Two legal technology stories in 2003 actually shocked
The first was finding in the AmLaw Tech survey of large
law firms that some of the largest and wealthiest firms
in the United States still use Office 97, now a full
three generations behind Microsoft’s current release.
I don’t know what was the bigger shock: that they
still used it or that they would publicly admit to it.
The second was the damage law firms suffered from Blaster
and similar viruses. Blaster problems knocked out networks
of some prominent firms. Because the vulnerability Blaster
exploited and the fix for it were widely publicized,
the impact of Blaster speaks volumes about continuing
security lapses at many law firms.
Jerry Lawson has called 2003 the “year of the
blawg.” The explosive growth of legal blogs, commonly
called “blawgs,” brought back an excitement
about the use of the Internet by lawyers that hasn’t
been seen since the mid-1990s. I’ll discuss the
blawg phenomenon in more detail later, but if you have
not seen what is going on in blawgspace, taking a quick
look into blawgs should be the first item on your technology
2003 was also notable for the slowing of investment
in technology by many firms and a marked absence of
innovation, if not a retreat. In part, this slowdown
reflected the economy, but the inertia of the traditional
law firm conservatism also played a part.
Unfortunately, this trend happened at a time when clients
have focused on higher hourly rates and inefficient
delivery of services. The stress caused by the gap in
innovation between law firms and their clients has begun
to open cracks in the structure of the traditional law
firm model, with potentially profound implications for
Despite that, I am upbeat about legal technology for
2004. Great software tools are available. Hardware is
powerful and storage is cheap. Wireless has helped deliver
the promise of laptop computers. The Internet is back
to front page news due to blawgs and news aggregators.
Young lawyers have tons of great ideas for using technology.
Most important, we may be on the verge of the next “killer
app” for lawyers.
Here are my picks for the seven biggest legal technology
trends for 2004, plus a few more for you to keep an
eye on for developments I could not resist mentioning.
1. Litigation Technology is Hot. Lawyers
who think that nothing new is happening in technology
need to take a look at the litigation tools now available.
Litigation technology is the leading area of innovation
in legal tech today. In every area of litigation, there
are great tools both lawyers and tech-savvy clients
should be demanding.
Jurors increasingly expect presentations to include
PowerPoint slides, graphics, and multimedia. Presentation
tools let you produce mini-documentaries to illustrate
complex issues and aid in expert testimony. Holland
& Hart, in Denver, even has a litigation graphics
and video department.
LEXIS and others are using artificial intelligence
software, such as DolphinSearch, to decrease dramatically
the time required to review discovery documents while
increasing the likelihood of finding the most relevant
materials, all at a fraction of the cost of the traditional
“throwing a bunch of associates at it” approach.
Software allows you to manage discovery materials,
get transcripts in real-time and, using CaseMap, map
out your strategies, assess strengths and weaknesses
in your case, and prepare useful summaries for you and
The courts are very serious about moving to e-filing
and judges want to get attorneys moved to electronic
systems. Wireless networking has also provided an alternative
in older courts where wiring was an expensive or impossible
Finally, computer forensics and electronic discovery
tools have become standard tools for some of the best
litigators. Increasingly, the evidence you may need
exists in the form of e-mail or never was printed out
2. Stopping the Waste of Technology Dollars.
What the heck has your firm’s IT department been
doing with all the money you have spent in the last
few years on technology? As technology takes a larger
share of law firm budgets, many firms sadly have no
idea of what their dollars bought them or what they
could have instead.
How can your firm be wasting money? Let me count the
ways. I discuss seven of them in an article at http://www.abanet.org/lpm/lpt/articles/tch12031.html.
Lack of direction and priorities, projects that linger
on long after you should have pulled the plug, “pet”
projects, buying new software when you software that
would do the same thing if you only knew about it, lack
of awareness about less costly or better-suited alternatives
in the legal software market, failure to use vendor
licensing and discount programs, and more. There might,
in fact, be fifty ways to waste your money.
While it is crazy to continue any process that wastes
your money, it is the height of insanity to keep spending
a large chunk of money only to end up with inadequate
tools for you, your attorneys, your staff, and, increasingly,
Just stopping the bleeding would be a good accomplishment
in 2004, but the leading firms will be taking the next
step and aligning technology projects with business
goals and applying return on investment analysis, portfolio
management, and other common business practices to save
money, make money, and set priorities. If you do not
have a couple of management committee members on your
technology committee, your technology projects and your
business goals may well be at odds, and you will pay
a price for a lack of alignment, focus, and priorities.
