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Features - Law Firms Play Catch-Up: Key Legal Technology Trends for 2002

By Dennis Kennedy, Published on January 1, 2002

Dennis Kennedy is a lawyer in the Intellectual Property and Information Technology Department of Thompson Coburn, LLP in St. Louis. Many of his articles on Internet and technology topics may be found at his web site

It¹s once again time to dust off the old crystal ball and peer into the future of technology in the legal profession. I see ten clear trends for
2002. To round out this survey of the future, I also invited a panel of legal technology experts to add their best insights for the year ahead.

The result is a highly useful list of ideas, forecasts and analysis for the year ahead, especially for firms struggling with what to do in a time of
uncertainty and a slow economy. As you plan your technology strategy for this year, this list will help you identify and address some key issues and
supplement your own technology to-do list.

Part 1:  Ten Predictions for 2002

1. Loose Security Sinks Ships

Security issues vaulted to the top of our concerns in 2001. Stories about hackers, script kiddies and denial of service attacks have made everyone
aware of security issues. With terrorism experts predicting outbreaks of cyberterrorism, you can¹t afford to drop your guard in 2002. No one,
especially anyone with a full-time Internet connection, should be lax in his or her security measures. Add to the mix a virtual blizzard of e-mail
viruses and indications that some hackers see law firms as a point of access to otherwise secure corporate information and we have conditions that are
ripe for serious security problems involving law firms. Expect to see at least one major story of a law firm being hacked in 2002.

2. Testing Travel Alternatives

People are more circumspect about travel these days. The result will be a greater focus on using technological alternatives to travel. Perceived performance drawbacks with videoconferencing and other options began to seem more tolerable in late 2001 as people weighed their concerns about physical safety. The current psychological state will create a demand for developments in videoconferencing and related options in 2002, with significant improvements likely to come in these areas. Watch, too, for innovative uses of NetMeeting and other Internet tools, including old Internet standbys such as message boards. The big surprise may come in the growing use of instant messaging by lawyers.

3. Microsoft --- It's Own worst Enemy?

Over the last few years, the legal profession has largely turned into a Microsoft shop. There are benefits of that shift, but there are also costs.
Office XP, for example, showed that Microsoft was willing to listen to lawyers¹ needs. On the other hand, there are growing questions about just how high the price we pay to Microsoft really is. Microsoft¹s controversial changes to its licensing policies ruffled more than a few feathers in 2001.
Stories of security holes in Microsoft programs became routine as hackers and virus writers used Microsoft programs for target practice. However, the warning issued by the FBI in December 2001 about security problems in Windows XP may have marked a critical turning point in the Microsoft era.
The Windows Update page at http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com may now be the most important security site for all of us to know. As a result, much attention will be paid this year to Microsoft and the reliance on an integrated Microsoft platform. The problem: the antitrust case aside, there are few practical alternatives for most law firms. Nonetheless, look for more firms to investigate Open Source alternatives, such as Linux, the Netscape browser, e-mail alternatives to Outlook, and, perhaps surprisingly, the Macintosh platform.

4. E-Managing the E-Mail Mess

An interesting survey indicated that whatever the number of e-mail messages people received, whether ten or several hundred a day, they all concluded it was simply too many messages. E-mail is truly the "killer app" on the Internet, but things have spun out of control to the point where the phrase "e-mail management" seems like a bad joke. From managing your inbox to waging war against spam to the plague of e-mail viruses, it¹s easy to feel overwhelmed by e-mail. Add to that the difficulty of finding old e-mails when you need them. E-mail has already created storage and bandwidth problems for many firms. But the biggest issue for many firms is simply finding ways to ensure that e-mails are made part of the actual paper client ³file.² Expect firms to devote considerable time and resources to this issue in 2002. Unfortunately, there is no easy solution out there now, but I¹ve heard of several companies focusing on this issue.

5. Personal Knowledge Management Possibilities

E-mail is just one component of the information tidal wave that washes over lawyers every day. Try remembering whether you saw a case mentioned on a web site, an e-mail newsletter, a discussion list, a phone call or by a colleague. It¹s not a matter of digging through a stack of papers on your desk or flipping through a legal pad any more. While many software companies are targeting the legal market with enterprise knowledge management tools, adoption of these enterprise tools in the practice at large is probably several years away. At the personal level, it¹s a different, and welcome, story. Look for new bookmark managers, personal search assistants and organization tools to appear throughout 2002. The dot-com collapse of 2001 took down some very promising tools in this category, but much interesting work is being done in this category.

