-in disaster preparedness which include off-site backups.
  • Remote access: cloud solutions are accessible from anywhere and at any time, with any device with an Internet connection. Remote access also makes outsourcing and client portals easier.
  • Scalability: cloud solutions can handle one-person law firms, as well as law firms with hundreds of users.
  • Cloud solutions typically run on any platform.
  • Cloud solutions offer automatic software updates.

There also are some cons:

  • Internet access is required. If you don’t have Internet access, you can’t access your data.
  • Recurring monthly or annual cost per head can be high for larger firms.
  • You have no control over price increases.

 

Sources:

Legal Bots in 2019

It has been two years since we published our article with an overview of legal bots. Since then, a lot has happened, and on several occasions legal bots made headlines: We have dedicated articles, e.g., to legal bots beating lawyers at specific tasks, and to the rise of robot clerks, prosecutors and judges. Overall, we have witnessed an unprecedented proliferation of digital assistants who are transforming public service and legal service delivery. We now have bots who offer services for legal consumers, as well as for the various legal professions: lawyers, prosecutors, judges, notaries, and paralegals.

By now, there are so many different legal bots that it is no longer possible to mention all of them within the scope of one blog article. In fact, it would probably be possible to dedicate entire articles to each individual bot. So, we will have a look at how the ones we discussed two years ago are doing, what new players have followed their examples, and at some of the more interesting recent arrivals on the scene.

Back in July 2017, DoNotPay already was the most impressive legal bot. What started as a simple bot to appeal traffic tickets, evolved into a system that assists legal consumers in the UK, the US, and Canada, on a wide range of topics, including seeking asylum, claiming damages from airlines, filing harassment claims at work, etc. Since then it has increased the services it offers, and now also assists, e.g., with divorces. More importantly, DoNotPay has become a platform that can assist you in creating your own legal bots. Early July 2019, Joshua Browder announced DoNotPay had raised 4.6 million USD in seed funding. So, we can expect it to continue being an important player in the market.

Lawdroid started off as an intelligent legal chatbot that assisted entrepreneurs in the US in incorporating their business. Soon after, Lawdroid became a platform to create bots, as it began to create legal chatbots on behalf of lawyers. Since then, it has further expanded its services, and, e.g., now also offers its own divorce bot, called Larissa.

The examples of DoNotPay and Lawdroid were followed by others who now, too, are offering a platform to create legal bots. Worth mentioning are Josef and Automio, and even Facebook. Any lawyer can create a legal chatbot on Facebook Messenger. Getting started is as easy as buying and customizing commercial templates that are available from as little as 50 USD.

Billybot was the first legal clerk that assisted people in finding a lawyer near them to assist them. Its example was widely followed. In a previous article, we mentioned Victor, the clerk the Flemish Order of Bar Associations has created.

In the last 2 years, Lawbot in the UK first changed its name to Elixirr and then to CaseCrunch. They expanded the range of bots they have been offering, as well as the countries in which those bots are available. They made headlines when their Case Cruncher Alpha competed with over 100 lawyers in predicting the outcomes of cases and won. Similarly, LawGeex was better at evaluating Non-Disclosure Agreements than its human counterparts. By now, there are more and more bots available that try and predict the outcomes of cases. One of them that focuses on issues relating to landlord-tenant disputes, e.g., is Procezeus.

Lawbot probably also was the first to offer a divorce bot. That example, too, got many followers. We already mentioned that both Lawdroid and DoNotPay now also offer divorce bots. Two other ones worth mentioning are the divorce bot on Reddit, and Hello Divorce by Erin Levine, which streamlines and automates the process of divorces in California to the point that in most cases no intervention from lawyers is needed.

Lawbot also offered a legal research assistant, called Denninx. By now, many legal research assistants are available. Best known are IBM’s Ross and Eve. Most legal publishers, too, are providing digital assistants to help with legal research.

Below follows a random selection of other bots that were discussed in the literature.

