Although the legal tech industry has come a long way in the last few years and new technology is being developed every day, we’ve merely touched the surface of what can be done to improve lawyers’ efficiency and effectiveness. Access to justice is still a problem even with companies like LegalZoom and RocketLawyer. Companies like Quicklegal, MerusCase and Everlaw are providing on-demand legal services and advice, taking client relationship management and ediscovery tools to the next level, but we still have room for improvement and opportunities to create products that help both lawyers and their clients. 2016 is a new year of opportunity for improvement and innovation.
So what does 2016 look like for the legal tech industry?
First, here are things that will not happen.
- Robots will not take lawyers’ jobs (at least not in 2016). While artificial intelligence is booming and changing all industries, IBM’s Watson will not replace lawyers next year. I think technology will assist lawyers in conducting research and completing routine tasks much more efficiently, but it will take longer than a year to replace our services with AI altogether.
- The billable hour will not go away. There’s been a lot of buzz about fixed price models and alternative fee arrangements, but even speaking with partners at some of the best and largest law firms in the world about their metrics, and how they are developing a fixed price model, the struggle is real. It is difficult to have a predictive model that will take into account the amount of time that will be spent on a matter, your clients’ personalities and their willingness to finalize their legal matters in a timely manner. Unless you are in an area of law that has a predictive and standard process (think immigration or bankruptcy), it is difficult to determine how much a matter will cost. The big guys are only able to figure out the fixed cost of a matter up to a certain point. Anything beyond that will take some time to figure out and require use of big data everyone’s talking about.
So what could happen in 2016?
- On-demand legal services will improve and expand. Quicklegal, one of my favorite apps, providing on-demand legal advice, will expand nationally, and access to a lawyer will be a tap on the app away. Other service providers like Avvo started the trend and provided access to lawyers on their site, but Quicklegal and possible other apps and services will take it to the next level and provide instant access. Clients will no longer have to ask their friends for referrals, wait 24 hours after posting their question to get an answer, or have to dial an 800 number. As with all technology, things will get faster and easier to use.
- E-discovery services will become easier to use and faster – to get the insider’s perspective, I asked Everlaw’s CEO, AJ Shankar, what his thoughts are on e-discovery developments for 2016. AJ expects to see an increase in the consumerization of ediscovery products. For example, better support for touch devices and various form factors, increased emphasis on usability, and greater demand for cloud scale and speed – to name a few.
- Alternative Business Models will come to fruition- This is a tricky one. We’ve seen the ABA make a lot of progress in terms of considering ABM’s, but 2016 may be the year when they finally take a leap of faith and allow non-lawyers to partner up with lawyers, and offer more efficient and effective legal services.
- Biglaw will embrace work-life balance. This is not tech related, but law firms are noticing that the new generation of lawyers is not fond of the 80-hour workweek and or the billable hours requirements. Work-life balance (or having a balanced life, as Jeena Cho, author of The Anxious Lawyer puts it) is a new requirement for the newly minted lawyers, and who could blame them? Coming in on weekends to work so you can fulfill your quota of hours just doesn’t sound appealing. Lawyers are leaving for firms that offer a more balanced life, and as the UC Hastings report, Disruptive Innovation, New Models of Legal Practice, shows, “New Models [of legal practice] offer two quite different kinds of workplace flexibility: full-time flex (typically a 40-hour week that can be worked anytime, anywhere) and part-time (typically 10–20 hours a week of work that lawyers can turn down for any reason when they choose not to work). These “New Models” will continue to expand as more and more lawyers move onto firms that offer them and law firms are forced to adjust to keep them.
- Courtroom Technology will slowly improve- I will admit, it’s been 3 years since I’ve been inside a courtroom and 3 years is a lifetime when it comes to technology. Cell phones either had to be turned off or weren’t allowed in court and e-filing was in its early stages. Today, things are looking up! Since the general public prefers to avoid the courtroom altogether and use alternative dispute resolution methods, the courtroom is forced provide better services and easier access to justice. While I don’t see drastic changes in 2016, there are a few things that courts across the country will improve in 2016:
- Improved online customer service – If you access any court web site, most of them look like something that was created in the 90’s. The links are hard to find, the forms, which are used by the general public, are labeled in legalease terms, have poor and lengthy explanations, and definitely don’t offer much assistance in navigating the courtroom, let alone the legal system. However, some courts are taking the leap and are focusing on improving their online services: “Pierce County District Court … looked to its litigants to aid in the production of information, creating of documents, and scheduling of court hearings. From this, the Self‐Scheduling and LiveChat programs were designed, developed, and implemented.” Other courts are improving their sites and services as well, and they are working on utilizing their budgets to hire new people who are willing and able to provide the necessary technological improvements.
- E-filing will continue to expand – The court systems that embraced e-filing started out in divisions that weren’t as busy like the law division with higher damage amounts, which was the right way to implement it. Now, they are expanding into other divisions like family court and small claims. This will speed things up tremendously and reduce the crowds in the courtrooms and clerk’s office.
- Mobile apps – Some courts have already developed their own apps allowing users to check their case status and docket. If budgets and resources permit, I predict an increase in the use of mobile apps and their capabilities in 2016.
In sum, 2016 will bring about vast improvements in the courtroom, law firms, access to legal services, and technological innovation. As Mark Britton, founder and CEO of Avvo said in a notable speech called “The Innovative Imperative.” (starts at 16:00), we all need to work together and start the conversation on how we can improve our services and provide access to justice. 2016 will be a great year to start!
As will all my posts, I was not paid by nor do I affiliate with any of the companies I mention. I have reviewed some of them in the past (see my posts below). Opinions are my own, not those of my employer. See my full disclaimer here.
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