6. Web Sites That Matter

Hey, I know most firms and lawyers have a web site by now. Here¹s a test: go to your firm¹s site and try to use it just like you do any other site on the Internet. Then compare it to your favorite sites. See the problem? Take a look at the traffic statistics for your site. Are they what you hoped for?
Is your web site hurting you or helping you? People increasingly rely on the Internet for all kinds of information. The image your firm¹s web site creates for users speaks volumes about your firm. I expect to see by late 2002 a renewed emphasis on and evolution of law firm web sites to be truly useful for both clients and the public at large and allow firms to capture the benefits of being on the Web. Expect to see renewed emphasis on client services, delivery of professional services (as U.S. firms try to catch up with innovation in the United Kingdom and Australia in particular), extranets and, believe it or not, ways to generate revenue streams off web sites through pay-for-content mechanisms and other innovations.

7. Home Computing Drives Office Upgrades

Lawyers who purchase home computers often find that, in addition to having a faster, more feature-laden machine at home than in the office, they are a generation or two ahead of their firms in software. If at home you are using Word XP and in the office you continue to use Word 97, you will at least feel a disconnect, if not outright frustration. Lawyers buying Palm and Power PC devices, e-mail pagers and wireless devices (or receiving them as gifts) put great pressure on firms to accommodate these devices on the office system. No technologically savvy lawyer likes to feel that technology tools hinder his or her practice. That feeling is likely to grow in 2002 and, from simple things like CD burners and scanners to handheld security issues and demand for new software versions, law firms will hear lawyers complaining about not being able to do the things they can do at home.

8. Economy Emphasizes Excellent Decisions

With a slow economy, law firms are faced with choices about technology spending. The natural tendency will be to pull back and reduce technology spending. This approach may be completely wrong for some firms and a wise choice for other firms, depending on how those decisions are actually implemented. How do you decide? That will be the big question in 2002. Much as in the stock market, a return to good fundamentals and a focus on return on investment is key. More important, however, is adopting a strategic approach that involves planning and equipping yourself with technology that will take your practice to where you want to go. That will take time and effort, and probably result in a few disappointments, but there is definitely a cost of standing still. My best tip: talk to your young lawyers and get them involved in technology decisions.

9. Outsourcing -- A Necessary Option?

Many firms are lucky to find an IS staff that can maintain their networks.  To find and keep a staff that also keeps up with security and other issues is extremely difficult. Expect to see many firms consider outsourcing network security and other traditional IS functions to third party vendors. Firms were rightfully wary of ASPs (Application Service Providers) in 2001, but the trend for ASPs, software subscription models and outsourcing of certain functions has a certain inevitability to it. A tip: firms probably do not want their IS departments signing standard outsourcing agreements without review by knowledgeable attorneys. It is not yet clear what the impact of storage of client data with or allowing potential access to client data by third party service providers will be on attorney-client privilege or confidentiality obligations.

10. Working the Way We Work

I¹ve seen more signs that we are moving toward technology that works more like the way we work. In the past year, I¹ve used the excellent case management program, The MasterList, because it reflects in many ways the way I work. It has a project-oriented focus, a great way to ³triage² to do lists and a good platform for dividing projects up into component tasks. Even better, a recent feature incorporates a mindmapping program that allows me to create the mindmaps (a form of visual outline) that I use for things like planning this article. Also, watch for continuing developments in handheld devices that reflect the ways that people actually work.

Bonus -- Two Trends to Watch

1. AI -  2002 will see the beginning of some interesting artificial intelligence based applications moving into the legal profession. One of the most exciting developments in legal technology is based on technology developed by DolphinSearch and being implemented by Michael Kraft and his colleagues at Kraft, Kennedy & Lesser. This technology uses a pattern recognition approach that actually evolved out of years of research in dolphin communication. These applications have some fascinating possibilities, mainly at the large firm level at this point, and may address several of the issues discussed above and below.

2. Blogs - Some of the real energy on the web can be found in the growing use of weblogs or "blogs." Blogs are simple journals published, usually daily, on the web. They can be used as mini-newsletters, places to collect thoughts and links and ways to provide news and other updates. Blogs are a true web phenomenon and may have application in both internal knowledge management and external communication to clients and others. A great introductory resource on blogs can be found at http://www.well.com/user/jd/weblog/roundup.html. The recently released version of the software tool called Radio (http://radio.userland.com) may be the easiest way to enter the world of blogging.

