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Lawyers and technology: a vital connection

The interface was developed using an “outside-in” method in which users’ feedback contributed substantially to the design. “We worked with a dozen of our major clients whose legal teams were involved in this project on a weekly basis,” Brown says, “so the needs of attorneys and other users were reflected in the design.” Features such as visualization tools were included in InfoSphere eDiscovery Analyzer to provide a variety of ways in which to present the analyses, including a color-coded timeline and other graphical representations.

It’s a process

Companies such as Global Colleague that provide advice and services to law firms and corporate legal departments are in a good position to evaluate the changing landscape of software tools used in the legal field.

“Linear review tools achieved a high level of user-friendliness a decade ago,” explains Paul Easton, managing director in Asia for Global Colleague. Those well-established review products include Concordance from LexisNexis and CT Summation Litigation Support Solutions from CT Summation (summation.com). “The problem more recently has been the development of powerful early case assessment (ECA) tools, which many attorney users have difficulty adapting to. Also, it can be difficult to port attorney work product, such as markups, notes and categorizations added by the attorney, from ECA tools into traditional review tools.” Better integration is emerging, but there is still room for improvement.

Another positive trend in legal software that Easton observes is the emergence of better litigation workflow management tools. For example, iFramework offers a project management solution that brings all the resources required for litigation support into one repository. The Atlas Suite from PSS Systems and Exterro’s Fusion platform also offer e-discovery project management capabilities. “These tools will help a lot in terms of bringing attorneys into the role of legal knowledge workers,” Easton says. “In addition, they will facilitate process improvement.”

In the long run, it’s the lawyer and not the software that has to sign off on the work, so IT does not have the last word. However, understanding how to use software solutions will become increasingly important. “Tomorrow’s lawyers who want to future-proof their careers need to position themselves so they can put processes in place and supervise the work,” Easton emphasizes. “Meanwhile, software companies need to be attuned to the real needs of lawyers and provide products that are responsive.”  

Lawyers vs. technology

In late 2008, author and lawyer Richard Susskind created something of a firestorm with the publication of The End of Lawyers?, in which he predicted dramatic changes in the legal industry. Among the changes he expects are commoditization and multisourcing of legal services, and a greater role for technology. His premise is not that IT solutions will replace legal work, but that less of it will consist of custom services, with new opportunities emerging for those who master software solutions that can make legal services more efficient and cost-effective.

One new category of lawyer he describes is that of legal knowledge engineers, who will incorporate their subject matter expertise into new tools for routine work. Arguing that the lawyers providing such guidance should be the most experienced rather than the most junior, he contends that automation should reflect the deepest understanding of the law, not just a mechanical implementation of it. He also predicts that informal knowledge will be shared among lawyers primarily through social networking technologies. Finally, he believes that too few law firms are addressing risk reduction, despite the fact that corporations increasingly want “a fence at the top of the cliff rather than an ambulance at the bottom.”

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