Traditionally, work in the legal sector has always been a tedious process, heavily reliant primarily on paperwork. Since so much of the law focuses on the written word—and the interpretation of those written words– lawyers have always been obsessed with old-fashion books and paper.
The Evolution of the Law Office
When programable typewriters debuted, attorneys and their staff were relieved that corrections to sentences and paragraphs could be made without having to rewrite everything. When word processors came into use in law offices, legal secretaries were thrilled to begin making use of macros and documents which could be easily edited and reused. The fax machine was another boon for law firms. Finally, documents could be sent over the phone—without needed an expensive courier service that may or may not hit traffic and fail to deliver documents on-time.
Over the years, things have continued to evolve for legal technology. Although the paperless office never really materialized, PDF documents have become extremely common. Courts have now begun adopting e-filing or legal documents in PDF form into e-court. This has allowed many judges to clear the desks on their bench from large, bulky files, and replace them with one or two large monitors. Far more than a simple improvement on aesthetics, this allows judges to quickly find words and phrases using text search, rather than trying to thumb through hundreds of pages of documents. It also allows them to quickly maneuver through multiple cases on a crowded docket.
The Future of Technology in Legal
Overall, the use of technology has been a boon for law firms and courts alike. Still, some law firms are still reluctant to embrace technological change. This may be holding law firms back when it comes to taking technological transformation to the next level as it is generally common to see lawyers/legal staff going to meetings lugging stacks of files and documents instead of just the necessary ‘hardcopy’ documents with the rest in digital format (either on a flashdrive/portable hard drive, in a laptop, tablet or other device).
Plagued by messy and wasteful processes, many of them end up discarding large numbers of documents while possibly losing out to more competitive service providers that manage to deliver work faster by embracing technological change.
Those that stubbornly refuse to adapt to the innovations brought about by technology end up compromising many benefits such as an increase in productivity, convenience, efficiency and so much more.
Technology For Every Legal Practice Area
Whether a criminal defense attorney, civil rights lawyer, corporate lawyer, or practically anyone in the legal industry can gain some sort of advantage as well as an upper hand through the use of technology.
For example, a DUI attorney may use Power Point at trial, a MacBook or Chromebook in court, or a shared filed service to share documents, photos, and videos with DUI clients. A civil attorney may use a 4k digital video camera with laptop stenography during depositions, and then use those recorded depositions later in trial—by playing them for the judge and jury on a handheld projector.
Pressure is put on legal firms by changes in the demands placed upon them by clients who, when picking a law firm may ask themselves questions such as: How does the law firm fare with technology or how do they collaborate with their clients? Does the technology help make cases better? Does it get results? Does it save time and money for the client?
In addition, junior lawyers who are more inclined towards using technology on a daily basis are continually coming into the sector and pushing their firms to modernize.
Embracing technological change and digital transformation is one of the best ways in which a firm can remain competitive and relevant. Picking up the pace will begin with an understanding of how quickly these firms are able to effect meaningful change.
Today’s technology makes law firm data even more accessible from practically anywhere in the world through the use of handheld devices such as tablets and smartphones.
Work can be done easily beyond the typical boundaries of space and time. Through the use of cloud computing, changes that have to be made to documents can be dealt with in real time and with a few simple clicks.
Changes to legal documents, agreements and more can all also be done in collaboration with others on the same document.
Law firm data is a fundamental component guiding effective operations for law firms and in many cases, the volume of data that has to be dealt with can quickly become overwhelming.
Fortunately, the amount of data capable of being handled by cloud storage systems far exceeds the capacity of previous manual filing systems and now even outpaces earlier digital storage devices.
Data can become more organized, clearer, cleaner and more useful while the massive amounts of data generated can be processed at higher and higher speeds.
The technology available today also allows effective mining of data in order to produce quick and efficient decision making powered by data analytics.
The Future of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Law
It’s believed that artificial intelligence may be the future of law. These machines can carry out “smart” tasks and mimic the way human beings make decisions.
Large amounts of data can be provided to an AI to enable it to learn. This is called machine learning. Although they may not replace skilled professionals, AI can make new insights possible.
Chatbots will likely be taking off in 2018. With prospective clients coming to law firm websites after-hours, chat bots use AI and allow for automated responses based on keyword and semantic analysis. This frees up lawyers and their staff from having to answer very basic and common questions.
Will Lawyers Ever Be Replaced by Robots?
Frank Levy, a labor economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Dana Remus, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, studied whether “robots” (i.e. artificial intelligence) could actually practice law. Their findings were that– at the present time– lawyers and attorneys do not need to be worried about being replaced by robots. However, they did find that if all the current legal technology currently available in 2017-2018 were put in place immediately, law firms would see about a 13% decline in billable hours.
The time has come for the legal sector to break the cycle of heavy and pointless hardcopy paperwork. The day law firms stop attempting to keep up with the relentless advance of technology is the day that they will begin to face severe competitive shortcomings that can affect their survival.
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