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2016 Legal Technology Trends to Watch: Contracts, Artificial Intelligence, Cloud, and Wearables

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Two trends point to a need for lawyers to become technically competent in 2016. First, the gulf between what technology can do for law and what lawyers know about tech is widening. At the same time, clients, companies, and bar associations are becoming less tolerant of lawyers who are not able to proficiently use the tools available.

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Last year I predicted the top legal tech trends in 2015 would be savvy, sales, and safety.

So what do lawyers need to know about 2016 legal technology trends? To find out, I reached out to three legal technology experts. They share awards, books, and accomplishments in expanding awareness of and competence in legal technology.

They told me what they predict will change in legal tech over the coming year, as well as what lawyers should know and do about it. For example, contract software will experience the most growth in 2016. All legal software will become better integrated. While lawyers may not use cloud computing for all of their software needs, more lawyers than ever will begin to use cloud computing for some aspects of running their law firms. In 2016 we’ll see artificial intelligence automate more legal tasks. And we’ll see legal technology become more mobile and wearable.

Without further ado, let’s meet our experts:

2016 Legal Technology Trends

Ken Grady is Lean Law Evangelist for Seyfarth Shaw LLP and an Adjunct Professor at Michigan State University College of Law. Ken regularly writes and speaks internationally about legal practice issues. He was named to the Fastcase 50, honored by the Financial Times for innovative leadership of in-house counsel/outside counsel relationships, and is editor and author of SeytLines.com, included in the ABA (American Bar Association) Journal’s Blawg 100. Ken was CEO of SeyfarthLean Consulting, LLC, general counsel for three Fortune 1000 corporations, held executive positions at Fortune 500 and 1000 corporations, and was a partner in the law firm McDermott, Will & Emery.

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Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase.com, a law practice management software company. She is the nationally-recognized author of Cloud Computing for Lawyers (2012) and co-authors Social Media: The Next Frontier (2010), both published by the ABA. She also co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson West treatise. She writes a weekly column for The Daily Record where she has authored hundreds of articles and regularly speaks at conferences regarding the intersection of law, mobile computing, and Internet-based technology.

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Dr. Rick Kabra is the CEO of CosmoLex Cloud, a web-based law practice management system designed for small law firms. Rick has a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and has over 10 years of experience in the legal software industry, catering to the specialized technology needs of small law firms. He has given over 100 seminars and published numerous articles on legal technologies related to law office management, cloud computing, and legal billing, business & trust accounting compliance issues. Rick’s passion is to help attorneys use technology to simplify their law firm operations. Under his watch, the CosmoLex platform has grown to include practice management, billing, business accounting, and trust accounting functions, and is being used by small law firms in all 50 states.

What type/s of legal tech will see the most growth in terms of adoption in 2016? Why?

Ken: Contract software, in all its forms, has become a favorite area recently, and I believe it will experience the most growth in 2016. This software includes both contract lifecycle management products and contract drafting products.

2016 Legal Technology Trends

While litigation and transactions come and go, contracts never go away. Law departments always have contracts to address. Contracts also present some of the more significant opportunities for work reduction in law departments. The substantive work to write or review a contract takes time, but so do all the non-substantive aspects of contracts. Finding information, getting comments on contract points, moving the paper from person to person, and then, at the end, getting the contract signed by all parties and an executed version in the correct bin, all take time.

The average law department wastes a significant percentage of its available work hours on chasing contracts. For some departments, the percentage grows if the business model relies heavily on licensing or other contract-intensive ideas.

Contract software can help reduce the impact of many wasteful activities (though I argue this is true only if it is implemented after a thorough process improvement effort). Law departments looking for areas where they can find a high return on investment have found that contracts present a tempting opportunity.

Nicole: In 2016, cloud computing use by lawyers will increase now that the technology and the legal cloud computing providers are becomingly increasingly familiar. Lawyers may not use cloud computing for all of their software needs, but more lawyers than ever will begin to use cloud computing for some aspects of running their law firms. Some will use it for for billing, others for time tracking or document storage, and others will use it for all of those functions by using a full-fledged, web-based law practice management software system.

