Transform and Disrupt: How Lawyers Can Be More Like Tony Stark

February 16, 2015


Legal Interest


Jacqui Jubb


A prosecutor colleague and I once joked that one of the Crowns we worked for was so clueless on the tech front, we thought he might ask us to carve the indictment in stone and send a fluffy white stork flying over to the District Court for the beginning of the jury trial.

The funny thing is, now even we would seem a little backwards in today’s tech terms: I set up my first Hotmail account in second year uni and my first mobile phone was bigger and chunkier than Gordon Gekko’s cell. I used to call my Mum from the train station, using, wait for it, a Telecom phone card.

So from 1980s brick phones and clunky fax machines to slick smartphones and trendy tablets, the world’s technology is moving at breakneck speed. More Tony Stark than Gekko. And lawyers are starting to sit up and take note.

Woman holding three old mobile phones
Technology has come a long way since the time these were high tech

For many years, the legal industry seemed immune, or seemed to think it was immune, from the advancing technology beast. But the cold hard fact is: firms that resist the digital transformation may fall behind their competitors and miss out on golden opportunities to cut costs, improve profitability, save time and drive innovation. Here’s a few tips on how the legal profession can be a bit more ‘Tony Stark’.

All aboard the tech train

Derrick Harris from Gigaom has said that: “there are no more gilded professions, and law is undergoing the same type of shift as medicine, manufacturing and even mobile applications. The people paying the bills want stuff done well, fast and at the lowest-possible cost, and they’ll look for the providers who can meet those expectations.”

With mobile and tablet technologies on the rise in an atmosphere of increased client expectations, the benefits of joining the tech wave are clear – technology can lead to better lawyer/client communication and provide more mobility and flexibility for busy lawyers.

A 2014 survey conducted by the American Bar Association revealed that 60.8% of all American attorneys use an iPhone (66.8% of the 91% of attorneys who use a smartphone) and that there are a number of legal-specific apps popular amongst lawyers, including Fastcase, apps to access Westlaw and Lexis Nexis services, legal dictionaries, TrialPad and TranscriptPad as well as highly used business apps liked LinkedIn (68%), Dropbox (65%) and Evernote (38%).

In Australia, the CommBank Legal Market Pulse research, conducted by Beaton Research + Consulting, surveying respondents from 32 firms across Australia, Asia, UK and Europe, revealed that the majority of law firms adopting new technologies had seen a return on investment with document automation (58%) and mobility solutions (61%) as the primary technologies being implemented and used by firms.

So whether it is smartphones, apps, tablets, project management tools or mobile-friendly practice management systems, lawyers are streamlining their workflow and it’s helping them do what they do best: help clients and be lawyers.

Tech time savers

The key words here are:

Predicting, interpreting and analysing big data is officially the new black. To save time in their busy professional lives, lawyers are trying to understand how to use data to win cases and stay competitive in an ever-changing marketplace.

With firms storing years and years of documents and emails, automation programs, such as Recommind, which uses machine learning to do what it calls predictive coding, can help save firms’ time and money by helping lawyers sort through bucket loads of files to figure out which ones are the most relevant.

Brainspace applies semantic analysis techniques to e-discovery documents in order to achieve a similar result. Lex Machina mines litigation data and aims to give intellectual property attorneys statistical data and legal analytics that could help them make better case decisions.

OK. So it all sounds a bit Minority Report, but let’s face it: other firms are using these kinds of analytical tools and predictive systems and if you’re not on board, you may be losing out.

Become a profitable techie

Craig Rispin, well-known legal industry and business ‘futurist’ (cool or crazy business card title? you decide), has said that law firms can leverage technology to become more profitable. Speaking at the 2014 Australasian Legal Practice Management Association (ALPMA) National Summit, Rispin noted that technology is having a huge impact on firms:

“Two things that I have been speaking about a lot recently are getting on board with cloud solutions and recognising security threats. The two are actually related because cloud applications are an easy way for firms to minimise costs by hosting documents in the cloud, and at the same time many of these cloud services offer better security than a firm could afford for their own systems.”

By using cloud solutions and new technologies to reduce overheads and operating costs, firms can offer quality legal services at a lower price, thereby increasing profitability. It’s certainly an exciting time to be at the forefront of the tech world and a great time for a lawyer to be a “techie”.

So if you’re picturing yourself as Tony Stark, in a shiny high-tech laboratory full of enviable gadgets, conferencing an overseas client using your virtual workspace with its holographic 3D user interface (like I am), you probably don’t have your head in the clouds (the real clouds I mean). It’s coming to a law firm near you.

Jacqui Jubb

Jacqui Jubb is a senior lawyer and writer for the Smith's Lawyers blog on legal interest and workers rights topics.

Jacqui Jubb is a senior lawyer and writer for the Smith's Lawyers blog on legal interest and workers rights topics.