For lawyers and clients, innovative devices are blurring the boundaries between work and play.

This summer, the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) hosted two events: its annual conference, ILTA The Catalyst in Las Vegas, and the inaugural meeting of ILTA Nordics in Copenhagen. ILTA, a membership organisation dedicated to community and peer learning, and The Catalyst, which focused on technology as a driver of change, sought to identify the next big thing in legal IT.

It actually identified several. The keynote presentations focused on the transformational effect of technology on our personal and professional lives, particularly in the legal sector. Scott Klososky, of Future Point of View, discussed the inflection point – the point at which technology disrupts an industry and replaces its leading players. For example, camera phones led to the demise of Kodak; the success of the Kindle altered the nature of the publishing industry.

For law firms, the inflection point is the growth in online and automated services, ranging from customer-facing online legal services to back-office workflow and document automation. These services – sometimes combined with legal process outsourcing (LPO) – are changing the business model: the way legal services are delivered to the customer and the pricing model, with a process-driven approach leading to more predictable costs and heralding the end of the billable hour – and not just for work that can be ‘commoditised’.

Klososky identified technology as a catalyst for change, and technology mastery as the critical success factor. To some extent this is true – in terms of the way the right tools, technologies and processes underpin efficiency and productivity, and leveraging data enhances the client experience. Leadership and culture are also crucial. Futurist Rohit Talwar, who is running the Future Horizons legal technology research project, highlighted the value of developing an organisational culture that thrives on change and innovation. Talwar will be presenting the findings of his research at ILTA Insight in London.

The latest products from leading legal IT vendors make it clear that last year’s buzzwords, consumerisation and BYOD (bring your own device) as well as mobility and ‘big data’, which are this year’s hot topics, are major drivers of change in terms of product development. It is now all about UX: the user experience.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the Dropbox dilemma – what should a firm do when clients wish to share documents via Dropbox or another public file-sharing site? The answer is to look at why clients use Dropbox and find a secure alternative: they use it at home and it is easy and free – but it is not appropriate for sharing confidential or sensitive documents, and has never claimed to be. For many firms, the solution is to buy one of the many enterprise-level file-sharing products that have been developed in response to this requirement. They solve the problem and represent yet another example of consumer technology leading enterprise technology.

Consumerisation has matured, changing expectations. Users expect enterprise technology to be as easy to set up and use as consumer technology – and if it is not they will not use it. This explains why lawyers and their clients have risked using Dropbox rather than asking the IT department to set up an extranet. A casualty of this preference is the software that is purchased but rarely, if ever, used, simply because it involves too much effort.


Why UX is critical

UX is recognised as a critical success factor and vendors are developing products that are intuitive and do not require tech-savvy or IT training. This is particularly noticeable in business development (BD) tools and client relationship management (CRM) systems.

Technology futurists refer to the ‘internet of things’ whereby physical objects include internet connectivity and produce data in relation to their operations which can then be used to create value – for example, by identifying and solving particular issues or customising a product to better meet customer needs or expectations.

There is a lot of talk about ‘big data’ – in terms of the way that the medical profession analyses high volumes of patient information to develop better targeted treatments. Many of the latest law firm management systems apply big data principles to internal data by including the capability to pull in and analyse data from different internal and external sources to create a holistic picture of a client relationship or predict the outcome of a case.

This year’s hot topic is mobility and ILTA Nordic included a spectacular presentation from Bob Schukai, global head of mobile technology at Thomson Reuters, which was delivered via Google Glass. Schukai connected his Google Glass to the screen, so we actually saw things from his perspective.

Mobility is about connecting with people and information via multiple, integrated platforms. Notwithstanding whether people are tech savvy, or whether they are using their own device or one provided by the firm, everyone has a mobile phone and most people want to access firm systems and data while on the move, and this has led to the development of more law firm apps to facilitate this. Client expectations have changed too, and client-facing apps enable clients to track the progress of their matters in real time.

As Schukai put it, the need for mobility has accelerated the shift from work-life balance to work-life ‘blur’ and he emphasised the need to design differently around different devices, building integration between applications, platforms and devices into app designs, such as ensuring automatic data synchronisation between devices. Taking the easy integration between smartphones, tablets and the desktop a few steps further, he included Pebble and Google Glass – he was wearing both. However, connected devices raise data privacy and security issues and Schukai observed that behaviours have to change in line with new technology before it can become mainstream.

For UK firms interested, ILTA Insight is in London on 14 November. Registration is free.


Joanna Goodman MBA is a freelance journalist and editor of Legal IT Today