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LegalTech 2012: Legal innovation through technology

DR logoThe following is a special edition article that I wrote for the Daily Record about LegalTech 2012 entitled "LegalTech 2012: Legal innovation through technology."

A pdf of the article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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LegalTech 2012: Legal innovation through technology

It’s that time of year again--a time of year smack dab in the middle of winter when thousands of legal and IT professionals descend upon the Hilton hotel in Manhattan to learn all about the latest legal technologies and innovations at LegalTech.

If you’re not familiar with this conference, which was held last week, it’s a legal technology conference sponsored every year by American Lawyer Media. The conference generally draws attendees from large law firms, ranging from attorneys to IT staff, although firms of all sizes are represented. It boasts multiple educational tracks, focusing on a variety of legal technology issues, including eDiscovery, knowledge management, records management, project management, risk management, mobile devices and computing, and cloud computing.

In keeping with the trends from past years, there were an increasing number of new offerings in the form of legal mobile applications, ebooks and cloud computing platforms featured on the exhibit floor.

For example, Thomson Reuters and Lexis exhibited at LegalTech and each has ventured into the mobile apps arena. Both offer an assortment of iPad and iPhone apps, some free and some paid, which provide quick and easy access to a vast array of information ranging from legal news apps to substantive law databases and treatises.

Both companies have also recently entered the ebooks market and are rapidly increasing the number of titles available in this format. Thomson currently offers an assortment of ebook titles, available for viewing using their free ProView iPad app and Lexis has made substantial inroads toward digitizing their publications, with hundreds of titles available in ebook format.

Lexis also continued its expansion into the legal cloud computing market. Last year at LegalTech, Lexis introduced Firm Manager, a cloud computing law practice management platform, and this year debuted Lexis Practice Advisor, a Web-based practice resource for transactional practitioners. The goal of Practice Advisor is to help lawyers simplify routine transactions and increase efficiency by providing access to “topic-based overviews, practical guidance, forms and model documents, as well as ‘on point’ cases, codes and analytical materials.”

Other legal cloud computing vendors exhibited at LegalTech as well, including Firmex, a company that provides online virtual data rooms, and NetDocs, a company offering legal document management in the cloud. Although not exhibiting, representatives from a number of other leading legal practice management cloud computing platforms were also in attendance at LegalTech 2012, including the founders of Clio, Rocket Matter and MyCase.

In fact, cloud computing was front and center at LegalTech, with an entire track devoted to exploring the ethical, security and practical issues presented when lawyers use this technology in their law practice. This is because, as explained by Keynote speaker Don Tapscott on Day 2 of the conference, adopting and adapting to technological innovations like cloud computing is the key to surviving and thriving in this new technology-driven economy.

Tapscott’s Keynote was titled “Generations, Innovations & Practical Applications: What They Mean to Your Practice.” Tapscott offered a unique perspective on these issues, given his position as an Adjunct Professor of Management at the University of Toronto and his experience as a co-author of “Macrowikinomics and Wikinomics” and author of “Grown Up Digital.”

Tapscott explained that there are a number of “drivers of change” that will transform the work of the legal profession, including the technological revolution and Web 2.0, the economic revolution, the Net generation and the social revolution.

According to Tapscott, the technological revolution and Web 2.0 have fundamentally changed the structure of our business and personal lives, allowing instant access to the Internet and its vast array of knowledge. Because of the recent ubiquity of cloud computing and mobile devices, information can be obtained, and business can be conducted, from virtually anywhere at anytime.

The next driver of change, the economic revolution, is occurring in large part due to the proliferation of Web-enabled devices and Internet-based technologies, including cloud computing and social media. These new technologies have substantially reduced the transaction costs of doing business, making it more cost effective than ever to do business online with people from all over the world.

However, as Tapscott explained, in many ways, it is another driver of change — the social revolution— that is the force behind the rapid integration of these new technologies into our lives. Social media platforms offer new, innovative and highly effective models of citizen engagement.

Social media makes it easy to connect and share with people in ways never before envisioned. And it is the new economics of inexpensive collaboration that makes these platforms so effective when used selectively as a tool to achieve business goals.

Finally, Tapscott discussed the final piece of the puzzle: the Net generation. He explained that the Millennials are the final driving force behind this fundamental societal change. This new generation grew up around computers and the Internet. Incorporating new devices into their day-to-day lives is second nature to them. For that reason, the Millennials are perfectly poised to take advantage of all that these new technologies have to offer. And, that they do.

Their norms are derived from their online experience. According to Tapscott, they have grown accustomed to, and take for granted, the benefits derived from these tools, including freedom, customization, scrutiny, integrity, collaboration, entertainment, speed and innovation.

Because this generation grew up with these tools, they have come to expect the immediate gratification of online interaction. Rather than being passive recipients of information — ie. the television — they are used to actively participating and reaping the benefits of that collaboration. For this generation, the drivers of change are simply par for the course.

So, what does this mean for businesses? Well, according to Tapscott, these drivers of change are causing a large-scale business model disruption — and the legal field is not immune. The only way to acclimate to a disruption of this proportion is to create a business model innovation that adapts to, and takes advantage of, the changes wrought by the disruption.

Tapscott likened the current state of affairs to being stranded an oil rig platform that is engulfed in flames and located in the middle of the sea. This scenario is also referred to as “the burning platform,” and is a well known business lexicon highlighting the need for immediate and radical change when faced with unexpected and dire circumstances.

As Tapscott explained, when trapped on the burning platform, the obvious conclusion is that the costs of staying where you are are far greater than the costs of changing and adapting to the sudden change of circumstance. In other words, innovate or die.

This warning, while somewhat dramatic and cliché, is inescapable, and lawyers hoping to stay afloat in today’s ailing economy would be wise to heed it. These new technologies are here to stay. Learn about them, understand them and use them to your law firm’s benefit. To do anything less would be a short-sighted, and potentially fatal, mistake.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and GigaOM Pro Analyst. She is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at nblack@nicoleblackesq.com.