3. Big Firm Lawyers Go Small. Many
tech-savvy big firm lawyers are questioning why practicing
in a big firm makes sense anymore. Expect to see more
lawyer departures and spin-offs than we have seen in
quite a while.
Leasing, other payment plans, and the continuing drop
in technology costs make it possible for big firm lawyers
to equip themselves with better technology than they
now have at their firms, for a very small initial outlay
of capital. As a result, the financial barriers to moving
to a solo or small firm practice have been greatly reduced.
Both quality of life issues and future income potential
may well be better outside rather than inside a big
With clients looking to control costs, lawyers able
to leverage technology, reputation, experience and skills
while offering clients alternatives to hourly billing
may find some excellent opportunities in 2004. The trend
of departures will damage big firms in two other important
ways. First, it will hollow out these firms by taking
away the core of the next generation of leadership.
Second, it will reduce technological innovation and
competence because the departing lawyers probably pushed
4. Blawgs and RSS Feeds. How many
of these names are familiar to you? “Ernie the
Attorney,” “Bag and Baggage,” “NetLawBlog,”
“Inter Alia,” “beSpacific,”
“LawTech Guru,” “ethicalEsq?”,
“tins,” “My Shingle,” “The
Trademark Blog,” “George’s Employment
Law Blog,” “GrepLaw,” “LawSites,”
“Stay of Execution,” “How Appealing,”
“The Indiana Law Blog,” “Copyfight,”
These are names of a relatively small sampling of the
blawgs that have given the legal profession a new and
vibrant image among the growing number of influential
opinion-leaders who have flocked to the world of blogging.
A blog, as you may know, is a new kind of content-focused
Web site, typically built with blog authoring software,
that displays new content as postings or articles in
a reverse chronological order. They are cheaper, easier,
and arguably more effective than most standard web sites.
Have you heard of RSS feeds, RDF feeds, XML feeds,
news feeds, or syndication? These terms refer to a method
that allows you to “feed” your content over
the Internet as headlines, excerpts, abstracts, or full-text
(including images). People who “subscribe”
to your feed receive new material as soon as you add
it, without needing to return to your Web site. Subscribers
use a program called a “newsreader” or a
“news aggregator” to subscribe to, receive
and manage feeds. Feeds are usually associated with
blogs, but not all blogs have feeds and not all feeds
are sent out by blogs. In fact, many newspapers, publications,
and services now have news feeds. Some courts and government
agencies have or are working on news feeds.
I called news aggregators a life-altering technology
in the December 2003 issue of Law Practice Magazine
in my article, “Beating Information Overload with
News Aggregators” (http://www.abanet.org/lpm/magazine/articles/v29is8an4.shtml).
A good way to get your initial exposure to blogs and
feeds is to visit the Daily Whirl site (http://www.dailywhirl.com),
which allows you to see headlines from a large number
of legal blogs and other sites with news feeds.
Blawgs will evolve and grow in 2004 and help change
the public’s impression of lawyers in a positive
way, but the news aggregator tools and feeds are a “must
investigate and use” technology for lawyers in
2004 for many reasons, not the least of which is how
they let you get information you need without sifting
through the spam and clutter of your e-mail inbox.
5. The Impending Security Disaster.
As Microsoft advises, there are three essential steps
that you must take to provide a basic level of security
protection. They are (1) install all updates and patches,
especially those designated “critical security
updates,” (2) use and keep current at least one
antivirus program, and (3) use a hardware or software
firewall. I add a fourth step: backup on a regular basis,
verifying that files can be restored.
The three standard steps are like locking your car
doors. Locking the doors does not mean that a determined
and skilled car thief cannot steal your car, only that
an opportunistic thief looking for an easy target will
pass by your car.
The troubling aspect of Blaster is that the critical
security update that patched the Windows vulnerability
that Blaster exploited had been available for two months
prior to the appearance of Blaster. There was a lot
of publicity about the need to install the update. Doesn’t
this imply that some, perhaps many, of the affected
firms had not followed the first step of standard
recommended security practices?
Computer and network security is difficult and specialized
work. Many firms are lucky to have a full-time IT person,
let alone one with security expertise. Law firms are
also vulnerable to walk-in theft of computers from offices,
theft and loss of notebook computers, compromised and
wide-open access by attorneys at home and on the road,
and inadequate screening of new employees and exiting
employees. Add to that mix the reluctance of law firms
and lawyers to encrypt sensitive data, and you have
a big train wreck waiting to happen.
