Biglaw, Conferences / Symposia, Technology

LegalTech 2014: What’s Wrong With You, Lawyers?

Greetings from LegalTech 2014! For those unfamiliar, LegalTech is an annual conference in the heart of Manhattan bringing together lawyers and tech geeks to discuss the lay of the land in law and technology and to give away free iPads every five or six minutes. It’s E3 if you replaced video games with demonstrations of predictive coding processes. It’s awesome!

There’s a curious vibe when lawyers mix with computer geeks. Two of the least sociable professions thrown into a crowded marketplace selling complicated solutions to legal problems that senior lawyers didn’t even realize existed. Thankfully there are enough PR professionals around to grease the wheels.

This year’s conference kicked off with a discussion of drugs and murder-for-hire.[1]

Despite that, the scariest revelation from the conference’s first day was not the ease with which one can engage in human trafficking, but the profound lack of technological savvy among law firms…

Law firms are notoriously averse to change and, relatedly, technology. I worked with partners who responded to email with handwritten notes circulated via intra-office mail. I knew another who dictated responses to his secretary rather than draft an actual response. Even millennial lawyers are behind their peers in technical aptitude — because if they weren’t, they’d be working in the tech industry and not facing law school debt.

But you don’t realize how behind everyone really is until you sit through a panel like the one recapping the ILTA 2013 Tech Survey. Appropriately titled “Good Trends, Bad Combinations and Ugly Results,” the panel looked at the results of last year’s ILTA Tech Survey. The survey collected reports from 494 firms and more than 88,000 attorneys to create a massive report that boils down to “lawyers are better than they used to be, but if you’re looking for an industry to hack, law may be your answer.”[2]

First off, the good. Law firms, pat yourselves on the back for *mostly* working with a matter-centric interface. A whopping 64 percent of firms have come to the conclusion that handling workflow based on individual matters improves knowledge management. Law firms also have larger mailboxes and hand out dual monitors like candy.

The BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) movement has mostly replaced the blanket issuing of substandard, work-only devices. This puts the lawyer on the hook for buying a smartphone, but it also puts an end to carrying multiple devices everywhere. Plus, as panelist Jim McCue noted, lawyers are a total pain when it comes to adopting updated equipment when forced on them and this gives them some ownership of the decision to join the 21st Century.

But once you get past these developments, things get distressing.

Are you using a next-generation endpoint security solution beyond traditional anti-virus software? Only 11 percent of firms are. It’s not like there’s a broad cyber-security problem or anything. It boggles the mind that lawyers aren’t more cognizant of this threat. Even without much technological know how, the lawyers should live in pure terror of confidential client documents getting corrupted by malevolent or mischievous hackers. But perhaps this message should really go out to the in-house counsel: your law firm is probably waving your documents around like Michael Vick trying to get an extra two yards.

And lest you dismiss this as a problem that only afflicts the little firms, remember that more and more business is heading to the small firms, making this everyone’s problem.

When it comes to conflicts, a lot of firms are still handling things the old-fashioned way, with 41 percent of firms using no software solution for managing ethical conflicts. While this is done from the 60 percent that eschewed technological solutions to this issue in 2010, it’s still not a positive development. The “I called the oldest partner in the office and he’s pretty sure we have no ethical issues in this complex, multinational deal” method is no longer an option.

Oh, how many firms do you think are running a version of Word that’s seven or more years old? If you guessed 27 percent, you’d be right. There are still firms out there dealing with Clippy.

And jeez, you can’t tie your BYOD with your video conferencing facilities? Cause basically everyone in law uses Skype.

Did you know that 80 percent of lawyers don’t enter time on mobile devices? Even though they are often out and about? Crazy, right?

Oh, and if you’re hopeful that something is about to change and shore up these problems, more people than last year think that their firm considers IT an expense rather than an asset. So don’t hold your breath.



[1] And I was hideously misquoted. David said, “delightfully like a drug trip: Technology is awesome! You can do all sorts of illegal things and no one can catch you… but otherwise awesome!” But I really said, “you can traffick a 4-year-old” because the speech told us so. All you need is Bitcoin apparently. In unrelated news, Blue Jasmine’s domestic gross was 39,790 Bitcoin.
[2] And if you want to know how to hire a destructive hacker, we know how to do that now, too.

2013 tech survey [ILTA]

Earlier: LegalTech 2014: The Internet Is For Porn (And Drugs, Contract Killings, And Other Illegal Activity)
General Counsel Increasingly Dumping The Top Biglaw Firms

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