Here are my picks for the 10 most important legal technology developments of 2013. What am I missing? What would be on your list?
The numbers are not meant to indicate priority. They are all important, in my mind.
1. Lawyers’ use of social media became yesterday’s news.
OK, lawyers blog. They use Facebook. They’re on Tumblr and Instagram and Twitter. Big deal. We’re over it. This year marks the first year that everyone isn’t going bananas over the fact that lawyers use social media. That’s not to say that social media is not important. But it’s no longer stop-the-presses news. Participation in social media is now part of the mainstream of law practice.
2. The cloud came into its own.
Even just a year ago, lawyers remained wary about cloud computing. No doubt, some still do. For the most part, however, cloud-based platforms have become essential parts of our daily lives. And ethics opinions from 17 jurisdictions have unanimously said that cloud computing is ethical. Earlier this year, the ABA Legal Technology Survey Report said that the percentage of lawyers who say they use cloud-based software and services jumped from 21 percent in 2012 to 31 percent this year. I’m willing to bet the percentage is even higher and will continue to go nowhere but up into, well, the clouds.
3. Competence in technology turned from dalliance to necessity.
In August 2012, the American Bar Association voted to amend the Model Rules of Professional Conduct to make clear that lawyers have a duty to be competent in technology. Specifically, the ABA voted to amend the comment to Model Rule 1.1, governing lawyer competence, to say that, in addition to keeping abreast of changes in the law and its practice, a lawyer should keep abreast of “the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.” During 2013, we saw several states follow up on the ABA’s action. Delaware became the first state to formally adopt a duty of technology competence and it created a Commission on Law and Technology to help lawyers comply. Massachusetts is considering adoption of this rule. And in Pennsylvania on Nov. 21, amendments took effect to that state’s professional conduct rules to comport with the ABA model rule.
4. Mobile became the driving force in technology development.
Mobile technology has dramatically changed the face of law practice. We are connected 24/7, able to work from anywhere, expected to respond immediately. According to the most recent ABA Legal Technology Survey, 90 percent of lawyers are checking work email from wherever they are. Somewhere north of 90 percent of lawyers use smartphones and increasingly greater numbers use tablets. This is driving legal vendors to create new products and adapt old ones so that they work across platforms. It was almost a year ago that I reported on the Thomson Reuters announcement that all its new product development would focus on integration across mobile and the cloud. Since then, I’ve heard vendors repeat that theme over and over again.
5. Lawyers realized that computer analytics are allies, not enemies.
The warning bell came with the 2011 New York Times article, Armies of Expensive Lawyers, Replaced by Cheaper Software. Some lawyers started to believe that advances in artificial intelligence and computer analytics were a bad thing, threatening to displace lawyers from their hard-earned jobs. Some still believe that, but 2013 marked a turning point, from lawyers seeing “smart” computers as their enemies to understanding them as their allies. Computers cannot and will not replace lawyers. But they can make their lives much easier and help reduce the time and the cost of performing legal tasks. Nowhere is this more true than in the e-discovery arena, with predictive coding and computer-assisted review providing efficiencies that directly translate to time and cost savings.
6. Technology helped fill the shortfall in access to justice.
Over the last few years, programs that deliver legal assistance to the poor and that enhance access to justice have been hard hit by IOLTA shortfalls and slashed budgets. Increasingly, technology has come to play an important role in helping to make up for these shortfalls. Across the United States, legal services providers and have turned to technology to help fill the gap in direct legal services. Likewise, courts have increasingly turned to technology to help service dramatically increasing numbers of pro se litigants. During 2013, one of the most vocal advocates for innovations in legal technology to facilitate the delivery of legal services was Legal Services Corporation President Jim Sandman. Local legal aid programs all across the country have similarly pursued technology initiatives. You can get a good sense of what’s going on in this area by perusing the agenda for the LSC’s Technology Initiative Grant conference that will take place Jan. 15-17 in Florida.
7. Visual law emerged as key trend.
I just finished writing an article for the ABA Journal about one of the most significant trends to come out of 2013 — the emerging importance of “visual law,” the use of visualization tools and design concepts to help lawyers, law students, consumers and scholars make sense of the law. I’m not sure when the article will appear in print or online, but it won’t be for a couple of months at least. In the meantime, a good place to dip your toes into this stuff is via Stanford’s new Program for Legal Tech + Design, started by ABA Journal Legal Rebel Margaret Hagan and Stanford research fellow, lawyer and engineer Ron Dolin.
8. Law schools discovered legal technology.
This was the year in which a second wave of law schools began to discover the importance of teaching and studying legal technology. The first wave came years ago when some truly innovative law schools started programs focused on legal technology. They include Chicago-Kent College of Law at the Illinois Institute of Technology, William & Mary Law School’s Center for Legal and Court Technology, Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver and, of course, Cornell’s Legal Information Institute. But in the decade or so since th0se programs launched, there has not been much new coming out of law schools. Until this year, when several schools took steps to recognize the undeniable importance of technology in legal education. A good example is Suffolk University Law School in Boston, which last April launched its Institute on Law Practice Technology & Innovation and then last month announced one of the country’s first formal law school concentrations in legal technology and innovation. This year also brought the launch of the Center for Law Practice Technology at Florida Coastal School of Law and the establishment of a joint degree program in law and technology at the University of Pennsylvania. Not to be overlooked is the ReInvent Law Laboratory at Michigan State University College of Law, founded in the spring of 2012.
9. Practice management went mainstream.
The start of 2013 marked the fifth anniversaries of Clio and Rocket Matter, the first two cloud-based practice management platforms. The year also brought the launch of Firm Central, Thomson Reuters’ entrant in this increasingly crowded field; saw LexisNexis roll out a dramatically improved version of its Firm Manager; and brought multiple enhancements to MyCase. Sure, there have been desktop practice-management applications for years. But these cloud platforms just continue to get better and better. More importantly, they seem to have spurred greater use of practice management software among lawyers and greater understanding of why it is important to do so.
10. Security got slippery.
You’re not paranoid if someone really is spying on you, and one lesson we learned in 2013, courtesy of Edward Snowden, is that someone, indeed, is spying on us. In September, I gave a presentation at the Clio Cloud Conference on the ethics and security of cloud computing for lawyers. As I thought about the implications of the NSA revelations on client security and confidentiality, the best I could conclude was that we must carry on and keep a stiff upper lip. Ethics panels require us to take reasonable steps to protect client confidences and documents, they do not require us to be guarantors of confidentiality. We need to be careful about the systems, vendors and security measures we use, and not go to work every day assuming we are targets of the NSA. Sadly, that may be the best we can do for now, until the courts or Congress or the president shuts down the NSA’s wholesale snooping.