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7 legal tech predictions for 2016

26 years, when One Legal launched as the first provider of court filing by fax, affordable office computers could do barely more than basic word processing and the World Wide Web had only just been conceived in the mind of British scientist Tim Berners-Lee. We’ve come a long way since then!

Legal technology in the 1990s was an optional extra that might smooth the running of a law office, but definitely wasn’t vital to successful lawyering. Not anymore.

These days, understanding technology and effectively using it to manage cases and run a law office are crucial to success. The ABA has even made technological competence a professional obligation.

The pace of change is faster now than it has ever been. The coming years will see almost all law firms, regardless of size, forced to adapt to technological change in a number of ways. Here, we gather together seven of the most insightful predictions for the coming year from across the web.

So, what does 2016 hold in store for legal technology?

Prediction 1: We’ll get even closer to the paperless office

Roy Russell at the Society for Computers and the Law (SCL) predicts that this year will see law firms “finally make ‘paper to digital’ a high priority action within their broader business transformation agenda. The expansion of electronic filing, much wider acceptance of electronic signatures, and substantially reduced cost of cloud storage (via products like Adobe’s new Acrobat Digital Cloud) mean that fully computerized case management is now available to firms of almost all sizes.

Prediction 2: Artificial intelligence will assist, not replace, lawyers

Zach Abramowitz at Above the Law predicts that 2016 may be the year that artificial intelligence (AI) tools start to seriously assist the work of lawyers. He notes that AI tools are already helping make the lives of lawyers better by improving functions due diligence and contract review respectively and that further advances seem likely this year.

Prediction 3: Clients will start to leverage data to choose their attorney

Brian Kennel, CEO of Perform Law, reckons 2016 is the year that clients will begin managing lawyer performance with data. “This year will see big data approaches to win/loss rates, lawyer performance by jurisdiction, case type, cost and just about any other measurable factor,” he predicts. As has happened in other industries, the web will break down information asymmetries and put the client in driving seat.

Prediction 4: Client communication will cease to be dominated by letters and face-to-face meetings

Joe Kelly, writing in Legaltech News, argues that the traditional reliance on communicating with clients via meetings, phone calls and letters written on paper will begin to come to an end this year. “The trend towards alternative means of contacting clients has spread, from video conferencing such as Skype and Facetime to texting,” he writes. While privacy concerns will remain, consumers are becoming so accustomed to contacting professionals via the web, lawyers will have no choice but to catch up and catch on, he predicts.

Prediction 5: Social media will become a go-to customer service channel

On The Cyber Advocate, Brian Focht points out that for consumers social media is rapidly becoming the go-to vehicle for seeking support and airing concerns. It is becoming increasingly expected that companies will have a social presence and that they’ll respond to queries rapidly. There are obvious risks for law firms, who will need to up their game on social if they are win clients. There are benefits too, Brian argues, especially for litigators who may find valuable evidence, such as a plaintiff’s history of making litigation threats, preserved online for all to see.

Prediction 6: Outsourcing marketplaces will proliferate

Sheila Blackford, writing at Thoughtful Lawyer, predicts that outsourcing will become an even bigger deal in 2016, with “more law firms reaching out to non-traditional sources of legal assistance.” As is happening in other sectors — marketers selling their skills on an ad hoc basis via sites like UpWork or tradespeople taking on odd jobs via Taskrabbit — marketplaces for people with the ability to take on specific, time-bound legal projects will enter the mainstream this year, she expects.

Prediction 7: Remote working will becoming mainstream

2016 could be the year that the physical office ceases to be necessary, according to Leigh McMullan. Cloud computing, instant online document collaboration, instant messaging, video conferencing, and a proliferation of rent-by-the-hour meeting spaces, mean that actually working from an office may become entirely unnecessary.

Other sectors are already leveraging the cost savings from reducing office space — big accountancy firms, for example, often have actual desk space for fewer than half of their employees in their head offices. Culturally, lawyers have been slower to adopt remote working, but 2016 may be the year it really catches on.

What are your big legal tech predictions for 2016? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!

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