The legal profession so often sees the world in black-and-white
terms that “seeing shades of gray” is considered
high praise for a lawyer. In 2005, however, a rainbow
of technology tools will bring color into the profession.
Those taking greater advantage of technology will especially
appreciate the greens of better cash flow and their competitors’
envy. Those standing on the sidelines can expect to see
more red ink on their balance sheets, and to sing some
The prospects for legal technology have never been
better than in 2005. The confluence of broadband Internet
access, big-horse-power processors, cheap memory and
even cheaper mass storage has quietly made many technologies
that were overhyped or speculative readily available
to even the most mainstream computer user.
In 2004, surveys indicated that many small firm and
solo lawyers were already ahead of some of this country’s
largest firms in effective technology use. In fact,
some large firm clients—Cisco being one example—are
beginning to shift work to small firms that take advantage
of technology. In 2005, technology offers even more
dramatic improvements for the solo and small firm lawyer
at surprisingly small cost. To paraphrase management
guru Tom Peters, the fast fish will beat the slow fish
and the small fish are the fast fish.
Let’s look into the crystal ball for highlights
of what might be a banner year in legal technology.
Big Picture Trends
Systems stabilize. If you upgrade
a two- or three-year-old computer this year, you will
find orders-of-magnitude improvement in performance.
In fall 2004, bargain hunters could buy a terabyte of
hard-drive storage for well under $1,000. When you run
current versions of software on newer computer systems,
you will be consistently surprised and pleased by what
you can do and the stability you find.
IT means business. Too many lawyers
buy technology they don’t understand for reasons
they don’t understand. Going forward, though,
the business practices found in other industries will
find their way into law firms. Expect to hear terms
like “alignment with business goals,” “return
on investment,” “benchmarking” and
even “portfolio management.” Firms of all
sizes will increasingly use IT audits, IT planning and
other common business practices.
It’s too much. Technology takes
an increasing amount of effort and expense at many law
firms. Watch for the debate about whether handling technology
internally should be part of a firm’s core business.
In addition, there’s too much to learn for a practicing
lawyer. We’ll see a movement to third-party providers,
services and consultants as a response to this state
of affairs. The magical resource for lawyers will be
state bar practice management advisors.
E-discovery explodes. One trend sweeping
across all law firms is the growth of electronic discovery.
It will no longer be deemed the sole realm of huge cases
involving huge firms. Only lawyers who enjoy losing
cases and facing potential malpractice claims will ignore
Security matters. In 2005 you have
a 0.0000102 percent chance of being struck by lightning,
while you have a 70 percent chance of being the victim
of a computer security breach. When will you come in
out of the rain? Security problems are increasingly
exploited by bad actors with bad intentions.
Move over, the client wants to drive.
Lawyers’ technology (and billing) practices frustrate
clients. They see us as service providers who should
be catering to the technologies they use and making
it easy for them to work with us, not vice versa. They
will be taking action in 2005.
Return to the future. Today’s
computer environment brings yesterday’s not-ready-for-prime-time
technologies back to life. Look for the return of the
hosted software services model, which makes good sense
for small firms and solos. Document assembly, voice
recognition, extranets and deal rooms are much more
realistic prospects today.
Return of the Internet. The Internet
has rather quietly become a powerful platform for a
variety of innovative services and practical applications—from
making phone calls to generating information feeds to
facilitating online collaboration. These services are
accessible, affordable (or even free) and easy to use
effectively. Plus, the legal blogging phenomenon is
forever changing the way lawyers will use Web pages.
Digital magic shines. E-discovery
will help lawyers see that once information is in digital
formats, it can be used in a multitude of ways. Electronic
evidence and pleadings prepared for electronic filing
can be easily transferred into other programs. It becomes
logical to manage digital materials in Summation, use
the same materials to analyze, plan and prepare your
case in CaseMap, display them to a judge or jury, and
carry the entire case file with you on a hard drive
or CD-ROM. In fact, it becomes difficult not to do these
Lawyers first. Technology-savvy lawyers
will increasingly demand the tools they need, purchase
the tools themselves, or simply leave (often because
they have to purchase the tools themselves). In bigger
firms, the priorities of the staffs and IT departments
too often take precedence over the needs of lawyers.
This results in “least common denominator”
decisions that ultimately satisfy few, if any, lawyers.
Those in small firms too often make decisions solely
to accommodate secretaries and other staff. Lawyers
now will begin to choose the best tools for their own
Getting our reputations back. The
legal bloggers have done a great job of changing others’
perceptions of lawyers for the better, at least on the
Internet. Watch for innovation and more generation of
goodwill from the world of legal bloggers.
Specific Rapid-fire Predictions
Topic #1: Security
Security concerns and the rising tide of information
overload are casting a shadow on technology. Experts
consider cyberterrorism a probability, not just a possibility,
in 2005. Lawyers’ notorious disregard of basic
security practices threatens not only law firms, but
also their clients and the Internet itself.
In addition, the steady stream of e-mail and other
information threatens to turn into an overwhelming torrent,
with both financial and psychological implications.
Shoddy personal security practices, especially weak
passwords, will result in serious losses, embarrassment
and potential liability in 2005.
Topic #2: Software
Expect across-the-board upgrades and updates to existing
software as a result of security risks and client complaints.