Rick: Mobile- and web-based legal tech solutions are likely to become mainstream from 2016 onwards. Early adopters are demonstrating productivity and compliance benefits vocally, and that’s likely to motivate mainstream firms to start looking into cloud migration.

What type/s of legal tech will most radically change the way lawyers work in 2016? Why? And how?

Ken: Unfortunately, I have not seen any legal technology that will radically change the way lawyers work in 2016. The lack of such legal technology isn’t a bad thing, it just reflects the state of the industry in developing and adopting technology. Perhaps in a garage somewhere, someone is working on the Black Swan legal technology that will surprise us. But, if we focus on the known knowns, we will see incremental, not radical, changes in 2016.

The focus on legal technology falls into two broad camps. The first camp builds technology that has incremental value to lawyers. This is software that automates a task lawyers do today. Automation is helpful, because it allows lawyers to use their time on activities computers can’t do and which add value. But, the change to work brought about by this technology isn’t radical.

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The second camp builds technology that stretches what software can do, but has less impact – at least in the near term. Much of this software falls under the heading “artificial intelligence” software. Whether it fits in that category or not, it is software that doesn’t just automate what lawyers already do, it attempts to find new ways to do things. In the near term, this software has limited uses, but it is a natural step in the evolution to software that can accomplish much more.

Nicole: No technology will radically change the way lawyers work in a single year. That type of change occurs over a number of years. That being said, wearable technology, specifically the Apple Watch and Android smartwatches, will become increasingly prevalent on lawyers’ wrists. The biggest benefit of this type of technology is that it will help lawyers untether from their smartphones and filter out all but the most important, need-to-know information.

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Rick: “Next-generation” solutions that significantly improve a lawyer’s daily work life. For example, in the law practice management space, the first generation, cloud-based legal technology solutions handled only a single function (like billing or practice management). Now “2nd generation” solutions offer multiple, integrated functions (such as billing & accounting & document management) — along with mature, dependable & secure mobile access — that is a much better fit to the way lawyers actually work.

What’s the one thing a smart lawyer should do to prepare for legal tech changes in 2016?

Ken: As a group, lawyers are very impoverished when it comes to knowing about and using legal technology. Each year, legal technology takes another stride forward while most lawyers fall further behind. As the gap between what legal technology can do and what lawyers know widens, bridging that gap becomes more difficult. Strategies such as waiting for the current generation of law firm elders to retire so younger generations, presumably more tech savvy, can take their place won’t work. Why? Because we have learned that the follow-on generations are no more tech savvy than their elders.

The danger for lawyers in 2016 and beyond is the growing intolerance of clients for such ignorance. Clients recognize that lawyers cannot be experts in everything. But, clients expect that lawyers will ensure that firms wanting to charge premium prices for legal services will provide premium services. When lawyers and support staffs in law firms cannot use basic tools such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint efficiently, firms show their clients that knowledge of legal technology is low on the priority list.

Clients, however, expect steady increases in lawyer efficiency, cost predictability, and service quality. They may not care specifically how lawyers get there, but they do want those results. Without technology, lawyers and firms hit the wall on improving in these areas. The single most important thing lawyers and firms can do when it comes to legal technology is learn how to use it. Ignorance will not be bliss.

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Nicole: Stay abreast of changes and legal technology trends. By educating yourself, you’re able to make informed decisions about which technologies to use in your law firm to streamline your practice and provide better representation to your clients.

Rick: Make technology as your core competency and leverage its benefits to gain competitive advantage.

Conclusion

In 2016, legal software will move further into the cloud, onto wearables, and onto our mobile devices. It will become better integrated, and artificial intelligence will automate more legal tasks.

What do you predict will change in legal tech over the coming year, and what should savvy lawyers do about it? Let me know in the comments!

Looking for Law Practice Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Law Practice Management software solutions.

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About the Author

Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz helps B2B software companies with their sales and marketing at Capterra. Her writing has appeared in The Week, Forbes, the Chicago Tribune, The Daily Beast, VICE Motherboard, Reason magazine, Talking Points Memo and other publications. She has been quoted by the New York Times Magazine and has been a columnist at Bitcoin Magazine. Her media appearances include Fox News and Al Jazeera America. If you're a B2B software company looking for more exposure, email Cathy at cathy@capterra.com . To read more of her thoughts, follow her on Twitter.

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