In the good news, however, the use of key-chain password
generators and biometric login tools will reduce the
notorious tendency of lawyers to use common and easily-guessed
passwords. New security and patch management software
will also help, as will exploring outsourcing options.
But, is it too little, too late?
6. Clients Fire Law Firms Due to Tech Shortcomings.
Let’s consider four facts. First, for
the last several years, surveys of corporate general
counsels show that 50 – 60% of them either fired
or seriously considered firing one or more outside law
firms. Second, the number one reason for firing law
firms is “lack of responsiveness.” Third,
the most common answer to the question of what innovation
did your law firm bring to you was “none.”
Fourth, the overwhelming answer to most important priority
was “controlling legal costs.”
Do I have to paint the picture for you?
Client patience is nearing its end. The law firms that
will do well will be those who use client-centric technologies,
especially those who bring cost-saving ideas to their
clients without the clients asking. The firms who do
not are likely to find more pink slips. Good corporate
business may instead be moved to those tech-savvy lawyers
leaving big firms to build a new business model on a
7. Are We On the Doorstep on the Next Killer
App for Lawyers? The Tablet PC, WiFi, OneNote, and Practice-Specific
Applications. I recently spent a few weeks
trying out a Motion Computing Tablet PC generously loaned
to me by Jeff Danielson, of M7 Wireless Services in
St. Louis (http://www.m7ws.com).
The Tablet PC had wireless capabilities and was loaded
with OneNote, Microsoft’s new “informal”
word processor and electronic notepad that allows you
to write or draw on the screen into your document, insert
audio, and insert text by hand-writing recognition as
well as by typing. OneNote works like an electronic
version of a legal pad, but you can also search for
what you need, move things around, and share documents
in a way that you cannot do with paper.
My reaction to the combination was overwhelmingly positive.
You can be connected all the time aw well as access
and enter information in several ways in a form factor
similar to the legal pad you carry all the time. It
gets better. Imagine that the Tablet PC, since it is
a full-fledged PC rather than a PDA, also has your case
management software and the programs you use in your
everyday practice. If you are litigator, you could have
a Tablet PC, enter your notes, check information on
the Internet, use CaseMap, find and review information
in Summation or another discovery tool, get real-time
transcription, run PowerPoint presentations, present
audio and video, all from something that has the familiarity
of a legal pad. As a bonus, the head-turning factor
of the Tablet PCs is sky high. The cost is about $200
more than a comparably configured standard laptop computer.
Is it the next legal tech killer app? It has my vote,
and the votes of some of the legal tech experts I trust
Other Trends to Watch.
1. Has Microsoft opened opportunities for competitors?
Are Linux, Open Source, and Macintosh becoming
real options for lawyers?
2. Wireless + Mobility = Productivity.
And what is wrong with working on the beach?
3. E-lawyering, Virtual Law Firms, and Internet
Delivery of Legal Services Start to Get Very Real. Keep
up with developments is the eLawyer Blog at http://www.elawyerblog.org.
4. Cheap Storage Makes Video, Using Large Databases,
and Carrying Your Office with You More than a Dream.
“Oh, I have all of the discovery files here on
my key chain.”
5. Lawyers at that “Awkward Age”
for Technology. Do you find that both your
children and your parents are more comfortable and adept
with technology than you are?
6. Will the unwillingness and/or inability
of lawyers to conduct electronic discovery result in
malpractice cases? Despite the fact that businesses
are moving to electronic records, computer forensics
expert report that many lawyers make no effort to discover
electronic evidence. Other lawyers who seek electronic
evidence often make mistakes in handling it that destroy
Legal technology in 2004 looks really exciting, with
lots happening. Firms who saw the down economy as a
good time to take a nap on technology had better hear
the alarm clock. The blawgers woke up the Internet community
in 2003. In 2004, it’s morning again in legal
technology and, from where I stand, it is a sunny day.
Dennis Kennedy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
concentrates his practice in computer law and also provides
legal technology consulting services and seminars. A
frequent author and speaker, he was named the 2001 TechnoLawyer
of the Year and the 2003 TechnoLawyer Contributor of
the Year. His web site and blog (www.denniskennedy.com)
are highly-regarded resources for technology law and
legal technology topics. Please contact Dennis for information
about obtaining an expanded version of this article.