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Lawyers of the future

The effect of technology on the future practice of law has only just begun.

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You head off for another day at the office. You log in to the firm’s network, which has assigned you a new file including intake information and details on the level of difficulty of the file. Meanwhile, you chat online with other lawyers on a crowdsourcing website about the latest one-year analysis of all labour arbitration decisions in Canada. Tomorrow you’ll be live-streaming a discovery to your client using Google Glass.

This is not science fiction. The seamless use of technology in legal practice is here. Law firms are creating new, easier-to-use systems to make legal work more efficient and more cost-effective.

Samfiru Tumarkin LLP, a boutique employment law firm, recently launched an in-house client relationship management program. The CRM tracks the source of client referrals such as website referrals and direct referrals from existing clients. After a staff member completes an intake form, the system assesses the client’s issues and assigns the file to a lawyer based on the level of difficulty.

“We wanted to track clients and we knew software was the answer,” says Lior Samfiru, founding partner of Samfiru Tumakin LLP. “We couldn’t find anything on the market so we developed our own. It’s a one-time investment that will save us time and resources in the long run.”

The beauty in the network is that work is assigned systematically so that workloads are more manageable. Each day lawyers log in to let the system know their availability. 

“We have a large volume of clients and we had a haphazard way on how to deal with it,” says Samfiru. “We wanted to deal with it in an organized fashion.”

Other companies are developing software to create legal documents. Shake, a U.S. startup, launched an app last year that generates contracts such as leases or non-disclosure agreements by processing users’ responses to simple questions. The app has more than 80,000 users and the company recently raised $3-million in capital.

“People will say the programs out there are very immature or inferior but that’s normal,” says Marcel Naud, an IP lawyer and trademark agent at Robic and former organizer of the Legal IT conference. “For example, when digital cameras first came out, the picture quality was bad. Eventually, the technology got better and now digital has replaced film. Lawyers say the legal documents created by programs are not good enough. They are good enough for a segment of the market and these programs are getting better.”

Monica Goyal is part of the changing legal marketplace. As founder of My Legal Briefcase, a website that gives step-by-step instructions for creating legal documents, she believes new regulation and a cultural shift will usher in a new age in legal services.

“There is reluctance from lawyers to innovate,” says Goyal, partner at Aluvion Law. “It’s an impediment to have a restriction on non-law investment. Building an enterprise is expensive and you need capital. We need a legal incubator where people with ideas can come together and meet with people who have technical expertise. We need more investment in the legal market.”

Wearable technology for lawyers

Wearable technology is the latest craze in tech toys. The most buzz-worthy device is Google Glass, a pair of high-tech glasses that allow users to go online in the blink of an eye. Recently a lawyer based in California, after receiving permission from the court, used  Google Glass during trial to record depositions.

“There’s huge potential for the technology,” says Andy Ninh, a third-year law student at Michigan State University College of Law and a Google Glass owner. “Recently there was a successful surgery where a younger doctor completed the surgery with help from a surgeon located in another state.”

So far reviews have been mixed. There are privacy and security concerns, particularly with the Glass’s ability to take photos and record video.

“With privacy, I’ve argued that we have hidden cameras now that secretly record videos with current devices,” says Ninh. “I don’t see how wearables change that so much. For security, you can have the device scan your retina for the log-in.”

Meanwhile companies are working on smart watches and health monitoring devices like the popular Fitbit, which tracks sleep habits and physical activity. Ninh believes future devices will keep getting smaller. “We might have a wearable device in a contact lens,” says Ninh.

 

Develop consumer legal services

If you want to figure out what your severance entitlement would be after losing your job in Ontario, there’s an app for that — Severance Calculator — that also holds a lesson for lawyers.

Legal services today are all about information. Law firms can no longer rely on traditional advertising for brand recognition. In order to reach clients, you have to be creative.

Lior Samfiru got the idea to create the app after noticing that many of his intake calls involved severance pay. He wrote the logic for the app and with the help of a designer launched the program in November 2013. So far the app has had 5,000 downloads.

“In my area of practice, people don’t know they need a lawyer,” says Samfiru, founding partner of Samfiru Tumarkin LLP, an employment law firm. “People appreciate helpful information that can be given through a website or other social media. We get phone calls from people looking for our help after they use the app. It’s a great marketing tool.”

Monica Goyal is familiar with keeping clients happy. Her website My Legal Briefcase gives clients step-by-step instructions on creating legal documents. Her new firm Aluvion offers a $750 flat rate for business incorporation. The website shows a detailed price comparison for the service against several competitors.

“Clients just want to have the work done in a simple way,” says Goyal, and they want to know how much it will cost. “We offer competitive prices because we’ve built in automation in our system. We looked at how long it takes to process calls and produce minute books. We’re looking to make it better.”

Small projects are a good starting point for reaching new clients and can be done at minimal cost.

“People are not looking for you, (they’re) looking for information,” says Samfiru. “Everyone has a website but they’re usually not helpful or need updated information. The old way of marketing of reaching people is outdated. You need to be more creative.”

Top 5 app list for your tablet or phone

Get the most out of your mobile phone or tablet with these useful apps.

oneSafe: Never forget another password. With this app, one master password is used to view multiple passwords and PIN numbers. The Dropbox sync for Mac and Android users saves the data to multiple devices.

JotNot Scanner Pro: This must-have app scans and converts documents to PDFs. Make sure to get the pro version.

Any.DO: Keep your to-do lists organized in this stylish phone app.

SignNow: Need clients to sign documents on the go? This app allows you to complete fillable PDF forms and sign documents with your finger.

IFTTT: For tech lovers, IFTTT, which stands for If This, Then That, allows users to link channels like Facebook and Gmail to create “recipes,” mini-programs for your phone. A recipe can automatically save your photos to a Dropbox or send a morning text about the weather.

List of top legal technology blogs

Keep your finger on the technology pulse with these blogs.

iPhoneJD

A comprehensive blog about Apple products for lawyers.

Droitdu

This francophone site is one the best Canadian blogs on legal technology.

Law Sites Blog

This U.S. website keeps track of the latest apps, websites and software.

Advice from the experts

 

Lior Samfiru, founding partner of Samfiru Tumakin LLP

“You have to decide what you want to do. Which audience do you want to reach or what are you trying to improve? You find your goals and then find the technology to reach your goal, whether it’s reducing clutter, efficiency or marketing. You have to sit and think about technology solutions and keep plugging along.”

Marcel Naud, IP lawyer and trademark agent at Robic

“It’s a question of culture. Law firms can be very conservative. We look at the past to predict the future. Innovation is about creating a temporal advantage compared to others. You need the mindset of entrepreneurs. Create an environment where different ideas can meet to create something powerful. Law firms need to be open to take on projects that may be counterintuitive and may not be fruitful. They also need to learn to race in symbiosis with computers, and not against them.”

Monica Goyal, founding partner at Aluvion Law and founder of My Legal Briefcase

“Maybe have an innovation group that meets once a month. It’s an opportunity to connect with others and support one another. Set up an Innovator’s Award in your office.”