It’s out! In a year unlike any of the 30 previous annual surveys, the 2020 International Legal Technology Association’s (ILTA’s) Annual Survey breaks down the technology transformation afoot resulting from the ongoing pandemic. With insightful data-driven industry trends, this year’s ILTA survey highlights the rapid pivots, swerves, and shifts happening in the legal technology marketplace.
All of us are intimately familiar with the chaos that impacted law firms, employees, clients, and the courts that followed the initial shutdowns in March. What has resulted is a robust renewed interest in tech tools that enable work to continue to flow and ultimately solve client needs. So, which trends floated to the top of legal tech?
Zooming to its zenith, the video conferencing tool Zoom made huge waves. It was the clear favorite for law firms that sought to bring internal and external people together immediately and without much ado. While Zoom struggled with capacity issues and some serious security concerns initially, those fears were allayed over time.
What will be fascinating, of course, is next year’s statistics. Zoom could be a bridge to the video conferencing world, where Microsoft is king. The interoperability suite that Microsoft provides would seem to indicate that Zoom has indeed hit their peak in the legal marketplace. Couple that with industry leaders creating a secure legal ecosystem with the courts that integrates video, calendaring, docketing, and case information all under a strict security blanket, and Zoom might have challenges in the legal marketplace going forward.
Another trend brought up in the ILTA survey — one which is cited year after year but was accelerated in 2020 — was cloud adoption. If you have ever been in or seen a server room, you will know its brrrrr affect. Not only do they have a cacophonic hum of a dozen beehives, but they are more frigid than a Minneapolis January morning. If a firm can jettison a good percentage of that infrastructure in favor of an arguably more secure cloud environment, which doesn’t require thermals, it’s a win. To that end, cloud embracing extends to nearly every part of the business, including MS Office, email, VoIP (hosted phones), DMS, case management, eDiscovery, etc.
Turning toward specifics of the work from home phenomenon and its impact on the survey, there are several interesting points to raise. Antidotally, I knew several firms that during the height of the pandemic still had their support staff in their office, while others adopted technology. One area of adoption that boomed was Remote Online Notarization (RON); and having recently used RON myself, I was thoroughly impressed. The hoops I jumped through to prove my identity was far greater than the in-person model. To that end, it seems many firms leapt through the rings as well with DocVerify and E-Notary leading the market. Fully 21% of law firms were using these tools, an impressive embrace of tech over in personal interaction.
Another tech tool getting a pandemic push was mobile. Steadily increasing over the years, people embraced their iPad and mobile device much more this year, unsurprisingly. With a broader push by content producers, application developers, and kids, the world is rapidly moving to mobile first. Meaning that at some point, the expectation will be that most work could or should be done via a mobile device.
The next iteration of this will be to jettison laptops and grab ahold of a plug to connect mobile devices to larger screens. Samsung is experimenting with this now via DEX. This could see your mobile device becoming your computer, one-in-the-same. Short of that, you see legal tech applications increasingly built and optimized for mobile devices. This trend will likely continue.
Another interesting trend spotted this year was the drop of “security” from the top concerns cited by law firms. While security has long stood atop that list of concerns, it was replaced this year by two doggedly difficult ones: “Change: Users’ acceptance of change” followed by “Change: Managing expectations (users and management)”. That seems to boil down to communication, action plans, stakeholder buy-in, and disseminating information in order to get people on board. An easy task, right?
What does the future hold?
In the coming years, here are three areas that I might expect the ILTA survey to cover in greater detail:
Legal platforms — We are on the cusp of a major movement across the legal landscape in which thousands of legal startups and their well-established brethren have hit critical mass. How can these disparate apps and services be integrated along with appropriate data controls? The hope is to have these applications meet their users on an agnostic legal platform, open to all parties and integrated across both the business and practice of law.
Office impact — With people working remotely for the better part of 18 months, does it make sense to still have an office, and if so, how big? Do satellite offices come into vogue now, and, if so, how does that look technologically?
Virtual reality – What seemed laughable five years ago will be thrust into the spotlight soon. While little discussed, Apple will likely have a VR headset called “Apple Glass” in the next 12 to 18 months. As the bellwether of mobile technology, this will create new avenues to digest, interact with, and expand on legal applications. Imagine Zooming away through an Apple Glass headset and interacting with your avatar clients as if they were in the room, or leading a jury through a crime scene via 360-degree recorded video. This is right around the corner, and my expectation is that you will see this listed on an upcoming ILTA survey soon.
Clearly this has been a year of transformation. Faster than in any of the last few decades, we saw law firms confronted with an existential threat turning quickly toward technology. With this pivot, I would surmise that the future of technology is LED bright within the legal industry, and it will continue to become more invaluable.