5 legal trends to start preparing for in 2017

As we begin the new year’s first full week of work, it’s the perfect time to look ahead and review what’s in store for 2017.

Okay, so it’s well known that technological advancement in the legal professions can sometimes be slow. Therefore, many of these trends have been in the works for years and perhaps even decades, in some cases.

However, there’s a real feeling that the pace of change is increasing and that now is the time to seriously knuckle down and prepare your office for the tech-driven future.

So what should you be getting prepared for this year? Here are five of the hottest legal technology trends likely to dominate 2017.

#1. Electronic court filing and service of process

Having been in the business of getting legal documents delivered for more than two decades, at One Legal we’ve seen our industry undergo big changes. However, the pace of change right now is like we’ve never seen before.

More and more courts, in more and more states, are mandating electronic filing of court documents. At the same time, more and more attorneys see the benefits of electronic service of process — securely sending and storing case files shared between parties online, rather than mailing or hand delivering them.

2017 is likely to be the year where photocopier jams, empty toner cartridges, mountains of printed paper, and endless queues at the court window finally become a thing of the past. Transitioning to the electronic world requires a little preparation, though. Check out our free ebook “How to prepare your law firm for electronic court filing” to get started >>

#2. The cloud

There’s absolutely no doubt that the development of cloud technology is bringing huge efficiency benefits (and more than a little disruption) to the legal industry. Across the profession, more and more firms are moving to take advantage of cloud computing. They’re doing so for three reasons:

First, the need to own and manage your own servers is now almost entirely gone. All of the software you need to run a law firm is now available online, by subscription. If firms haven’t already taken advantage and made the switch, this will probably be the year they do so.

Second, most software — from word processing and PDF editing to full practice management suites — are now available online, via monthly subscriptions. Not only does this model result in lower setup costs, but it also makes ongoing support simpler and ensures you’re always on the latest version.

Finally, when you store your work online in a secure document management system, you can access your files from anywhere you have an Internet connection.

Read more: 5 low-cost document collaboration tools for small law offices >>

#3. The virtual law office

A happy consequence of several tech advancements — not least, cloud software and file storage, powerful laptops and smartphones, and super fast broadband — is the increasing irrelevance of the physical office space.

In many industries, companies are starting to reconsider the necessity of permanent desks. For example, when UBS, the banking group, opened their new London office last year they only created physical desk space for eighty percent of employees. They now expect between 25,000 and 30,000 employees using mobile desktops in Europe.

That’s an increasingly common trend as firms recognize that expensive offices can be replaced with flexible, open environments and work-anywhere mobility. Lawyers choosing this approach can communicate with clients via secure online portals, share cloud software with colleagues, and store all documents securely online. They may run a small office, or eschew an office altogether for rented meeting space as needed.

Today, fewer than ten percent of the profession have opted for this business model. However, as computing power continues to improve (and rents continue to rise), expect to see this become an increasingly common choice this year.

#4. The cyber security threat

Inevitably, as mobile technology and cloud computing overtake traditional desktop and paper file storage, security will become a greater concern for law firms and their clients. Indeed, as we wrote recently, during National Cyber Security Awareness Month, law firms are all too often considered a “soft touch” by hackers because of their lax approach to security.

With more and more sensitive client data stored online, the pressure to keep it protected will grow. Fortunately, most software providers are now starting to recognize the greater security needs of the legal profession.

Expect to see encryption, both of long-term stored files and those in motion, multi-factor authentication, and sophisticated data-governance options become available in most online file storage systems this year. The result is that online storage is now just as secure as paper storage, leaving few — if any — advantages to carrying on with things the old fashioned way.

Read more: 5 steps to getting serious about law firm cyber security >>

#5. Legal marketplaces

While the response to the ABA’s much-promoted “Blueprint” marketplace has been muted (not least because it isn’t really a marketplace — more of an online catalog for a few ABA-endorsed services), the concept of online marketplaces will continue to be a key trend in 2017.

Yes, marketplaces for lawyers to promote themselves to those in need of an attorney (like Avvo and Upcounsel) will become increasingly important sources of work. However, the real innovation this year will be marketplaces for all of the myriad services a law firm requires during the working day.

Expect to see the development of online marketplaces for just about every legal requirement from expert witnesses and court reporters, to outsourced paralegal support and legal marketing consultancy. The advantages are clear: choose from hundreds of providers, all neatly ranked and reviewed, and handle payment online, via a single online portal.

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What do you think the biggest legal technology trends will be this year? What are you getting prepared for? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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