  • In the US, Coralie is a virtual assistant that helps survivors of military sexual trauma connect with services and resources. It has won the Tech for Justice hackathonduring the American Bar Association’s Techshow.
  • Docubot is a chatbot that can be integrated in lawyers’ websites to help consumers generate legal documents. It also assists the lawyers with client intake through their website.
  • Another bot using the name LawBot comes from the Indian company LawRato. It helps users get answers to legal questions and recommendations of a lawyer.
  • Legalibotin Spain helps users compose legal documents and contracts through Facebook Messenger.
  • In Australia, Leximade headlines. This bot can be used to generate free privacy policy documents or non-disclosure agreements. It asks questions and uses the responses to give general information and create a document with the relevant details.
  • Also in Australia, Speak with Scout is a chatbot that works through Facebook Messenger to provide legal guidance as well as references to a lawyer.
  • Still in Australia, Parker is a chatbot that uses natural language processing and IBM’s Watson platform to answer users’ questions about data breaches and privacy law.
  • In the UK, RentersUnionis a chatbot that provides legal advice on housing issues for residents of London. The bot analyses a user’s tenancy agreement and then helps generate letters or recommends appropriate action.
  • In the US, Visabot is a legal chatbot that can assist with multiple immigration issues.
  • Also in the US, and more specifically in Utah, Solosuit is a chatbot/expert system that handles debt law. It asks for all the relevant information it needs, and then fills out the appropriate legal document.

 

Also worth mentioning is that several bar associations are considering officially recognizing / approving certain bots that offer legal services. That way, legal consumers can have some reassurance that the advice they are getting is trustworthy.

 

Sources:

 

Subscription Billing

In our series on Alternative Fee Arrangements (AFAs), which focuses on alternatives to billable hours, this article deals with subscription billing.

What is subscription billing? Kimberly Bennett describes a subscription-based law firm as one that “offers clients legal services for a flat monthly fee. Clients ‘subscribe’ to a legal services plan. Depending on the firm and plans available, clients benefit from services such as unlimited legal advice, document review, and business planning.” Basically, the lawyer plays the role of an in-house counsel or legal department for clients who don’t need a full-time legal department.

Why would one consider offering subscription billing? What are the benefits? It turns out there are several.

A first set of benefits has to do with predictability, both for the clients and for the law firm. Unlike with billable hours, the clients know the exact costs in advance, and they know the value they will be receiving for that cost. And the law firm, too, knows in advance exactly how much it will be receiving from its clients with a subscription.

A second set of benefits is partly a result of this predictability. Subscriptions lead to better relationships and increased satisfaction. A client doesn’t have to worry about how long a phone call to his or her lawyer will take, or how often he or she can call a lawyer. As a result of this, clients can be proactive in understanding their legal options. They can reach out to get answers before a small problem becomes a big problem. By developing an ongoing relationship this way, a subscription-based law firm gets to know a client better, as it learns about their businesses needs. The lawyer becomes a part of the client’s team.

Subscription billing also eliminates the pressure to constantly be billing and performing billable hours. As a lawyer, you know how much time on average you’ll spend each month on each client, which in turn allows you to better plan your time, allowing to set time aside for research and development.

Last but not least, there is the aspect of scalability. With billable hours, there is a limit to the number of hours you can charge each month. If you start productizing the legal services you offer, and automating the workflows, there is no limit to the number of clients you can take on.

So, how does one go about setting up a subscription-based law firm? There are three aspects to pay attention to: determining a price model, productizing your offerings, and implementing technology to maximize efficiency. Let’s have a closer look at those.

Determining a price model and setting a price: there are several options. You could work with a fixed monthly flat fee that covers everything. This seems to be the most commonly used model. You could work with different tiers which entitle your client to different amounts or types of work. Some work with a fixed fee that entitles the client to a certain amount of work and charge separately if certain margins are exceeded. The safest way to then set the price is to consider the work you’ve already done in the past for this client and calculate the monthly average. It is probably a good idea to allow for regular evaluations in order to get to a system that everybody is happy with.

Productizing your offerings: it is important to determine the scope of what you are offering and what legal services are covered. E.g., is litigation included? If you don’t determine the scope, clients may try and take advantage of you. In this context, offering different tiers may again be a good option. With subscriptions, law firms often focus on a vertical niche, targeting specific clients with specific needs.

Implementing technology to maximize efficiency: you want to automate your workflow as much as possible, which will result in optimal productivity and profitability. Remember the scalability: greater efficiency allows you to take on more clients with little extra overhead.

Switching to a subscription-based law firm does come with its own challenges. Finding the ideal pricing model and price may take some effort. You also may have to overcome some client hesitations. And it isn’t always easy for lawyer to shift to a more modern mindset where they see themselves as a company that offers legal services.

 

Sources:

 

How to use Hashtags

In a previous article, we explained what hashtags are, and where you would use them. In this follow-up article, we’ll explain what the best ways are to use them.

