The current state of legal technology is both promising and frustrating. Conferences like LegalTech New York and ABA TECHSHOW, which is currently in full swing, are evidence that legal technology is big business. But uneven adoption across the profession can frustrate tech-savvy lawyers.
From smartphones that perform functions it took 20 different machines to do 20 years ago to apps that can do your job, technology can do amazing things — if you know how to use it. So, in an effort to help you become a better, stronger, faster lawyer (because we have the technology), here’s news of some of the latest developments.
1. A stitch in time saves much more than $9. Time really is money, especially for small and solo firms. Practice management software and collaboration tools promise to save lawyers countless hours. To this end, developers continue to add features and options:
- Rocket Matter’s new billing statement report feature gives clients a streamlined view of their outstanding account balances, which just might get you paid faster.
- NetDocuments‘ ndOffice will soon offer users the ability to “function entirely inside [Microsoft] Office applications,” which means you won’t have to lose time switching in and out of the app to use Word, Excel or PowerPoint documents.
- Amicus Cloud’s new document assembly feature helps automate the document creation process, allowing users “to create professional legal documents and emails in a matter of seconds.”
- MyCase is rolling out an enhanced document management system, and has just released its native MyCase Android application for both phones and tablets.
- CosmoLex is a brand-new cloud-based practice management program that promises small firms and solos a product that “integrates time tracking, billing and trust accounting, but is also flexible, affordable and easy-to-use.”
- LawPal, a collaborative online platform, just launched its new interactive checklist, which allows you to structure deals, focus your teams and watch transactions progress in real time.
- The latest Tabs3 and PracticeMaster versions offer full-text search, which promises to cut down on the time it takes to assemble documents, as well as an improved split billing feature so multiple clients can pay for a single matter.
- Clio, in addition to announcing $17.9 million in new funding, just launched its gmail chrome extension along with a sleek Fujitsu ScanSnap integration, and will release its Android app in the next few months.
- LexisNexis Firm Manager has added a new “money finder” feature that automatically searches and sorts tasks, meetings and documents created in the Firm Manager app, flagging for review those that have not been associated with a client bill.
2. Papers? We don’t need no papers. Once upon a time, we had a dream. It was called “the paperless office.” That dream has yet to come true, but we are getting closer with content management applications and devices that promise to at least reduce the handling of paper documents. Here are some of the recent developments:
- NetDocuments’ ndConnect integrates with SkyDrive and Dropbox to automatically (and securely) sync content within NetDocuments, which means attorneys can access client documents stored in the cloud without endangering compliance issues.
- Gavel & Gown’s Amicus Attorney 2014 offers anywhere, anytime access to your documents through a web browser — even if that document is far, far away on your secure office server. The update also includes expanded billing features and real-time mobile access to Google apps and Outlook Calendar, Contacts and Tasks.
- It’s time to dump the paper exhibits and yellow legal pads during your depositions, according to an article first appearing in the January 2014 Palm Beach Bar Bulletin. Instead, you can use your iPad to “create exhibits and get better testimony.”
- AgileLaw, which provides web-based, paperless depositions, announced this week that it will now offer an online Deposition Academy of videos, articles, how-tos and other resources that “will teach lawyers, young and old, to become more effective litigators.”
3. Sure, there’s an app for that. There are more than 1 million apps in Apple’s App Store and another million or so Android apps in Google Play. Yet relatively few apps are specifically created for lawyers (and, even with new Android apps from from practice management providers, most of those are only available for iOS). Still, there are several good apps that can be used in a law practice:
- The new ClearView Social app will allow “attorneys to share content with their professional networks through LinkedIn, Twitter and other platforms.”
- Several new apps and accessories promise to make your mobile devices into powerful tools for both work and play, according to a couple of tech-happy attorneys. Uses include Google Hangouts for videoconferencing and the Super Magicstick external iPhone battery for charging while on the go.
- What’s more painful than pulling teeth? Keeping track of receipts. Thanks to the Google Drive app’s new scanning feature, it just got easier. You can now scan and upload PDFs of your receipts directly into your Drive in four steps.
- Be aware, however, that while Google Apps are powerful tools, they don’t replace practice management software, or so says The Droid Lawyer.
4. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride. Nothing is ever perfect, and new legal tech offerings are no exception. A few examples of the still-needs-work apps and issues:
- Apps are only great if you actually need them, of course. Case in point: So-called “practical technologist” Carolyn Elefant recently discovered the joys of using Evernote — six years after first signing up for an account. She simply had no need to learn the Evernote system before then.
- The Bloomberg Law Reports App promises “seamless access to personalized legal content.” Unfortunately, the new app apparently doesn’t include the specialized, niche content offered by legal blogs, which according to Real Lawyers Have Blogs, means “significant gaps in legal coverage.”
- What do lawyers really want from legal tech? “Easy” and “more,” according to Sean Doherty’s Legal Technology News roundup of LTNY. “Legal technology should not make the business and practice of law more difficult,” he writes, “and lawyers should get more, not less from their investments in technology.”
5. The once and future thing. So what’s the future of legal tech? In the short term, a lot of waiting and growing pains. In the long term? Anyone’s guess, but here are a few tidbits:
- Predictions for the next generation of smartphones include better cameras and water resistance.
- In this infographic by the National Law Review, the future of legal services includes online legal tools, non-lawyers filling legal niches and commoditization of legal services.
- And, as of May 1, it becomes simpler to sell unbundled, “packaged” legal services over the Internet, thanks to LawGives, a Stanford Law School-grown startup. In addition to pre-configured packages of services, writes Bob Ambrogi, “LawGives will help lawyers create and price custom packages.” You can sign up and market custom packages through the LawGives site, or through custom-branded badges and links placed on your own website.
Kandy Hopkins is a Contributing Editor at Attorney at Work. A Chicago-based freelance writer and copy editor, she specializes in legal and healthcare topics, formerly blogging for the Thomson Reuters-affiliated Hildebrandt Blog. Whenever she’s asked, “So, what do you do?” she always replies, “Whatever I think I can get away with.” Most people think she’s joking.