Tag Archives: Legal Tech

On the lighter side – July 2017

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

A hardware keyboard for lawyers

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

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

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

A software keyboard for lawyers

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

Napping Pods

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

Wearables

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

An AI ‘Workspace assistant’ for lawyers

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

Emoji Law

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

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

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

 

 

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The Law Practice of the Future – part 1

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Evolution 2: Firms Will Develop Offerings That Transcend Jurisdiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Artificial Intelligence and Law

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

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

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

Let us explore these a bit further.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Death of the Billable Hour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Starting a blog

At present, 26 percent of law firms in the US have their own blog, according to the 2016 Legal Technology Survey Report, which was recently published by the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center. The larger the firms, the more likely they are to have a blog: among firms of 500 or more attorneys, 60 percent have blogs, while at firms of 100 to 499 attorneys, 52 percent have blogs. In contrast, only 20 percent of firms of 2 to 9 attorneys have blogs, while just 12 percent of attorneys in solo practices have their own blogs.

So, what is a blog, and should you consider starting your own, if you don’t have one? The word blog comes from weblog (web log).  It is often defined as a regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group, that is written in an informal or conversational style. Blog articles are not academic papers. They’re meant to inform the general public.

There are many reasons to start a blog. Some see blogs as a platform for lawyers to offer insight and commentary. As such the articles are a form of free first legal advice, and facilitate access to justice. One lawyer described these blog articles as ‘helping the little guys’. Blogs also helped democratizing publishing and marketing for smaller and solo law firms. And by now, blogs have become an essential marketing tool: the legal market has changed, and the new legal consumers are content consumers. In order to turn website visitors into customers, you must turn them into content consumers first. And that is what you use blogs and social media for!

How and where do you start? You have several options, some which you could even combine. If you have your own site, then it makes perfect sense to use it to publish your blog as well. If you are using existing CMS software, like WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal, for your website, then you already have all you need, as these come with built-in blogging solutions. If you don’t use an existing CMS package, you should be able to stick to the technical solution you already are using, or, alternatively, you could opt to start using blogging software for your blog only.

If you don’t have your own website, and you don’t want to host your own site, you could use one of the platforms that are specifically meant for blogging: WordPress, Blogger, Blogspot typically are most used, but Tumblr, Medium, Squarespace, Ghost, and Wix also offer solutions. The comparison chart at https://startbloggingonline.com/blog-platform-comparison-chart/ offers a good overview of pros and cons of the different solutions that are available. If you are active on social media, you could even use some of those: both Facebook and LinkedIn, e.g., offer the option to publish articles. And finally, your ISP may even offer you a free blog. You don’t even have to limit yourself to one solution. Some people publish their articles on their blogs, as well as on social media.

What should you write about? Many legal blogs offer insight and commentary on developments in the law, business and consumer affairs. Others focus on case law and regulatory developments. Ideally, you should write about something that you are passionate about. Being passionate about a topic makes it easier to be inspired, and will make the writing process more enjoyable. Blogging shouldn’t be a compulsory chore.

After you have written your article, it is good practice to promote it on social media, so you can attract more viewers. (And if you promote you articles on Twitter, use hashtags for the most important keywords. For an article like this one, e.g., you could use #legaltech and #blogging).

The next question is how often you should update your blog with a new article. There is no magical success formula, as it both depends on your target audience, and on the amount of time that you can spend. For larger firms, an update frequency of two to three new articles per week is often seen as ideal. For smaller firms and solo lawyers, one or two new articles per month usually is enough.

Starting a blog might seem a bit intimidating at first. But it is something that grows you on quite easily. Once you have written some articles, you’ll get the hang of it, especially if you write about topics you are passionate about.

 

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