Wells Anderson - legal technology consultant based in Minneapolis (http://www.wellslegaltech.com)

I hate to bear the bad news, but forewarned is forearmed. In 2002 we will see sharp increases in the numbers of lawyers who lose the entire contents of their hard disks to viruses. Too many are uninformed and not taking basic precautions. As the volume of spam e-mail messages grows rapidly, interest in smarter filtering software and services will increase. On a brighter note, more law firms will roll out practice management software as Lexis-Nexis spreads the word about Time Matters and West Group advertises ProLaw. Larger firms will take interest in full practice management in a Web browser, like Time Matters World Edition, because the technology reduces implementation headaches and deploys virtually anywhere.

Jeffrey Beard - Legal Technologist at Quarles & Brady and legal technology columnist (http://www.quarles.com)

We'll see more evolutionary, as opposed to revolutionary, advances in legal technology usage. "Convergence" and "integration" of will be driving forces
to that end. The portal concept will further permeate the practice, as information from discrete sources and programs will become integrated and accessible in more convenient methods. However, a number of firms will still "be thinking about it" during 2002.

Other trends I see for the coming year:

1. Document imaging and collaboration tools will continue their penetration in litigation and transactional practices, as a more efficient means to work
with the ever-increasing number of documents involved.

2. Mobile solutions will continue to flourish, as attorneys and their clients need to rely upon remote access to their relevant information. However, security issues will remain paramount.

3. A stronger focus on practice segment accountability and profitability as financial well-being is placed under the microscope.

4. E-commerce and electronic document usage may get a boost as individuals and businesses seek alternatives to mail handling problems.

5. Until the U.S. adopts a "universal" wireless standard for portable devices, high-end wireless solutions will have difficulty keeping up with European and Asian efforts.

Jim Calloway - lawyer and practice management advisor for the Oklahoma Bar Association (http://www.okbar.org/map/)

1. The pace of miniaturization of tech devices continues to speed up. Already there are unbelievably tiny hard drives and ultra-small mobile phones. Soon airline travelers may ditch the hassles of their laptops in favor of a chip on a keychain that contains all of your software and data and can be plugged into a waiting computer at your destination.

2. Online education and training should boom this year. Online CLE programs offer convenience to the busy lawyer. If a law office software vendor really wants to distance itself from the competition, put a complete free online training program for the product on the web.

3. Video-conferencing has really taken off in the post 9-11 world. We already have depositions with the participants in different states. How soon will it be until you can answer the court’s motion docket call from your desk at your office via the Internet?

4. Access codes and copyright law will become the topic of dinner table discussions as many of the anti-consumer provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act become more well-known and understood. It’s amazing what a few million in lobbying bucks can buy these days.

Sam Guiberson - lawyer and legal technology consultant (http://www.guiberson.com)

In the latter part of 2002, I see the beginning of an Internet renaissance focused on multimedia delivered over the Internet. We won't see the great
"convergence" media conglomerates have been licking their chops over for many years, but early adopting consumers will begin to utilize more imagery,
video and audio for free and for sale on the web. Lawyers will also begin to integrate more diverse media into their computing experience, on and off the
job. Motion practice will go in motion and painting a picture for the jury will be taken literally. In 2002, legal advocacy training will include the axiom, "One lawyer who speaks in many media is worth a thousand lawyers using only words."

Jerry Lawson - lawyer and author of The Complete Internet Handbook for Lawyers (http://www.netlawtools.com)

1. I believe there will be a major backlash against Microsoft over shoddy computer security. One harbinger of this was PC Magazine columnist John Dvorak’s suggestion last fall that Microsoft needs to redesign its macro structure from the ground up. People are finally beginning to understand that basic features like Windows Scripting Host and the Microsoft macro system are fundamentally unsound. You can patch them and patch them, and patch them again, but the underlying weaknesses are still there.

2. In the legal research area, I see an increased interest in what is known as the “Invisible Web,” documents like PDF files and information stored in databases that aren’t accessible via normal search engines. The factual information available there can be particularly valuable for litigators. The book “The Invisible Web” by Sherman and Price is a good guide.

3. Extranets will become even more important. The most common use at first will be providing clients with housekeeping information like billing records. Some more innovative firms have begun using them more aggressively to provide legal services over the Internet, and this trend will continue. It makes sense, for a variety of reasons.

