Thirty years ago, attorneys thought that the use of email in the legal industry would never amount to more than inner office memos. The thought of communicating with clients in a legal capacity over digital means seemed unthinkable. Now, email is the leading way that attorneys communicate with clients, experts, and other people that are connected with a case.
Less than twenty years ago, the term eDiscovery was just starting to emerge in legal circles. Law firms were having to adjust their discovery processes to accommodate the increasing amount of data that was being submitted in digital form. New technologies and strategies had to be applied to process this information. Law firms also had to learn how to interpret things like metadata and file storage information.
Fifteen years ago, many law firms began implementing programs that could help them search through digital files a little easier. However, the tools were still minimal, and all of the information still had to be printed, hand redacted if necessary, and shipped to opposing counsel.
By 2020 law firms began implementing Machine Learning programs to help them sort, catalog, and redact discovery documents. Litigation support in the firm had shifted dramatically to processing digital documents over paper documents and implementing the new regulations that were being placed on firms for the use and storage of this type of discovery.
Lawyers also saw a dramatic change in digital discovery during 2020 due to the COVID pandemic. People started working remotely and using collaboration tools. This was an entirely new set of digital information that attorneys would be required to investigate and use for future cases.
Of course, these new collaboration tools also present many new legal issues that must be addressed by the law firm and eventually the court systems.
Automation of Legal Operations
What can law firms expect over the next decade? They can expect to see the increased deployment of Artificial Intelligence, a transition to more digital law, and a significant increase in Information Governance at both the business and legal levels.
The future is here, and law firms and lawyers will have to embrace the fact that artificial intelligence is the way of the future in the legal industry. As more business is conducted online and through digital collaboration tools, lawyers will have to change their focus to understanding, using, and processing digital information faster and more effectively.
In fact, in the very near future, a law firm may actually face malpractice accusations if they do not have automation as part of their litigation process. The thought of relying on artificial intelligence seems scary, especially in the legal sense, but the truth is, the legal field is changing, and attorneys need to be prepared.
A Digital Transformation Is Taking Place Right Now
The legal field is changing. Lawyers and their support staff are going to find that they will be spending more time implementing strategies for processing the exponential amount of digital data that nearly every case will produce. Programs will have to be put in place, employees trained, and attorneys will need to know how to find the relevant information.
The truth is simple: Lawyers must embrace this digital transformation into their legal operations or become irrelevant. It sounds harsh, but the evidence is already clear. A large majority of law firms are trying to resist this change, but the resistance will be futile. Firms that are embracing new technologies are moving to the front of the line at a faster pace.
Law firms are going to have to adjust everything about their practice to be inclusive of automation. They will have to go so far as to look for new employees that have specific tech backgrounds in addition to their legal backgrounds so that they can be a true asset to the firm.
As more collaboration tools are used, and more industries change completely over to digital documents, law firms will need to be ready, willing, and able to manage cases for these clients or be left behind.
eDiscovery and Litigation Support
For the time being, many law firms may be able to fumble their way through electronic discovery as they start to implement different technologies in their firm. Many rely on an outside source for litigation support that already has the necessary machine learning programs in place to process their digital files.
The time is passing quickly, however, and lawyers are going to have to embrace the changes that are coming. In fact, they may even have to reconsider how they are going to practice law.
New Focus For Lawyers In The Near Future
Many lawyers are going to see that their job focus changing, especially those practicing business and corporate law. Some of the changes that are coming will include a strong need for lawyers to work with businesses to develop strong information governance programs for their companies.
As more collaboration tools are used, as more devices enter into daily use for business professionals, as more machinery becomes digitized, the need for managing this digital information from a legal aspect will be necessary.
Attorneys will have to create guidelines for their corporate clients on how to manage their digital files. Policies will have to be put in place on devices that can be used, platforms that can be accessed, and where and how to store clients and user data.
The attorneys will have to incorporate programs into this system that will allow companies to monitor digital assets and digital information so that employees are not misusing devices or data for inappropriate uses or personal gain. Strict guidelines will have to be implemented about using any company device, including a company-provided phone, for any type of personal reason because all of the information will have to be tracked and stored accordingly.
Attorneys will have to create a legal guideline for what types of information must be stored and for how long. All of this will have to be in compliance with any state or federal regulations and updated accordingly. As new technologies emerge in the market, these devices and programs will have to be incorporated into the system as well.
This may not seem like a job for an attorney to do, but in reality, this job could only be done by a skilled attorney. Who else knows what will be necessary if the business has to provide documents for court. Who else will understand the intricacies of complying with federal and state laws?
It may seem fantastical to think that these changes are near, but only a few decades ago, lawyers thought that email would never be used in a law office.
Welcome To The World of Tomorrow
If the rapid change to a digital law office is not enough to send your head spinning a little bit, the thought of digital court may do the trick. At the same time that all of these rapid changes are occurring in law offices across the country, the court system is also considering some changes.
In an effort to give more people access to the justice system, the thought of having digital courts and artificial intelligence generated dispute resolutions is no longer a thing of sci-fi.
People are already talking about digital courts where information is submitted electronically to the court from both sides, and then a video conference is held to settle the case. While this could not be used for many types of cases, it could be used for contract disputes, many cases in family court, and traffic court.
Many cases may also be eliminated because the dispute can be managed by an AI arbitrator that provides a binding verdict off of the information that is received. Many people may opt for this type of hearing if it meant their case was heard and settled faster than waiting for a court date.
Think about how much time could be freed in the courts if you could manage some disputes over email? Think about the time and money saved if you could process simple requests through the court, like handing out fines for traffic violations via email or video conference. It would free the courts to handle larger cases in a more timely manner. Using digital or virtual courts would also reduce the expense associated with courts which would make the court more accessible to everyone.
In the near future, all of these things could be true. All of these scenarios are already being discussed, and technologies are being created that will make this possible very soon. It is all very hard to believe, but the future is coming quickly, and lawyers will need to be prepared.
For Now, Focus On Your Law Firms Digital Transformation
Law firms that cannot implement their own artificial intelligence programs right away will need to connect with support companies that can provide them with this service. Firms that have started operating their own programs need to make sure that these programs are updated enough to handle the new types of data emerging from collaboration programs.
Corporate lawyers will also need to take the necessary steps to protect their client’s interests by helping them establish regulations for device use and data storage. This is no longer an option for businesses but a necessity.
Lawyers will also have to embrace the fact that a lot of their career is going to change, and not necessarily for the worse. The use of machine learning programs can help make your job easier. It can reduce the time you need to find the relevant documents in a case. It can also help you find information that you may have overlooked because of the large amount of data that digital footprints leave.
Many of these programs will pull information that it thinks is relevant because of the way a sentence is structured or because it scanned a different document using the same wording. This can help attorneys find connections that may have been missed when multiple people are processing documents.
Artificial intelligence does not have to be reserved for tech companies and science fiction movies. It can become a very useful and time-saving tool that benefits the law firm.
We can keep looking further and further into the “future” to speculate what may come to be in the legal field. We could sit here for days, months, or even years, coming up with different theories about where the court system is headed. We could even speculate over what law will be like in 100 years.
But none of that will help the law firms today! Right now, lawyers and their firms need to focus on adapting to processing digital information in a way that is efficient, timely, and cost-effective. Law firms need to embrace the many different forms of digital information that are going to become part of every future case and learn how to manage these files.
Conor Looney is also an advisor to the Electronic Discovery Reference Model’s (EDRM) Global Advisory Council.
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