When you picture a lawyer working on their latest case, how do you imagine them researching and compiling their evidence? Do you imagine them surrounded by thick, leather-bound books of case-law, papers strewn everywhere as they work late into the night looking for the one precedent or line in a law that will allow them to win their case with not a scrap of other technology in sight? Do you wonder if you have it right?
While that may have once been the case, back when a computer took up an entire room and needed an entire team to be used, nowadays advances in technology have streamlined the work of lawyers and paralegals and made their jobs easier, quicker and better. From the more mundane sorts of technology like using the internet to search up case-law to futuristic advances in artificial intelligence providing crucial language analytics, technology is an immense help to law firms.
Still you might be confused as to how exactly technology can be of use to law firms, and what the limits of that help is, so read on for more information. How can technology help law firms?
Why should law firms use more technology?
There are many advantages that a technology heavy law firm has over one that uses more traditional and archaic means of compiling and pursuing their cases. The most important advantages of which for using technology in a law firm are the tremendous increases in the speed and accuracy of research it provides and how it can enable lawyers to better argue their cases.
Whereas research for a case could be an all-consuming, weeks-long process of reading through numerous books for any relevant information and hunting down experts to bolster a case decades ago in this digital age we are living in it can be streamlined by the use of technology to save weeks worth of time for each case. This is accomplished through many different sorts of technology from Artificial Intelligence and algorithms to high-speed wireless internet.
Wi-Fi, or wireless internet, and the rise in portable computers such as laptops and tablets allows lawyers to take their work everywhere they go. Unbound from having to be at an office – either in their firm or at home – this allows them the flexibility to get work done when they otherwise might not have been able to such as when traveling. Even outside of working hours if a thought occurs to them that can help their case, having instant access to the internet means they can easily chase that lead no matter where they are.
The interconnectedness of all facets of life within the internet such as through social media and websites that compile information on professionals also gives lawyers a quicker way to connect with clients, possible witnesses and experts.
Even better for law firms, increasingly the job of researching for cases is being automated by algorithms and Artificial Intelligence. This lightens the load on lawyers and paralegals who otherwise would have had that duty and possibly been distracted and overworked by that facet of their job at the expense of other more important parts such as preparing their questions and argument. It is possible for this to happen because because an Artificial Intelligence program reading through research is vastly faster and more precise than a human, it’s programming allowing it to find and extract exactly what it needs, like key phrasing and testimonies that will aid in the lawyer’s case from the millions and millions of lines of text available.
Using Artificial Intelligence in research also has the added bonus that a machine when properly programmed to help lawyers will learn exactly what lawyers are looking for and can grow to impart unique insight into the research that it returns. It can also analyze the exact language used in the texts that it finds to reveal precise wordings that might otherwise have been missed by a human researcher. This can revolutionize the way lawyers think about their cases, giving them an edge when arguing their side in court.
In addition to the help with research that technology gives, it also enables better communication in all areas from those between clients and their lawyers to firm-wide communication. There is a saying that “If it isn’t written down, it didn’t happen.” Emails provide the important documentation of who was spoken to when, and what was said, what was agreed to or disagreed with and why, etc. that ultimately also saves money in the long run including by limiting how much money needs to be spent on postage.
Wi-Fi and mobile phones mean it’s easier than ever to be able to get a hold of clients for questions and informing them of the progress of their case. They also give lawyers access to a camera if they ever need one, to say nothing of the plethora of apps available for just about any need you have that can be helpful to lawyers.
The growing ubiquity of cloud storage also allows for the seamless flow of information within the law firm, with many programs allowing for multiple people to have instant access to a document for review and to edit. It also makes retrieving information you need easier than ever, allowing you access to your documents and photos instantly without the hassle of downloads taking up much needed memory space on your devices.
Cloud storage and increased internet access has also made e-filing a staple of law firms and courts around the country. E-filing, where paperwork is filed electronically directly to where it needs to go, streamlines the process of filing for all sorts of legal needs. It also cuts down on time and spent having to physically take and file paperwork into a physical court building. Another benefit is it’s harder to misplace an e-filed document than a physical one, with even accidental deletions for e-filed documents being easier to reverse than say digging through the trash for an accidentally thrown out piece of paper.
All of these are just the tip of the iceberg of the good that using technology can do for law firms!
Can using technology help law firms save money?
One more very positive use of technology for law firms is in how it can save a law firm money. A lawyer with a single practice or partnership, and smaller firms can save the money spent on an accountant or accounting firm for accounts payable and payroll needs with the latest in simple bookkeeping and tax preparation software that is available. Some programs allow for cloud storage of receipts and other documents with a simple photograph or scan. Scanner apps on smartphones can reduce the need for hard copies to be taken, which can save on expensive ink for printer-copiers. Even larger firms need to keep expenses low!
Using various apps and computer programs can also save money by saving time, as with how they can help keep necessary internal paperwork organized and filed appropriately such as providing for ease of keeping track of billable hours for associates, or employee time cards.
And as discussed before artificial intelligence programs, already a huge help in research, also help law firms on the back end of cases by being able to be programmed to aid in document reviews. There are nearly endless possibilities for a law firm to save money by automating duties with the help of technology.
Is there a downside to using so much technology in a Law Firm?
Of course, there are always certain risks involved when relying more heavily on technology, no matter what profession you are in. Given the more sensitive information that a law firm is privy to, however, it is of particular import that those risks are taken seriously and addressed.
The biggest risk of relying heavily on technology, especially those that connect to the internet, is to security. Breeches to company security happens every day around the globe, compromising customer and client information of all kinds from financial to private. The more information that is kept on online servers, the larger the demand for people capable of cracking them becomes.
For a law firm, this is especially dangerous as clients have to be able to trust their lawyers with their information, because a leak – whether intentional or accidental – through a server hack could ruin their life. This means that law firms need to take their cybersecurity very seriously so they can protect every scrap of information and data that they have.
The Importance of Cybersecurity for Law Firms
The good news is that for every advance that ill-intended hackers make, there is growing protection available. In an ironic twist, the answer to how to protect sensitive client information when you rely so heavily on technology that it is all stored on servers is in fact more technology itself. This isn’t to downplay the need for well-rounded human-based cybersecurity protocols, but those protocols are made easier by having solid technologic cybersecurity in place.
Technology such as anti-virus and anti-malware programs keep hackers from embedding themselves into your system, while firewall programs can keep them from getting in in the first place. There’s also advances in online identification security such as two-factor authorization, that make it infinitely more difficult for hackers to get into a lawyers accounts and steal sensitive information.