4. Finally, instant messaging services will undergo a drastic increase in popularity - especially if the incompatibility problems can be resolved.

Wendy Leibowitz - legal technology columnist (http://www.wendytech.com)

1. The most technologically-impaired institutions in our legal system--no, not your law office, I mean the courts--will begin to make real use of electronic filing and other tech tools to serve their clients and improve life for litigants. The year 2001 saw the U.S. Supreme Court accept electronic filings in Bush v. Gore, and, during the anthrax scare that stopped the Court's postal mail, Justice Rehnquist ordered that filings be accepted by (gasp) e-mail. Admittedly the move to technology came because the Court had no choice, but let's take progress where we can. The courts are "getting it" when it comes to technology.

2. The products will become truly easier to use, which they have not been. This will lead to unintended consequences as more people master the technology and use it. For example, some courts have started to put forms online to help pro se filers. This has led to an improvement in pro se filings--but also to an increase in pro se filers, which the courts did not anticipate and might not welcome. In 2002 we will think more carefully about the outcomes of widespread technological acceptance, and will try to be better prepared.

3. We will see, in the latter half of the year, a return to entrepreneurship by many lawyers who are investing in the technologies. After the dot-coms went dot-gone, and the recession hit, many people took refuge in the Big and Safe. But the Internet's level playing field is a constant invitation to lawyers to invent their own, better way to practice, and to try to market it on their own. Technology will unleash the solo practitioner in every lawyer.

4. We might see some use of the technology to try to build meaningful international legal communities and civil gatherings, online and off, on standards for everything from cell phones to military trials. September 11 brought an ugly part of the world crashing to our doorstep. Perhaps tech tools will allow the rule of law, freedom and democracy to spread far beyond our shores, to places where it is most needed, with lawyers leading the way to a more peaceful world. But I tend to get carried away.

Sabrina I. Pacifici, law librarian, Editor/Publisher/Web Manager, LLRX.com™ (http://www.llrx.com)

1. 2001 saw the demise of over 500 sites and the ascension of a dominant troika comprised of MSN, Yahoo and AOL Time Warner.  Unfortunately, in  2002, the trend will continue in which independent dot-coms dedicated to free, value-added, topical content will disappear, and there will be a steady growth in the branded 'marketplace' of the Web's Big Three.  A major implication of this trend is that it will require more time and effort to find new sites that actually publish original, reliable, comprehensive, useful content, rather than merely link to data on other sites.  This distinction is vital to researchers.  Corporations will continue to market themselves and their products on the Web in 2002, but conducting free research about those companies and their products will prove to be more of a challenge.

2. There will be a greater emphasis on creating/expanding research-based intranets/knowledge centers in law firms to facilitate accurate, quick and easy corporate-wide access to a growing range of internal content, as well as to external information and documents from the courts and the government.

3. More attorneys will subscribe to fee-based daily e-mail update services to remain abreast of practice specific information, especially in the technology and telecommunications areas.  One of the best examples of such a service is Tech Law Journal.

4. The Web will continue to be cited as a justification for the further downsizing of law libraries, even though many of the discarded resources are in large measure simply not available on the Web, nor will they ever be.  To compound this problem, the Tasini decision has resulted in the removal from commercial databases of thousands of articles authored by freelancers, causing significant gaps in archival material.  An example of the impact of Tasini and the range of materials that have been removed from databases is on the Factiva web site at: http://www.factiva.com/sources/sourcedeletions.asp.  Overall costs for research will not diminish, and the beneficiaries of this trend will be Lexis and Westlaw who continue to provide huge online libraries of legal and non-legal content, along with editorial enhancements, support and training. 

5.  Back to the future with blogs, where the free Internet lives on via loosely structured opinion forums with many contributors, to sites studiously maintained by individuals.  Blogs are often the source of a wealth of useful information on news, technology, politics, as well as just plain weird and extraneous but nevertheless interesting facts on just about anything.  Do yourself a favor and check-out blogdex, Weblogs.com, and kuro5hin.org, to name just a few of the many examples of how the web remains a truly unique communications tool.

Alan Pearlman, lawyer and legal tech expert known as “The Electronic Lawyer”™ (http://homepage.interaccess.com/~pearlman)

1. With all that has gone on this past year, my number one prediction is that now, for the first time, attorneys and law firms are taking disaster recovery seriously! I predict that in the coming year, safer and better back-up devices will come into their own. Likewise, ASPs, for the first time, will begin to show their usefulness. By having all your office work and files off site, perhaps in several different locations utilizing ASPs, a firm can now be confident that they will continue to have the ability to work, no matter what unfortunate incidents occur.

2. Legal markets are going to be expanded by some companies who, heretofore, where only on the fringe of the legal/technical market place. Companies, like Lexmark International, are going to have printers that work smarter and harder in the law office. Printers that give the firm the ability to send faxes and e-mail directly from the printer, without the need for computers to be attached to the printer. More legal applications will be directly built into the printer itself!

3. PDAs are going to become more of a smart device. They will have more computing power and have more functionality as a real substitute for carrying a notebook around. They will be more integrated, so that you will have the ability to do more, and better work, on the small space provided, and the platforms are going to be better able to sync to any and all peripheral devices.

4. As the cell phone companies continue to battle for market share, I foresee in the not too distant future, the time when most cell calls and phone packages are going to drop their prices in a much more drastic fashion. I also think that by the 4th quarter of 2002, many households and many smaller size law firms may utilize cell phone technology as their prime and only phone services, especially when it comes to long distance calling!

5. Finally, I believe that the ability to carry around and transport information from computer to computer is going to be interchangeable. With the advent of Flash technology, you can carry from 16 megabytes of information up to 1 gigabyte of information and files in devices now that are USB effective, have no need for drivers and are totally capable of handling all your office files. I see this technology improving and moving forward, to the point where attorneys are going to have the ability to carry many, if not all, of their active files, right in their shirt pockets and immediately transfer that information between their home and their office, or between attorneys in the firm!

Neil Squillante, Community Manager of The TechnoLawyer Community (http://www.technolawyer.com)

1. In 2002, document management solutions, such as iManage and Worldox, will finally achieve mainstream status in small/medium law firms (they have already achieved this status in large law firms). This change will come about because the file/folder paradigm no longer wins a cost/benefit assessment. Today's document management solutions are not only reliable, but also affordable.

2. While document management solutions will likely make incremental gains in the legal profession in 2002, portable and wireless devices will continue to infiltrate law firms by leaps and bounds. For example, Handspring seems poised to upstage longtime favorite Palm in 2002 with its line of Treo communicators. These three-in-one devices feature a Palm OS organizer, a mobile telephone, and a Blackberry-like wireless e-mail system. Handspring's Treo finally provides lawyers with the tool they've wanted for years -- expect it to fly off store shelves and into legal briefcases.

3. Though not quite as sexy as the Treo, wireless networking will make inroads at law firms in 2002, provided equipment manufacturers adequately address security concerns. These wireless networks will result in even more firms equipping their lawyers with laptops rather than desktops. The proliferation of laptops may even lead to greater computer usage and literacy among lawyers.

Nicolas Terry, law professor and legal technology expert (http://law.slu.edu/nicolasterry/)

2001 was the year of wireless. But not quite the year everyone predicted! Personal Area Networking (PAN) based on the Bluetooth standard continued to embarrass itself as manufacturers fumbled the ball and consumers connected their devices with (duh!) cables. Meanwhile, Wide Area Networking (WAN) died as Ricochet went off the air and everyone but Japanese teenagers realized you can’t read web pages on cell phones. By the end of the year the only wireless technology still standing was Local Area Networking (LAN) consolidated around the remarkably robust Wi-Fi (802.11b) standard.

So, 2002 will be the year of the wireless LAN. Already important for notebook PCs, the real expansion will be in PDA connectivity, particularly for the enterprise-friendly PocketPC platform. Already well-established in the home and SOHO markets, Wireless LAN will deserve “Best of 2002” status with even modest penetration of enterprise and vertical markets. The ultimate prizes, however, are also within its grasp; conquering the WAN market with its airport and Starbucks base stations and, the true Grail, ultimately replacing the “local loop”.

Conclusion

With the reservation that external events may have an unfortunate impact on developments, you now have my assessment of what to expect in 2002 along with some top-notch insights from a panel of experts. The key thing to consider is how you will deal with current pressures (security, information overload, home-driven technology wish lists) while still preparing for the future (web-based initiatives, outsourcing Microsoft dependence). Your emphasis should be on a strategic and diversified approach. At the same time, keep looking for those technologies that fit the way that you work and really help you, your clients, and, hopefully, all of us.