The legal industry is notoriously slow to adapt to changes in the economic or cultural landscape, for a variety of reasons. The law itself already changes at a fairly slow paved compared to the world around it, especially given the almost asymptotic rate of development of new technologies in the past several decades. Second, law firms are not generally prone to the kind of risk-taking venture-capitalist mindset that drives investment in startup tech companies. That being said, things certainly are changing: In 2018 there was a record 713% growth in investment in new legal technology companies, and the Bar Association has added language to its professional literature suggesting that lawyers have a personal responsibility to be technically savvy. Some disruptive technologies are already here, and others seem to be peaking over the horizon, but what do they mean for the industry?
- Electronic Discovery
Discovery is a lengthy and time-consuming process that does not necessarily require the best of a lawyer’s or even paralegal’s human cognitive abilities. The discovery of electronic data is usually referred to as e-discovery and can pose significant challenges in terms of infrastructure and compliance. New technologies will streamline this collection process and even provide artificial intelligence tools to sort and file the collected materials in a manner that makes them easier to sort through when the humans get around to looking at them.
- Artificial Intelligence-Powered Analytics
Artificial intelligence is poised to make a big difference in a lot of different areas when it comes to the way things are done at law firms today. Whether in trial law or a proceeding overseen by a judge, there are a great many unknowns to content with. Sophisticated analytic software can judge when it’s appropriate to take a gamble or whether it’s a good idea to push for a trial in lieu of settlement. Personal injury firms like Diamond and Diamond can use this information to educate their clients on what to expect from their claims, and much more.
- Cloud-Based Firms
Brick and mortar is nice, but so is money, and given the growing relevance of the intangible network of data-hosting services commonly referred to as “the cloud,” it’s not unreasonable to assume that in the near future there may be law firms that exist entirely as virtual entities, filing documents electronically and communicating with their clients remotely. There are occasions when a lawyer or legal representative needs to be present in a court of law, but there is also a massive bed of legal work that doesn’t require any sort of physical presence. These companies will be in a great position to take advantage of that to cut costs and post more attractive prices.
- The Sharing, or ‘Gig’ Economy
No one likes it, but it’s here to stay. Some predict that the gig economy will soon expand to include legal services as well, with licensed and accredited practitioners hiring out their services through an Uber-style intermediary on a case-by-case basis. There are already some small companies that have been working at a model like this for some years but without straying too far from the more traditional ‘law firm’ organizational model. Only time will tell if someday we’ll be able to order an attorney from an app on your phone instead of walking into an office.