Happy New Year! The following is my list of the top ten developments in the delivery of legal services using technology that have happened in the past year. Please feel free to expand on this list in the comments. I’m also including at the end my predictions for virtual law practice in the new year.
1. Richard Susskind’s book, The End of Lawyers? Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services, is published. The book discusses “disruptive technologies” that allow attorneys to provide legal services online. Susskind predicts that attorneys who adopt rather than resist these changes in the technology used to deliver legal services will prosper as the profession adapts to marketplace changes. The public’s need for affordable and accessible legal services will drive the legal profession’s use of technology to meet this demand.
2. State bars and other professional legal organizations offer CLEs and sessions geared at teaching attorneys best practices and security standards for using technology in their law practices. Popular topics include email security, online backup solutions for law office data, minimizing metadata and using scanners to decrease the use of paper. See the ABA’s Legal Technology Resource Center’s website for a list of 2008 articles. In addition to increased law and technology management education in the profession, several state bars provide specific ethics decisions with approval for virtual law offices (VLOs) and/or allow for attorneys to provide unbundled legal services online.
3. More attorneys turn to piecemeal technologies and free online apps to collaborate with each other and their clients online. Basecamp, Google Docs, Adobe ConnectNow, Webex, GoToMeeting, and Dimdim are a few of the popular web-based tools.
4. New web-based, software as a service (SaaS) law practice management products launch, including Rocket Matter and Clio. Popular legal blogs and listservs discuss the pros and cons involved in the use of “cloud computing.” The discussions center on the security and backup concerns with a hosted system.
5. VLOTech sets up web-based, virtual law offices (VLOs) in Alabama, Maryland, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia with more VLOs planned in Alaska, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and North Carolina for the upcoming year. The technology aims to provide attorneys with the flexibility to operate a completely online law office or to combine the technology with a traditional law practice and offer unbundled legal services online. “VLO” becomes a more recognized term for a web-based virtual law practice and elawyering.
6. Virtual Law Partners opens its doors as the newest example of BigLaw using technology to allow its attorneys to work remotely and collaborate on legal cases.
7. LegalZoom comes under fire over filing fees that the legal document service company charges to online clients, in particular in relation to the filing of trademark applications with the USPTO. Critics of invention submission companies and of companies that provide form-generated legal documents in general spoke out about what they saw as the potential misleading of the public by online companies offering legal services where an attorney was not involved in reviewing the final legal product.
8. With more attorneys practicing law using mobile devices and relying on electronic forms of communication with clients and other attorneys, management of electronically stored information (ESI) became more of a concern. Solos and small firms are expected to understand e-discovery and ESI management in their daily practices. Check out the archives of the EDD Blog co-authored by Bob Krantz and Jeffery Fehrman.
9. Larger numbers of attorneys adopted popular online social networking tools to meet up with others in the legal profession. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Legal OnRamp, JD Supra and other sites connect attorneys with each other and prospective clients.
10. Some useful law and tech/practice management blogs came online this year, including Law 21, Above and Beyond KM, 3 Geeks and a Law Blog, and Law Practice Matters, among others. Blogging continues to grow as an attorney marketing tool and is used as a method of providing the public with basic legal information and resources. Law blogs remain a method for attorneys to educate themselves and network in their individual practice areas. The Louisiana State Bar’s proposed rules of professional conduct touch on attorney blogging, social networking and other forms of online attorney communication causing some concern and originating in a lawsuit from attorneys in that state.
My predictions for virtual law practice in 2009:
1. Attorneys will continue to question web-based, hosted software providing law practice management tools. However, companies providing SaaS legal products will band together to establish standards regarding the security of their products for the benefit of the legal profession and the reputation of the companies and the saas business model.
2. The ABA will move forward with proposing standards or policies for the delivery of legal services online. The eLawyering Task Force as well as the Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services will both play a critical role in establishing these guidelines.
3. Attorneys hit hard by the downward economy will seek out ways to minimize their law practice overhead using technology. Some will use piecemeal software solutions to minimize overhead in law office administrative tasks. Others will consider opening completely web-based VLOs to get rid of the law office lease and expand their client base statewide or nationwide depending on their practice areas.
4. More attorneys will realize that customer service is the key to growing a successful practice and that the public is demanding more efficient and convenient legal services through the use of technology. This will prompt more attorneys to provide unbundled legal services online to clients either as the sole form of virtual law practice or in addition to their traditional law office practice.