Let us recap that hashtags typically consists of one or more words, preceded by the #-sign. They can only contain alphabetical characters, digits, and underscores. They cannot contain spaces. Therefore, if your hashtag consists of more than one word, it is a good habit to start each word with its own capital letter. It is best to keep your hashtags short: don’t combine more than two or three words into one hashtag. It is also best to use them in moderation: for most platforms, the rule is that one or two hashtags per post work best. Instagram and Pinterest are the exceptions to that rule, where it is common to use a dozen or more hashtags.

What hashtags do you use, and how do you choose them? The following guidelines are considered ‘best practices’:

  • Be specific: if you post an article on a divorce settlement, then use #DivorceSettlement rather than #CivilLaw.
  • Use relevant hashtags only: most platforms will punish the use of irrelevant hashtags by excluding them from search results or by ranking them lower.
  • Keep it simple: if you’re writing about human rights violations in Europe, use #HumanRights rather than the article and subsection of the ECHR that most people won’t be familiar with.
  • Use hashtags that your audience is looking for. Look at what influencers are doing, i.e. research what other lawyers are using, and choose those hashtags that are used by people who are considered authorities in the field.
  • See what’s trending: if your post addresses topical items, you will get more readers when you use a hashtag that is trending.
  • If you want to raise brand awareness or name recognition, use a unique hashtag.
  • Mix it up: don’t make posts that all use the same hashtags.
  • Avoid ‘bashtags’, i.e. hashtags used to criticize something or somebody.
  • Track how your hashtags are doing.

Twitter, where hashtags were first used, gives its own sets of Dos and Don’ts that is useful, too.

Do

  • Make it easy to remember — and spell. Don’t leave room for possible typos, which will make your Tweet undiscoverable.
  • Be realistic. Don’t expect people to start using your brand slogan or other one-sided hashtags in their Tweets if it doesn’t fit naturally and there is no incentive for them to do so.
  • Do your research. Check and see what hashtags people are already using when talking about your brand and capitalize on those. Also, make sure to check if your desired hashtag is already being used. If so, ask yourself if it’s still relevant to your brand.
  • Give people a reason to use your hashtag. Whether it’s an actual prize or just recognition in the form of a Retweet, your audience will respond better when it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.
  • Partner with influencers. Influencerscan help gain exposure and visibility for your hashtag.

Don’ts

  • Don’t over hashtag. One to two relevant hashtags per Tweet is the sweet spot. Remember: character count matters.
  • Don’t expect your brand slogan to translate to a hashtag. A hashtag is meant to be inclusive, shareable, and discoverable. If it doesn’t organically fit within a Tweet, it’ll feel forced and lose its intended purpose.
  • Don’t expect people to use your hashtag without a reason or incentive. The best hashtags have the ability to draw people in and invoke curiosity to explore and join in on the conversation.
  • Don’t neglect to educate on what it is and how to use it. Make sure you’re clearly communicating the hashtag and more importantly, why someone would want to include it in their own Tweet.
  • Don’t use all CAPS LOCK. Unless it’s an acronym, this feels like shouting and also adds unnecessary work.

Apart from these general guidelines, there are also best practices per platform.

Hashtags are fairly new to LinkedIn, and there hasn’t been a lot of research on metrics to see what performs best. LinkedIn typically suggests up to six hashtags when making a post. It is possible to weave them into the body of your LinkedIn articles, or to list them as article keywords at the end for wider reach. You can also incorporate hashtags into comments you make on other people’s posts. LinkedIn allows you to add hashtags to your profile for more visibility across the platform.

On Twitter, the ideal number of hashtags per tweet is one or two. Make sure to consolidate your tweets. Aside from normal Tweets, other common ways to use hashtags on Twitter include:

  • Using a single hashtag consistently to categorize all of your content over time
  • Hosting or contributing to a Twitter chat
  • Being a part of Twitter Moments to create or curate a story
  • Researching trending or competitors’ hashtags

Hashtags are still not commonly used on Facebook, but they are supported. Anywhere between 1 to 3 per post are recommended. Don’t forget to make the post public if you want to attract readers outside of your circle of Facebook Friends.

If you upload a video to YouTube, you can enter a hashtag in the title or description. These are hyperlinked, and similar to Pinterest, are clickable to bring up related videos with that tag. Here, too, the rule is to add hashtags sparingly and to make sure they’re directly related to your content. The more tags you add, the less relevant they become.

Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags, but research shows that using 9 to 12 creates the highest engagement. Hashtags between 21 to 24 characters perform best. Since many hashtags are allowed, it is best to put the most valuable hashtags first. As is the case in LinkedIn, you can add them to your biography section.

Hashtags on Pinterest identify pins about specific topics. Related Pins can then be discovered by clicking on a hashtag in a Pin description, which takes users to all the Pins that share that hashtag. Here, too, it is better to not go overboard, so don’t add more than 20 hashtags per Pin. As with all the other platforms, make sure they’re all relevant, specific, and descriptive. Pinterest hashtags only work within the Pins’ descriptions.

 

Sources:

An Introduction to Hashtags

What do you call this sign: #? If you’re a digital native (somebody who grew up when the Internet was already around), you’ll probably know it as the hashtag sign. If you’re older, you’ll probably refer to it as the number sign (sometimes also called pound sign), unless you’re into programming or music. In that case, you may read it as ‘sharp’, as in C#. (On a side note, on a regular basis, music teachers express their dismay that young pupils refer to the note C# as ‘C hashtag’, but that’s a different story).

So, what are these hashtags? What are they used for? And why should you care about them? We’ll find out in this article. In a follow-up article we’ll show you to use them to your advantage.

The Wikipedia defines a hashtag as “a type of metadata tag used on social networks such as Twitter and other microblogging services, allowing users to apply dynamic, user-generated tagging which makes it possible for others to easily find messages with a specific theme or content. Users create and use hashtags by placing the number sign or pound sign # usually in front of a word or unspaced phrase in a message. The hashtag may contain letters, digits, and underscores. Searching for that hashtag will yield each message that has been tagged with it. A hashtag archive is consequently collected into a single stream under the same hashtag.”

Hashtags were first used on Twitter in 2007, upon the suggestions of Chris Messina. Adding the #-sign at the front of a word (or group of words) turns it into a clickable, searchable keyword expression. You can search on any topic you like, like, e.g., #ArtificialIntelligence or #Divorce, and you’ll get a list of relevant recent posts on the topic. They are often used for current events, e.g., like the recent #NotreDameFire or #HongKongProtest. If you make a post on a specific topic, you can just add the relevant hashtag and people can easily find your post.

Because hashtags turned out to be so useful and easy to use, they quickly spread to other social media as well. These days, hashtags are used on all major social media platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc. Apart from that, they’re now also used for SEO (Search Engine Optimization) purposes. When you publish an article on LinkedIn, e.g., it suggests and asks for tags. And if conversations on the Internet about a current event are big enough, you can even search for its hashtag on Google and get a live scrolling feed with recent posts. (Some platforms give you live information on which topics are ‘trending’, i.e. are most talked about on that platform).

When and why would you, as a lawyer, use hashtags? There are two sides to this. The first aspect of this is where you do a search on hashtags that others are using to find information. Were you aware that hashtags can be used for legal research, where you can find relevant articles on specific topics? You can even do it on a regular basis to stay informed about recent evolutions in your field of expertise or interest. The second aspect of this is where you start putting hashtags in your posts and articles so others can easily find what you have to say on the matter.

Why are people using hashtags? There are plenty of reasons. Here is a short, not exhaustive, overview:

  • To comment and contribute to a global online conversation. Hashtags provide context and relevance.
  • To stay in touch with your clients and see what they are talking about online (as well as find out what they may be saying about you!).
  • For (legal) research purposes, where they can be used for content discovery and sorting.
  • Hashtags are often used for humour and witty comments. #ButYouDontHaveToTakeMyWordForIt
  • For Business & Marketing purposes, because they are a great way:
    • To build and support your brand
    • To monitor trends and your brand
    • To Boost a marketing campaign
    • To keep in touch with and engage your audience

Mind you, there are some rules to keep in mind when using hashtags. As the Wikipedia pointed out, a hashtag may contain only letters, digits, and underscores. That means “spaces are an absolute no-no. Even if your hashtag contains multiple words, group them all together. If you want to differentiate between words, use capitals instead (#BlueJasmine). Uppercase letters will not alter your search results, so searching for #BlueJasmine will yield the same results as #bluejasmine.” (Mashable). Also forbidden are punctuation marks, so commas, periods, exclamation points, question marks and apostrophes are out. The same applies to asterisks (*), ampersands (&) or any other special characters, all of which can’t be used either.

In a follow-up article, we’ll focus on how to best make use of hashtags.

 

Sources: