Legal research company Fastcase today announced its eighth annual Fastcase 50 honorees, the “smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries, and leaders in the law.”

Fastcase has compiled the awards annually since 2011 as a way of highlighting entrepreneurs and visionaries who are helping to drive the future of law. This year’s selections bring the total honorees to 400. (Full disclosure: I was among that inaugural 2011 class.)

A number of this year’s honorees are pioneers in the areas of access to justice, artificial intelligence and data visualization.

“The Fastcase 50 Award season is exciting for us each year, as we get to honor a collection of smart, driven innovators with a passion to improve our profession,” Ed Walters, Fastcase CEO, said in a press release. “It’s fun for our team each year to draw inspiration from our heroes, many of whom are doing terrific, unsung work at the frontiers of law.”

You can find a list of all past honorees at www.fastcase.com/fastcase50  and a Twitter list of posts by honorees at https://twitter.com/fastcase/lists/fastcase-50.

Here are this year’s honorees:

  • Shruti Ajitsaria, Counsel and Head of Fuse, Allen & Overy.
  • Kenton Brice, Director of Technology Innovation, The University of Oklahoma College of Law.
  • John Browning, Shareholder, Passman & Jones; Adjunct Professor of Law, SMU Dedman School of Law; Adjunct Professor of Law, Texas Wesleyan University School of Law.
  • Femi Cadmus, Director, J. Michael Goodson Law Library at Duke University School of LAw; Vice-President, American Association of Law Librarians.
  • Adam Camras, CEO, LAWgical and Legal Talk Network.
  • Veronica Canton, Partner, Impowerus; Law Student Division President, Hispanic National Bar Association.
  • Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean and Jesse H. Choper Distinguished Professor of Law, Berkeley Law.
  • Gabriela Cubeiro, Co-Founder and Director, CASEpeer.
  • Patrick DiDomenico, Chief Knowledge Officer, Ogletree Deakins.
  • Eric Falkenberry, Partner, DLA Piper.
  • Darren Fancher, Co-Founder and CEO, CASEpeer.
  • Andrea Ferster, Attorney, Law Office of Andrea Ferster; Past President, District of Columbia Bar; Steering Committee, DC Refers.
  • Erin Gerstenzang, Criminal Defense Attorney, EHG Law Firm.
  • Lori Gonzalez, President, The RayNa Corporation.
  • John Grant, Founder, The Agile Attorney.
  • Dazza Greenwood, Founder, CIVICS.com; Lecturer and Visiting Research Scientist, MIT.
  • Ivy Grey, Author of American Legal Style for PerfectIt, Intelligent Editing; Senior Attorney, Griffin Hamersky LLP.
  • Jack Grow, President and CEO, LawToolBox.com.
  • Pieter Gunst, Co-Founder and COO, Legal.io.
  • Kate Hagan, Executive Director, American Association of Law Librarians.
  • Jim Harbaugh, Head Football Coach, University of Michigan.
  • Shawnna Hoffman, Co-Founder and Global Co-Leader, IBM Watson Legal Practice.
  • Claudia Johnson, LawHelp Interactive Program Manager, Pro Bono Net.
  • Lisa Joy, Co-Creator and Executive Producer of Westworld.
  • Neal Katyal, Partner, Hogan Lovells.
  • Brian Kuhn, Co-Founder and Global Co-Leader, IBM Watson Legal Practice.
  • Patricia Lee, Special Assistant for Diversity and Bar Relations, State Bar of California (retired); Chair, Diversity and Inclusion Center, American Bar Association.
  • Saskia Mehlhorn, Director of Knowledge Management & Library Services, Norton Rose Fulbright.
  • John Nay, Co-Founder and CEO, Skopos Labs.
  • Cian O’Sullivan, Top Dog and Founder, Beagle.
  • Amanda Ostrowitz, Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer, CannaRegs.
  • Patrick Palace, Owner, Palace Law; Past President, Washington State Bar Association; Owner, Sunken Cellars Winery.
  • Jeff Pfeifer, Vice President of Product Management, LexisNexis.
  • Amy Porter, Founder & CEO, LawPay.
  • Jonathan Pyle, Creator, DocAssemble; Contract Performance Officer, Philadelphia Legal Assistance.
  • Daniel Reilly, Co-Founder & CEO, Legably.
  • Katelyn Ringrose, Founder, Impowerus.
  • Daniel Rodriguez, Chair, ABA Center for Innovation; Immediate Past Dean, Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law.
  • Laura Safdie, Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel, Casetext.
  • Aileen Schultz, Co-Founder, Global Legal Hackathon; Director of Network Intelligence, Integra Ledger.
  • Sam Stoddard, Co-Founder and CEO, SimpleCitizen.
  • Michelle Suskauer, President, The Florida Bar; Partner, Dimond Kaplan & Rothstein, P.A..
  • Joseph Tiano, Jr., Founder and CEO, Legal Decoder.
  • Mark Torchiana, CEO, Courtroom Insight.
  • Darryl Towell, CEO, Docket Navigator.
  • Wilson Tsu, Founder & CEO, LearnLeo.
  • Jae Um, Founder and Executive Director, Six Parsecs.
  • Amy Wan, Founder and CEO, Bootstrap Legal; Founder, Legal Hackers LA.
  • Jeff Ward, Director, Duke Law Center on Law & Technology.
  • Ken White, Partner, Brown White & Osborne

Congratulations to all!

Panther Software, Miami-based developer of the cloud-based law practice management platform PracticePanther, is announcing today that it has taken an investment from Alpine SG, a portfolio company of the San Francisco private equity firm Alpine Investors.

The parties are not disclosing the amount of the investment, but PracticePanther CEO David Bitton described it as “large.” Bitton and cofounder Ori Tamuz, PracticePanther’s CTO, will stay on with the company in their current roles.

Alpine specializes in investing in middle-market companies in the software, online and business services industries. While its investments span a range of industries, this appears to be its first in the legal sector.

PracticePanther has seen exponential growth over the last year, doubling its customers, Bitton told me during a recent interview. He believes that PracticePanther is now the third-largest cloud-based practice management platform and will soon be second-largest.

(Customer numbers are hard to verify for practice management companies. The consensus seems to be that Clio is largest, MyCase is second largest, and Rocket Matter is third or fourth.)

Bitton attributes that growth to both customer service and his platform’s ease of use. Alpine will help them do even better on both fronts, he believes.

“The reason we love Alpine is that they have a people-first approach,” Bitton said. “The goal for them is to help us be a better company and provide even better service.”

The funds will be used for research and development to further expand PracticePanther’s functionality and third-party integrations, as well as for marketing.

“We are honored to be partnering with PracticePanther and such a talented team,” Mark Strauch,

partner at Alpine and chairman of Alpine SG, said in a statement announcing the investment. “David and Ori have built an incredible product and company. We are excited to work together to continue growing the business and delivering an exceptional customer experience.”

PracticePanther was founded by Bitton and Tamuz in 2012. In 2015, it raised $3.5 million in a private funding round of mostly friends and family. In 2016, it expanded its product internationally by adding a translation engine that automatically switches languages based on the user’s IP address.

PracticePanther also recently announced an integration with the deadline calculator LawToolBox.

As 2017 comes to a close, I took time to think back over the major trends and developments in legal technology over the past 12 months. I figured I write about such notable trends as artificial intelligence, bots and blockchain. But as I was thinking about the year, something else stood out – the prominence of women in legal tech.

Alma Asay

I started to think about this as I read my own recent story about Alma Asay, the former Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher litigator who founded the litigation management platform Allegory. In November, Asay sold her company to global legal services provider Integreon for an undisclosed amount, after earlier in the year securing a $500,000-plus round of funding from several major legal tech investors and continuing to build out her product over the intervening months.

I remembered that a year earlier, in November 2016, Asay had told me in an interview about the hurdles she faced as a women entrepreneur in legal tech. “The most frustrating part about it is, you learn a lot as a young entrepreneur and you make mistakes and you try to fix them, and the deflating part of that was there was nothing I could fix, there was nothing I could change about the fact that I was a woman.”

She made this point even more explicitly in a Huffington Post profile:

Be prepared to be reminded every day that you’re a woman. In legal tech, you are hitting a trifecta of male-dominated fields: legal, tech, startups. Not only are you entering male dominated fields, but as a Founder/CEO, you are adopting a traditionally male dominated role.

Asay’s is a story of overcoming hurdles and succeeding despite them. She is the definition of grit and determination, traveling the country virtually nonstop to market her product even as she continued to build it out and run her small company. Her success earned her recognition by the ABA Journal as a Legal Rebel.

As I thought about Asay’s personal success, it struck me that her story exemplified a year that has seemed to me to be a turning point for women in legal tech. Her interview with me in November 2016 and her sale of her company in November 2017 served as figurative bookends to a year in which so many of the stories I covered involved women entrepreneurs, innovators and thought leaders. As I thought back over the year’s stories and trends, women were at the forefront to a degree not seen before, defining the present and charting the future of legal tech.

This was a year in which so many of the companies and organizations making news had women founders or executives. There was Bahar Ansari, co-founder of Case.one, who is disrupting practice management with her pay-by-the-case pricing; Nicole Bradick, cofounder and chief strategy officer of CuroLegal, who this year played key roles in helping to launch the Legal Checkup for Veterans and the Hate Crime Help app; Carol Lynn Grow, owner and VP of marketing at LawToolBox.com, which was recently nominated for a Microsoft People’s Choice Award; Anna McGrane, COO of PacerPro, who this year was named to the Fastcase 50Laura Safdie, cofounder, COO and GC of Casetext; Janine Sickmeyer, CEO and founder of the NextChapter bankruptcy platform; and Tracy Stevens, vice president of product and design at MyCase, who I interviewed during a visit there last June.

Molly McDonough

This was also the year in which the ABA Journal appointed a woman as editor and publisher for the first time in its 100-year history — my long-time friend Molly McDonough. (And, yes, I would argue that a publication these days is a technology product.) This was a year in which one of the largest legal technology conferences, ABA Techshow, was chaired by a woman, tech consultant Adriana Linares (although not for the first time).

Often this year, when I reported on startups, their founders were women. Among them were Bebe Chueh, cofounding partner of the innovative technology-based law firm Atrium LLP; Chrissie Lightfoot, cofounder and CEO of Robot Lawyer LISADorna Moini, the lawyer who founded HelpSelf Legal to help low-income people handle common legal problems; Emily Montgomery, the Las Vegas attorney who launched the legal keyboard product Citepad; Melinda Sungenis Black, the veteran legal tech executive who is preparing to launch The Expert Witness Exchange; and Amy Wan, the lawyer who started Bootstrap Legal to help real estate investors get legal paperwork done more easily.

Added to that are all the women whose thought leadership via blogs, social media and elsewhere drove the conversation about the present and future of legal tech. Among them are Niki Black, legal tech writer and speaker; Carolyn Elefant, founder of MyShingle; Joan Feldman, editor-in-chief of Attorney at Work; Mary Juetten and Jules Miller, the women who cofounded Evolve Law before selling it this year to Above the Law; Sarah Glassmeyer, project manager specialist at the ABA Center for Innovation; Ivy B. Grey, author of American Legal Style for PerfectIt, a proofreading and editing software for lawyers, and a frequent contributor to Law Technology TodayMargaret Hagan, director of the Legal Design Lab at Stanford Law School; Susan Hackett, CEO of Legal Executive Leadership; Lisa Needham, editor at Lawyerist; Jean O’Grady, blogger at Dewey B Strategic; Lisa Salazar of 3 Geeks and a Law Blog; and Nicolle Schippers, legal industry advocate at ARAG North America.

In speaking about the women who made legal tech news this year, I do not mean to discount the many women who have long held major roles of leadership and influence in legal tech. For leadership, I offer as exhibit number one Susan Taylor Martin, who has run Thomson Reuter’s legal business – arguably the largest legal technology business in the world – since 2013. For influence, no one comes close to Monica Bay, who has been the personification of legal tech for some two decades, in her roles as editor of Law Technology News and now fellow at CodeX.

Maura Grossman

Indeed, well before 2017, women were major trailblazers in many areas of legal tech. To even begin to name any is to omit so many others, but among the pioneers are Maura Grossman, a leader in e-discovery innovation; Sharon Nelson, cofounder of Sensei Enterprises and the dean of forensics and cybersecurity; and Stacy Stern, cofounder of Findlaw and Justia and one of the earliest pioneers in legal information technology.

Others include Laura Calloway, director of the Practice Management Assistance Program at the Alabama State Bar; Debbie Foster, a legal technology consultant since 1998 and cochair of the 2018 ABA Techshow; Denise Howell, technology lawyer, blogger and podcaster; Natalie Kelly, director of the Law Practice Management Program at the State Bar of Georgia; Sabrina Pacifici, founder, editor and publisher of LLRX.com and blogger at beSpacific.com; Catherine Sanders Reach, former director of the ABA’s Legal Technology Resource Center and now director of law practice management and technology at the Chicago Bar Association; and Courtney Troutman, director of the practice management assistance program at the South Carolina Bar and a longtime speaker and writer on legal technology.

And then, of course, there are all the woman who, well before 2017, were already established as CEOs of legal tech companies. These include Haley Altman, CEO of Doxly; Connie Brenton, CEO of the Corporate Legal Operations ConsortiumAndrea Cannavina, founder and CEO of LegalTypist; Felicity Conrad and Kristen Sonday, cofounders of Paladin; Aviva Cuyler, founder and CEO of JD Supra; Monica Goyal, founder of My Legal Briefcase; Catherine Krow, founder and CEO of Digitory LegalJill Nelson, founder and CEO of Ruby Receptionists; Jane Oxley, president of SmokeballDonna Payne, founder of PayneGroup; Nicole Shanahan, founder and CEO of ClearAccessIP; and Monica Zent, founder and CEO of Foxwordy.

But it felt to me that the tide changed in 2017. Yes, legal tech has long been a male-dominated field. Yes, it continues to be a male-dominated field. Yes, women continue to face hurdles breaking into and achieving success in this field. I do not want to minimize any of that.

Even so, it felt to me as if we reached a tipping point in which women’s voices and influence combined to form an undeniable force. Women are not just contributing to the legal tech conversation, they are driving it as never before. This did not start in 2017 and it certainly won’t end here. But at the close of a year that started with legal tech entrepreneurs such as Alma Asay feeling frustrated about being a woman in a male-dominated industry, women are, themselves, the legal tech year’s greatest success story.

[Postscript: To read more about women in legal tech, see Monica Bay’s Legaltech News series of profiles of Women of Legal Tech, the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center’s list of Women of Legal Tech, the ABA Journal’s Legal Rebels, and the Fastcase 50.] 

The practice management platform Rocket Matter is releasing a variety of new features and tools today in an update that founder and CEO Larry Port calls the product’s second-biggest in its nine-year history, after only its 2016 top-to-bottom overhaul of its user interface.

Perhaps the most significant addition is a feature called Communicator, a tool that allows the members of a firm to securely message and collaborate among themselves within the Rocket Matter platform, in much the same way as they might use an external collaboration tool such as Slack or HipChat. Conversations within Communicator can be associated with a matter, so that the full discussion stream pertaining to a matter can be viewed within the matter.

Also today, Rocket Matter is introducing a completely redesigned mobile application for iOS and Android devices. This new version of the app adds many of the capabilities of the full platform that Rocket Matter had left out of the earlier version of its app. The app also incorporates the new Communicator tool so that users can engage in discussions directly from a mobile device.

Another new feature today is integration with LawToolBox. Subscribers to LawToolBox, a court rules and deadline management system, will now be able to import case deadlines directly into Rocket Matter. Port told me that his developers worked hard to make this integration flexible and functional, so that if deadlines for a matter later change, they can easily be updated.

One final feature introduced today is enhanced e-check acceptance, so that users can now accept payments from clients via e-checks in addition to by credit cards. Although Rocket Matter already had an e-check acceptance option, Port tells me that this new version uses a different provider and works better than before.

The Communicator tool uses a set of shortcuts to make it easy to reference specific people within the firm, clients and matters. To reference a client, for example, type “c:clientname” and, as you type, it will suggest the client name and then associate that conversation with the client and later view the stream associated with that client.

Conversations can be among all members of a firm or only selected members and you can create channels for specific groups.

A bot within Communicator recognizes dates, so that anytime a date is mentioned in a conversation, it suggests adding the event to the calendar.

With regard to the mobile app, new features include:

  • A persistent menu across the bottom for adding time, expenses, and other new entries.
  • Faster log-in via touch ID or, on devices where touch is not available, via PIN.
  • Multiple ways to launch timers.
  • Persistent view of timer as you move within the app.
  • Global search.
  • Preview documents (but not edit them).
  • Add new documents from the device or using the device’s camera as a scanner.

These new features will be rolled out to customers beginning today, but the roll out will be phased to different segments of customers.

It was a whirlwind several days at Legaltech in New York last week. As expected, a number of companies announced roll-outs of new products or enhancements to existing ones. This blog already reported some of these last week. Here are others I haven’t yet covered.

See also my post yesterday at Above the Law, which was a broader post-mortem on the Legalweek conference: This Week In Legal Tech: Post-Mortem On The Legaltech/Legalweek Conference.

Now on to the news:

A data-driven expert witness selection platform. One of the most interesting new products I saw was The Expert Witness Exchange. Although the product has not yet launched, I was given a preview by its developers. They are building a platform that they believe will disrupt how lawyers find, vet and choose expert witnesses by enabling attorneys to make data-driven decisions about experts. To my knowledge, no one else in the legal market has such a platform. Rather, expert-witness selection is still done primarily through referrals, either from referral services or other attorneys.

The CEO of The Expert Witness Exchange is Melinda S. Sungenis, a 30-year veteran of the expert witness industry who most recently was CEO and president of The TASA Group, a long-established expert witness provider. Helping to drive the new product is a UK data-analytics platform, Galileo Analytics. Their data set already includes information on more than 100,000 experts, with new data added daily. They hope to launch by the end of March.

Semantics-based research and discovery engine. A product I had not seen before — although it launched commercially last May — is Omnity, a semantic search and discovery platform. You can call it a search engine, but rather than rely on simple keyword searches, it analyzes documents’ full text to find hidden or more nuanced connections among documents. In fact, it goes a step beyond that, focusing its analysis not on the entirety of a document’s words, but on the rarest words within it.

According to CEO Brian Sager, with whom I briefly chatted at the conference, the English language contains about 700,000 words, but only 100 words make up 50 percent of all published words, and 7,000 make up 90 percent of all published words. By focusing on that remaining 10 percent, Omnity is able to identify a more precise document profile and then better identify patterns and relations among groups of documents.

Obvious areas where this is already being used in the legal field are in patent prosecution and legal research. In fact, Omnity includes free access to a variety of legal resources, including issued and pending patents, U.S. case law, SEC filings, technical and scientific articles, and more. But Sager sees uses beyond that for enterprise customers, be they large law firms or corporations, using Omnity’s semantic mapping for purposes such as internal document management and document discovery. You can try the public version for free at Omnity’s website.

LawToolBox partners with DocuSign. The court calendaring system LawToolBox announced a new collaboration with digital signature company DocuSign that will help legal professionals centrally and securely sign legal documents, while automatically keeping up to date with court deadlines and rule changes. Each company already has robust integrations with Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft SharePoint, LawToolBox365 and DocuSign for Outlook. But by integrating their products, they will be able to offer users of Outlook or SharePoint greater ability to manage matters from intake through completion.

Carpe Diem takes to the cloud. The legal technology company Tikit announced that its flagship timekeeping application Carpe Diem is now available via a cloud computing model. Users can now choose to record their time from the product’s traditional desktop application, on a mobile device, or via a cloud-delivery option. The cloud version is built on the Microsoft Azure infrastructure and is sold on a per-person subscription basis. Tikit is offering firms a free three-month subscription to try out the new cloud deployment. Interested firms should contact Simon Elven, simon.elven@tikit.com.

Opus 2 launches virtual deal room. Opus 2 International, a global litigation services and software development company, released Opus 2 Forum, a virtual deal room for use by teams of lawyers and advisers in performing due diligence related to corporate mergers and acquisitions. Opus 2 Forum is based on the same technology and interface as the company’s litigation product, Magnum. The company says that Forum eliminates the document-loading delays and plug-in challenges associated with other deal room products, performing 10 times faster than competing products. The software is also designed to facilitate collaboration and content sharing.

Two new products for tax and corporate lawyers. WoltersKluwer Legal & Regulatory announced two new products last week:

  • Standard Fed Plus, an expert solution for tax attorneys available on the Cheetah legal research platform. The company describes this as a centralized, online location for tax professionals to understand changes to the U.S. federal tax law as accurately and efficiently as possible. Features permit users to instantly see changes in federal tax laws, regulations and commentary – as well as information regarding when they were enacted and insightful annotations and explanations.
  • Clarion, a due diligence and client advisement product designed for corporate attorneys. Wolters Kluwer says that Clarion has the ability within minutes to surface vital information on a company’s revenue sources, partnerships, customers and suppliers that would typically take hours of research. It does this by using business-relationship data to identify the most material relationships – as well as relationships that may not be self-evident.

Wolters Kluwer ELM launches Passport Pro. Wolters Kluwer’s ELM Solutions, the company’s enterprise legal management division, launched Passport Pro, a pre-configured version of its Passport ELM platform. Passport Pro is hosted software that offers legal matter and spend management features and best-practice-based workflows that come ready to install, enabling faster implementation than with the full Passport ELM platform. The company says that corporate legal departments with less complex legal workflow requirements, limited internal IT capabilities, and legal departments of less than 100 users are best suited to use the product. Passport Pro includes a new Office Companion module that allows users to manage their matters directly from inside their Microsoft Outlook application.

NetDocuments announces multiple product enhancements.

NetDocuments, the cloud-based document and email management system, provider for law firms and corporate legal departments, announced several new features, all designed to enhance its functionality. They are:

  • ndSync, a secure Dropbox-like file synchronization and sharing application that enables users to map matter-content, folders and documents within NetDocuments to a PC, Mac or mobile device. ndSync provides two-way synchronization for content shared with others within the firm and the ability to work on documents offline and even check-out documents, preventing others from making changes. It includes built-in mobile device management (MDM) features and administrative controls, allowing firm administrators to control or restrict access, enforce synchronization policies, and perform application remote wiping in the case of stolen or lost devices.
  • Microsoft iOS Office apps native integration. Microsoft Office apps (Word, Excel and PowerPoint) on iOS devices now include built-in direct integration with NetDocuments. NetDocuments is now listed under the default application locations alongside Box, Dropbox, etc. This new functionality allows iOS users to natively open, edit and save NetDocuments content via Word, Excel or PowerPoint as easily as they can with OneDrive.
  • Personalized search and entity extraction. The next NetDocuments quarterly release will include built-in intelligent personalized search, which automatically boosts and ranks search results related to the individual user performing the search, similar to Google and other consumer searching experiences. It will also include advanced entity extraction for in-depth document mining and search result analysis based on full-text content extraction of categories such as people, companies, locations, dates, email addresses, titles, financial amounts, etc. This allows lawyers and professionals to focus on any document set in NetDocuments and quickly gain awareness of the specifics of “who, what, where, when, and how much” within a given set of documents, the company says.

Salladore announces new action center. Last September, I wrote about a new company, Salladore, that was aiming to streamline the way law firms and legal departments allocate work to associates and staff attorneys. At Legaltech last week, Salladore announced a new feature of its platform, the Action Center, which it describes as a “tool that draws data from across a firm’s entire IT ecosystem and organizes it for a partner’s day-to-day assignment and follow-up workflow.”

The Action Center can be configured to draw data from internal sources such as a firm’s calendars, time-and-billing systems, DMS systems, and matter management systems, the company said. The pertinent data is presented to partners through a custom-tailored dashboard so that they can more fluidly make decisions about work assignments and allocations.

CloudTitanMatterCenter

It’s been a long, strange road for Matter Center for Office 365, Microsoft’s practice management platform, but there is good news at last, as it finally becomes available in the cloud to law firms of any size.

It was January 2015 when I first reported that Microsoft was quietly preparing to launch such a platform. Originally designed for Microsoft’s in-house legal department, the company decided to make it commercially available to law firms and legal departments. A year ago, it announced that it had started shipping Matter Center to IT resellers who serve the legal industry and that firms could purchase it through those resellers.

Then, last December, Microsoft posted the Matter Center source code on the developer site GitHub, indicating that it hoped outside developers and partners would participate in further developing the software’s capabilities.

One company that took Microsoft up on that offer was CloudTitan, which specializes in creating cloud automation services for Microsoft channel partners. It took the GitHub code, built out its functionality, and is now offering the first turnkey Software as a Service (SaaS) version of Matter Center.

“What is posted on GitHub is not a workable product,” CloudTitan CEO Billy Forte told me last week. Because Matter Center was designed for Microsoft’s internal legal team, it stripped out much of the original code before posting it, he explained. “We took that code and developed it into a real SaaS-based solution.”

Matter Center is an add-in for Office 365 that provides document management, case management and collaboration tools for legal professionals. A key advantage is tight integration with Office 365’s productivity applications and with Sharepoint and OneDrive, so that emails, documents and tasks are all integrated with your matters.

CloudTitan’s customization added a time-tracking component, so lawyers can bill for their time; QuickBooks integration; and disaster recovery capability, so files and versions are backed up and can be easily restored if accidentally deleted. Other features in the works include:

  • A significantly improved user interface (due within the next two weeks).
  • A mobile client. It currently works through a mobile browser, but a dedicated mobile client will be available later this year.
  • Skype for Business integration, to record call time directly to a matter.
  • DocuSign integration.
  • LawToolBox integration.

Forte believes that CloudTitan’s version of Matter Center will be most attractive to small and medium-sized firms. To use it, a firm must have an Office 365 Enterprise E3 subscription or higher. (The E3 subscription is $20 per user per month with an annual commitment.) Matter Center would be an additional subscription of $50 per user per month, which is in line with the price of other practice management systems.

As is common with Office 365 add-ins, Matter Center will be sold through Microsoft’s global reseller network. That ensures that law firms anywhere in the world have local sales and support people to work with, Forte said. Customers will get one bill that combines Office 365 and Matter Center, as well as one support number for both products.

Why would a firm choose Matter Center over other practice management platforms on the market? I asked Forte.

“It is truly baked into Office 365,” Forte said. “One package gives you everything you need. Ours is the only solution that gives you built-in disaster recovery, auditing, electronic discovery, QuickBooks integration, and customized time management. And you don’t need servers – it works out of the box.”

I have not yet seen a demonstration of Matter Center but Forte has promised to give me one sometime in the next few weeks, once the new UI is rolled out. Once that happens, I’ll provide more details here.

What have been 2015’s most important developments in legal technology? For the past two years, I’ve posted my picks of the top developments in legal tech (2014, 2013). With another year under our belts, it’s time to look back at 2015.

What follows are my picks for the year’s most important legal technology developments. As in past years, the numbers are not meant to be rankings — all of these are important in their own ways. I also refer you back to my prior years’ posts, as much of what I said in them remains true today.

1. Case Law Gets Democratized.

democritizationTo my mind, the biggest legal technology story of the year was the joint announcement by Harvard Law School and Ravel Law of their Free the Law project to digitize and make available to the public for free Harvard’s entire collection of U.S. case law – said to be the most comprehensive and authoritative database of American law and cases available anywhere outside the Library of Congress. As someone who has covered legal and information technology for more than two decades, this was a day I’d long hoped would arrive. Harvard’s vice dean for library and information resources, Jonathan Zittrain, summed up the significance better than I could when he said: “Libraries were founded as an engine for the democratization of knowledge, and the digitization of Harvard Law School’s collection of U.S. case law is a tremendous step forward in making legal information open and easily accessible to the public.”

This news comes at a time when legal-research start-ups continue to develop innovative ways to access and contextualize legal research. Ravel Law is one example, with its visualization tools that show the connections and relationships among cases. Casetext is another, which just this year introduced such innovations as its crowdsourced citator and its LegalPad writing and publishing tool. Developments such as these are helping to realize a long-held vision of the Internet – that it will make the law more accessible and comprehensible to everyone.

2. Analytics Take Center Stage.

Drury_Lane_1674The second-biggest legal technology story of 2015 was the acquisition of Lex Machina by LexisNexis. It was a significant deal in itself, but even more so for what it signals about the direction in which legal technology is headed. Why would one of the world’s most-established legal information and technology companies want this small, six-year-old Silicon Valley start-up? The answer, in a word: Analytics. Lex Machina has developed and refined sophisticated analytics that open new windows into court data. It takes data from the federal courts’ PACER system – dockets, court filings, orders – and lets users extract information, patterns and trends that would otherwise be invisible. It provides insights into lawyers, law firms, litigants, judges and courts that inform decision making and strategy.

So far, Lex Machina has done this for only intellectual property law, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. And there is no reason to confine such analytics to court data. There are troves of freely available government information that could harbor all sorts of invaluable information for legal professionals. Even beyond government data, analytics are already being used by lawyers in e-discovery, budgeting, fee negotiations, settlement negotiations, and a host of other applications. Lex Machina is by no means the only legal company in this space – PacerPro recently launched a new analytics tool called Litigant Profiling and Ravel Law offers its Judge Analytics – but its acquisition underscores the growing significance of data analytics in law.

3. The Duty of Technology Competence Goes Wide.

heads-in-the-sandIn 2012, when the American Bar Association formally approved a change to Rule 1.1 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct to make clear that lawyers have a duty to be competent not only in the law and its practice, but also in technology, I described it as a sea change. But the Model Rules are merely models. Unless and until they are adopted by the states, they have no binding effect on lawyers. It is significant, therefore, that 20 states have now adopted what I call the duty of technology competence.  In 2015 alone, the Model Rule was adopted in nine states and became effective in another two that had adopted it late in 2014.

Why does this matter? Because there is no more hiding from technology. You can no longer competently practice law without at least a rudimentary understanding of technology, the Internet and social media. You need to know enough to recognize what you don’t know and to withdraw or bring on help when circumstances warrant. It is safe to say that, a year from now, the majority of states will have adopted the duty of technology competence. Even in states that do not, courts are increasingly signaling their impatience with lawyers who lack basic technology skills. There can be no more Luddites in law.

4. Technology-Assisted Review Becomes Mainstream.

computerman2It was less than four years ago that U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew J. Peck issued the first-ever court decision to approve the use of technology-assisted review in e-discovery. It has been barely six years since the terms “technology-assisted review” and “predictive coding” first began to see use within the legal profession’s vernacular. Yet this year, Judge Peck issued another TAR decision in which he declared TAR’s use to be so widely accepted by judges that it is now “black letter law.” Whereas lawyers were initially reluctant to use TAR for fear of inconsistent results or judicial rejection, 2015 was the year in which TAR took root in the mainstream of legal technology.

The reasons for this were both practical and scientific. As its name suggests, TAR uses technology to assist in the process of reviewing electronic documents for discovery. “Assist” is a wimpy word here, because TAR can dramatically reduce the numbers of documents lawyers ever have to set their eyes on – and therefore dramatically reduce both the time and cost of discovery. With cases today sometimes requiring review of millions of documents, TAR’s impact can be huge. Those savings in time and cost form the practical argument for its use. On top of that, scientific evidence supports its effectiveness. The seminal study on this, published in 2011, showed that TAR was not only more effective than human review at finding relevant documents, but also much cheaper – producing at least a 50-fold savings in cost over manual review. Subsequent studies have reinforced these findings and shown that a particular TAR protocol called continuous active learning is superior to other forms of TAR.

This was the year in which these factors – judicial approval, practical benefits and scientific evidence – gelled and made TAR a mainstream technology.

5. Artificial Intelligence Comes to Legal Research.

Efile RobotIn the early days of 2015, a team of students at the University of Toronto created a start-up to bring artificial intelligence to legal research. Using IBM’s Watson – the computer most famous for winning Jeopardy! In 2011 – as their platform, they launched ROSS Intelligence, an AI system that they say can answer lawyers’ natural-language legal-research questions, such as, “Can a bankrupt company still conduct business?”

Initially, ROSS “learned” only a small subset of Canadian law. But in July, after receiving funding from Y Combinator, its developers moved, at least temporarily, to Silicon Valley and set their sights on the much-larger U.S. market. In addition, the global law firm Dentons announced that it was making an undisclosed investment in the company. ROSS’s developers say it can provide a lawyer with a highly relevant answer to a legal research question posed in natural language. The more it does, the more it learns and the better it gets. It can also monitor legal developments for changes that can affect your case, instead of requiring you to monitor a torrent of legal news.

Will ROSS and its progeny someday replace lawyers for legal research? I have no doubt it will at least someday become an integral tool in law practice. Whatever the future of AI in law, 2015 can be recorded as the year it got started.

6. Podcasts Enjoy a Resurgence.

1200px-Broadcasting_a_radio_play_at_NBC_studioIn a post last March, I wrote about The Rise and Fall and Rise Again of Legal Podcasts. “They were the next big thing. Then they weren’t. And now they are again,” I said, looking back over the 10 years I’ve had my own podcast, Lawyer 2 Lawyer, on the Legal Talk Network. If podcasts were looking hot earlier this year, when New York magazine proclaimed the Great Podcast Renaissance, they have only gotten hotter as the year has progressed, to the point where the Nieman Journalism Lab is predicting that podcasting is about to explode.

I’m not sure I’d use the word “explode” to describe podcasts in the legal sector, but they are clearly taking off. In fact, for the 12th edition of his annual Blawggie Awards last week, Dennis Kennedy decided not to talk at all about blogs and focus exclusively on podcasts.  Once a regular blogger, Kennedy wrote that he now sees his podcast, the Kennedy-Mighell Report, “as the primary outlet for what he was once writing on my blog.” At the Legal Talk Network, which hosts my podcast, there are now a variety of podcasts on a range of topics, including podcasts from both the ABA Journal and the blog Above the Law. In the post from March that I referenced above, I listed a number of legal podcasts that had launched just since the start of 2015. If you do not already listen to legal podcasts, it is a good time to start.

7. Microsoft Re-Surfaces.

Surface-Pro-4Microsoft products have long dominated the legal profession. More than 90 percent of lawyers use some version of the Windows operating system and most lawyers use Microsoft Office for word processing and email. So I do not mean to suggest that Microsoft was in any way losing its footing among lawyers. However, there were indications that the tide was slowly turning against it. Windows 8 was so unpopular that lawyers clung to their earlier Windows 7 or even Windows XP operating systems (until Microsoft this year finally pulled the plug on XP). And as the widespread popularity of iPhones and iPads introduced lawyers to the iOS environment, some lawyers were beginning to migrate their entire offices to Apple systems.

But two developments this year brought Microsoft back into its long-favored status. One was the official release in July of Windows 10. It was hugely successful compared to past OS roll-outs. Not only were there no major glitches, but virtually everyone seemed to love the new architecture. Windows 10 took the best of Windows 7 and 8 and achieved and achieved a truly better, faster and more modern operating system.

The other development was the surprising (to me, anyway) popularity of the Microsoft Surface line of tablets/PCs among lawyers. It is being adopted by lawyers in a range of practices, from a local prosecutor’s office to one of the world’s largest law firms, Clifford Chance, which is buying the Surface Pro 4 for all its lawyers. And it is getting good reviews from sources such as Daniel Siegel in Law Practice magazine and Tom Mighell and Dennis Kennedy in their Kennedy-Mighell Report podcast.

On top of those developments, Microsoft has been helping third-party vendors to develop legal-specific applications for its Office 365, such as the LawToolBox court deadlines app, and its communications platform formerly known as Lync (now Skype for Business) has proven popular with law firms. All in all, for Microsoft in legal, it’s been a good year.

8. The Legal Industry Gets an IPO.

ipoFor all the activity in recent years in legal technology innovation and start-ups, there has been a dearth of legal technology IPOs. That changed this year with the IPO in June of AppFolio, the Goleta, Calif.-based company that owns MyCase, the cloud-based practice-management platform, in which it raised some $74 million. I could not think of a major IPO in the legal industry in recent memory until my friend Sean Doherty, writing at Above the Law, mentioned the 2013 IPO of e-discovery and litigation support company UBIC.

Of course, even AppFolio has only a partial connection to the legal industry. Its core business is a cloud-based property-management platform for residential and commercial property managers. With its IPO, it planned to expand that business into other industry verticals. The IPO was expected to have little impact on the MyCase part of the business, Jason Randall, executive vice president of AppFolio, told me earlier this year. “We were marching on a mission before the IPO and we’re marching on the same mission after the IPO, which is giving our customers a great product to use. We’ve been heavily investing in that since day one and that hasn’t changed.”

Still, it signifies the strength of the legal market for investment. As Randall put it when I spoke with him: “We believe in this market. By buying MyCase to begin with and heavily investing in it, as we have and will continue to do, it shows our confidence that this is a great market to be in and that it is one we are committed to.”

9. Legal Blogging Hits a Plateau.

colorado-plateauAs was the case with Mark Twain 118 years ago, reports of blogging’s death have been greatly exaggerated.  But even if blogging isn’t dead, it may have hit a plateau. According to the ABA’s 2015 Legal Technology Survey Report, growth in blogging among lawyers is virtually stagnant. Overall, the percentages of law firms with blogs and of lawyers who personally blog have remained largely unchanged over the past three years. Similar findings were reported by the 2015 Am Law 200 Blog Benchmark Report, a report on large law firm blogs prepared by the blog company LexBlog. While it reported a significant increase in large-firm blogs since 2007, it found only minor growth in the last three years.