Microsoft Office 2003, especially the Small Business
or Professional version, becomes the first Microsoft
product lawyers admit to liking. But watch for some
movement away from Microsoft products, for security
and other reasons. Expect to see some backlash as many
people jump into new products without fully understanding
The number of practice-specific programs surprises
many lawyers. For example, CaseMap, Summation and Trial
Director are just a few of the great programs that litigators
now swear by. Litigation software continues to be the
place to watch for developments, improvements and the
most interesting products.
In addition, Adobe Acrobat Writer (now Adobe 6, with
7 on the way) becomes an essential program for every
law office. Plus, antivirus, personal firewall, spyware
detection, backup and other security software finally
begin to penetrate the legal market in meaningful ways.
2005 Software of the Year: It’s a tie between
CaseMap 5 (especially the ReportBook feature) and Microsoft
OneNote, which will get a lot of deserved attention
as a great tool for lawyers.
Topic #3: Third-Party Services
The application service provider (ASP) model returns
in a more mature form (probably with a different name),
offering good results for firms of all sizes that do
their homework, have reasonable expectations, and identify
the best ways to use services. “Software as services”
areas to watch include online case and project management,
collaboration and conferencing, e-discovery, document
assembly and data backup.
In addition, law firms focusing on their core businesses
begin to turn a variety of “essential” functions
over to third parties, including security, network maintenance,
help desk and user support, Web hosting and even e-mail.
Nearly every technology decision involves a consideration
of third-party service providers and some form of business
analysis and justification.
Topic #4: Client-Driven Technology
Both individuals and businesses are using the Internet
as a “self-serve” source of information
and will choose lawyers according to the content they
find on the Web. At the same time, pressures from clients
will increasingly become the primary driver for technology
projects in law firms.
Clients will be happy with relatively minor and easy
applications, at least for now. Online conferencing,
simple extranets, compatibility with their applications,
simple electronic billing and RSS feeds will take you
a long way. Blogs and RSS feeds will become the leading
vehicles for providing clients with the information
they want. But the best effort any lawyer or law firm
can make is to ask clients, directly or by a survey,
what technologies they use and want to use.
Topic #5: At the Lawyer’s Fingertips
Search tools for both your network and your computer’s
hard drive will become a priority. Expect growing interest
in search features of document management programs and
desktop search engines such as Google Desktop Search,
Copernic Desktop Search, X1 and Enfish. Also watch for
growing exploration of “personal knowledge management”
with new tools (like OneNote or blogs) and better use
of existing tools (case management, document management
or Microsoft Office).
For individual lawyers nothing is more important than
time management. Current interest in time management
tools, such as The MasterList or David Allen’s
Getting Things Done, will increase. Case management
software will place greater emphasis on such features.
Unfortunately, however, even though realizing the value
of training, most lawyers will continue to be “too
busy” to avail themselves of opportunities—and
they’ll be frustrated by processes that about
30 seconds of training would have remedied.
The one trend that will not hit lawyers in 2005 is
computer modding, the practice of customizing and personalizing
computers with lights, colors and thematic designs.
Even I will not be so bold to suggest that we will see
lawyers going that direction, although we may see a
few lawyers go for a “mod,” like a laptop
wrapped in gray-wool suit fabric or tasseled loafer
However, from hardware to software to services, lawyers
will have, and will take advantage of, affordable opportunities
to put some color into their practices, bringing interest
and enthusiasm to their clients and themselves. Whether
legal technology in 2005 will bring your practice to
a rainbow with a pot of gold will depend on your own
choices. But ignoring the trends and developments this
year will definitely leave you red-faced, white-knuckled
and feeling blue.
Quick-Shot Hardware Forecasts
Tablet PCs become the computer of choice (although
probably not reality), especially for litigators.
The PDA begins a swift decline in the legal profession.
Macintosh use by lawyers, although remaining small,
will grow substantially. Want a Mac? Go ahead and buy
Inexpensive high-capacity hard drives make easy backup
possible. (Some estimates say that 60 to 80 percent
of lawyers currently do absolutely no computer backup.)
Multifunction printers, combining printing, scanning,
copying, faxing and color in one unit, appear with increasing
frequency. The ubiquitous and beloved HP LaserJet found
in many offices makes room for the HP OfficeJet.
Cheap and powerful proves an irresistible combination.
Lawyers find that their computers are fast and stable,
with plenty of room to do what they wish.
2005 Hardware of the Year
Low-cost network servers from Dell, HP and others, bundled
with the inexpensive Windows Small Business Server,
offer a powerful “law office network in a box”
for many small firms, especially start-ups.
— Dennis Kennedy
DISCLOSURE: The author may have modest
financial relationships with some of the companies mentioned
in this article.
Dennis Kennedy (email@example.com)
is a well-known legal technology expert and computer
lawyer based in St. Louis, Missouri. An award-winning
author and a frequent speaker, he was named the 2001
TechnoLawyer of the Year by TechnoLawyer.com for his
role in promoting the use of technology in the practice
of law. His blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)
and web page, (http://www.denniskennedy.com/)
are highly regarded resources on technology law and
legal technology topics. Dennis is a member of the
American Bar Association Law Practice Management Section's
Council, ABA TECHSHOW Board, and Webzine Board.