Less than a third of law firms have an employee whose job involves driving technology innovation, and most of those that do tend to be larger firms.

Law firms are much more likely to spend most of their resources focusing on their clients and keeping abreast of the changing law. But in today’s world, it is increasingly critical for law firms to keep up with technology in order to compete.

Law firm technology can:

  • Improve client relations
  • Promote efficiency
  • Increase accuracy
  • Enable previously unavailable possibilities

We’re now halfway through 2018, so it’s a good time to look at some of the technology trends that have been important to law firms this year and what will likely continue to be in the coming years.

1. The Cloud

If most of your law firm technology functions are not already in the cloud, they probably should be. Many functions that used to rely on client-based document storage and document assembly, such as Microsoft Office, are now accessible in the cloud. Here are some of the reasons that client-based applications are quickly becoming a thing of the past:

  • The security of cloud-based services is usually better than the law firm can provide, especially for small to medium-sized firms.
  • Cloud-based technologies are often less expensive than client-based solutions.
  • Cloud-based technologies can reduce the need for firm-wide software installations and ongoing maintenance.
  • Many important technologies are only available in the cloud, including cloud-based artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).

2. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

Artificial intelligence has been embedded in some law firm software for years, doing everything from empowering legal research to automating document production. Expect AI to become rooted in an increasingly wider variety of functions and in a larger spectrum of law firms.

As costs decrease, smaller firms can afford to buy some of the efficiency-saving applications that have only been available to larger firms. Some of these technologies include:

E-discovery

E-discovery applications help lawyers perform tasks and make strategic decisions. Artificial intelligence sorts and analyzes vast amounts of data and documents faster than humans. They can even “learn” what to prioritize as lawyers give their input on the results. AI programs can even predict the questions to follow.

Legal Expert Systems

Another increasing use of AI is in legal expert systems. Some of these systems lead attorneys through various scenarios and options in order to quickly and accurately complete tasks, like creating contracts. There are off-the-shelf programs, but some law firms have programmed their own legal expertise into their systems.

Rocket Lawyer uses AI to answer people’s commonly asked legal questions, usually before they call a lawyer. “Robot lawyers” such as Robot Lawyer Lisa even allows people to complete legal tasks, such as creating property contracts. One way for law firms to encourage clients to visit their own website for basic answers and tasks is to work with a technology company to create their own custom bots.

3. Security and Blockchain

In a recent survey, lawyers listed cybersecurity as a top challenge, second only to pricing. As lawyers work in an increasingly mobile environment, cell phones, tablets and laptops protecting their client’s information and case data has become even more of a challenge. After all, the time when a law firm could claim ignorance for failing to institute effective cybersecurity measures is long gone.

There have been some devastating security breaches for major law firms in recent years. In fact, 22% of all respondents to the ABA 2017 Legal Technology Survey Report said they have experienced a data breach – a 57% increase from the year before.

There are many security options, but for law firms that want to be on the cutting edge, one of the most important and exciting innovations in security is blockchain technology. Most of us have heard of the phenomenal increase in the value of Bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies. But the lesser understood and of higher importance is the blockchain technology that underlies cryptocurrencies.

Blockchain is almost impossible to forge or hack, making it extremely secure. It’s important to law firms for a variety of reasons, including its use in making “smart contracts.” Blockchain verifies and stores signatures, enabling people to safely enter into contracts from anywhere in the world.

4. Marketing Automation

As law firm competition and client demands increase, marketing automation has become critical to success. Savvy law firm marketing relies on analytics that empower marketing strategy, as well as automation that enables effective execution. You can no longer just hope potential clients see your marketing messages.

With marketing automation software, you can capture your prospective clients’ contact information, customize messages that interest them specifically, and reach them at a time when they are most likely to need your services. You can measure and analyze the success of your marketing efforts with a precision never before possible and hone your efforts for greater ROI.

Marketing automation may be used across multiple channels, including email, direct mail, SMS, websites and social media. When your clients hear your message from multiple sources, they are more likely to internalize it and respond.

5. Client Communications

In the past, it was often both difficult and expensive for a client to reach out to their attorney. Clients often became anxious because they didn’t know what was happening with their legal issues on a day-to-day basis.

Today, shrewd law firms are actively keeping their clients informed through technology. Practice management software providers offer communication features that organize memoranda, documents and email in one place for improved client communications.

Some law firms are implementing client portals for easier client communications online. These tools are all becoming increasingly commonplace.

6. Template Management and Document Automation

As law firms look to unify and standardize their document processes, automated templates and the systems that manage them have become an integral part of running a firm.

Template management systems keep all your firm’s templates in one place as a way to ensure consistency and version control. They can be sorted based on practice area (i.e. estates, litigation, etc.) and/or the type of document (i.e. letters, agreements, forms, etc.), as well as office location.

With a template management system, the chance of making mistakes goes down significantly. The software promotes best practices, encouraging users to build documents from clean templates. This is faster and more efficient than reusing old documents and results in more accurate documents.

Keeping Up with Law Firm Technology

These are just a few of the growing trends in law firm technology. It’s an important, but often neglected, part of today’s modern practice. Large firms with dedicated IT departments are more likely to track technological innovations, but not even small firms can ignore them anymore.