However, it would be a mistake to equate the number of blogs with the importance of blogs. As I told the ABA Journal recently and wrote here earlier this year, I see blogs as more important than ever within the legal industry. I’ve cited the prominence and influence of SCOTUSblog so many times that they’re getting sick of hearing me mention them. But ask yourself where lawyers are turning for information. In increasing numbers, they are turning to blogs. Yes, some blogs are dying. But others are thriving. And meanwhile, established legal news publishers are shuttering publications or rolling through owners. Blogging will continue to evolve in the years ahead, but it’s not going away anytime soon.

10. Practice Management Continues to Expand.

practicemanagement2You would think that I would be done talking about practice management. After all, in my 2013 post, I wrote it was the year in which practice management “went mainstream,” thanks to the growing crop of sophisticated and established cloud-based practice management platforms. Then last year, I again included the continued growth in the use of practice management applications as a major development, noting in particular that these applications were evolving from maintaining a narrow focus on simple practice management to becoming something wider — providing a variety of integrated tools and services that address an array of functions within a law office.

But here I am again, continuing to be amazed at how this segment continues to thrive and evolve. We still have new platforms raising financing and getting launched, such as PracticePanther; we still see the more established platforms continuing to build out their products, and we even saw the parent company of one platform complete a successful IPO (see #8 above). And then came the recent news from Microsoft that it had decided to open-source its practice management platform, Matter Center for Office 365. Practice management is not a sexy topic, but it continues to be one of the hottest – if not the hottest – areas of technology growth and development in the legal industry.

firmmanagercalendar

Lots of news over the past week, thanks to the confluence of three major conferences: ABA Techshow in Chicago, the ABA Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division in Honolulu, and the Legal Marketing Association annual conference in San Diego. I’ve already reported on some of it, but here are some other announcements from the week:

LexisNexis Firm Manager integrates with Office 365. The practice management platform LexisNexis Firm Manager now allows synchronization between its calendars and calendars in Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Office 365, it announced.  This helps ensure that important events are synchronized across devices, including computers, tablets, mobile phones and the law firm calendar within Firm Manager. If you use LawToolBox.com to automatically calculate court deadlines in Office 365, those dates will also now be reflected within Firm Manager.

This latest release of Firm Manager also adds a new billing dashboard that provides two snapshot views of accounts receivables. The billing dashboard gives attorneys an at-a-glance view of the financial health and status of client accounts.

NetDocuments launches apps marketplace. The document management platform NetDocuments has launched an apps marketplace where you find third-party software and plug-ins that integrate with NetDocuments. NetDocuments currently has more than 30 technology partners who have created dozens of applications and add-ons that integrate with NetDocuments. Examples include Forms Assistant from the PayneGroup, a document automation utility; compareDocs, a utility for comparing documents across document types; and pdfDocs, a PDF editing and creation tool.

Tikit's drag-and-drop email design.
Tikit’s drag-and-drop email design.

Tikit releases new email marketing application. Tikit, the company I wrote about recently for its launch of a new version of Carpe Diem, has now released a new version 6 of its email marketing application Tikit eMarketing. The program is used by more than 150 law firms worldwide, the company says.

Among the features of the new version are a new responsive design that makes it easy to use on any platform, drag and drop functionality to simplify creation of emails, flexibity to send as many or as few emails as desired for better cost control, new design elements for better branding, enhanced analytics and reporting accessible through a central reporting dashboard, and social media integration with Google +, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, including social media reporting and analytics.

Legal Workspace releases HIPAA-compliant edition. Legal Workspace is a company that provides secure, cloud-based work environments for law firms, hosting the firm’s applications and files. This week it launched the Legal Workspace HIPAA Compliant Edition, designed to allow small and medium law firms to meet necessary HIPAA security regulations governing the safeguarding of protected health information. HIPAA compliance may be required for firms that represent clients in healthcare or health insurance as well as firms that handle insurance defense, personal injury and elder law.

HP announces HP Connected MX. HP has introduced a new system, HP Connected MX, that will help law firms manage their mobile information while ensuring that they keep the information secure and compliant with industry standards. The system allows enterprises and law firms to set up unified backup, synchronization and sharing capabilities, while also allowing them to manage the information through rules and policies. It provides information security and accessibility across any device, with support for Windows, Apple, Android, iOS and Web browsers. A product datasheet can be seen here.


Fundbox Logo

For some time now, the practice management Clio has been expanding the capabilities it offers its customers partly through integrations with third-party applications. An interesting integration announced today is between Clio and Fundbox, a service that advances payments to small businesses against their outstanding invoices.

The integration will enable Clio users to instantly clear outstanding invoices and get cash in hand. Essentially, users are establishing a line of credit with Fundbox based on the firm’s health and invoice history.

The press release announcing the partnership does not say what it will cost to get a cash advance. The Fundbox website says that advanced are repaid over 12 weekly installments and that a clearing fee is charged for each advance of from $52 to $72.

Fundbox leverages deep data analytics to accelerate cash flow and clear invoices for small business. The Fundbox risk engine taps into numerous data signals within its network to assess customers and invoices for risk automatically and instantly, allowing small businesses to choose which invoices to clear with a single click.

At least two other Clio integrations were also announced today:

LawToolBox Deadlines for Clio, which allows Clio users to pull up their matters from within Office 365 Outlook in order to calculate court deadlines and add them to their Clio calendars. (See the press release here.)

CaseMail, which will allow Clio users to send and manage U.S. Postal Service mail and send certified and first-class letters without printing them. (See the press release here.)