2020 in review: Legal software for working remotely
2020 was my third year writing this legal technology column for the ABA Journal. When I put pen to paper—so to speak—to write my first column of the year back in January, I had no inkling of the upheaval and disruption that would soon befall our country and the world.
My 2020 plan for this column was to re-visit the types of software I wrote about when I first started this column, since the legal technology space has changed so much during that timeframe. Little did I know that it would change even more significantly in the coming year.
Serendipitously, my plan for 2020 ended up working out quite well, since many of the tools I wrote about during my first year were perfectly suited to help lawyers work remotely—something that, unbeknownst to me, would soon become all the rage. As you’ll see below, while I began the year writing about cutting edge legal marketing tools, once the pandemic hit, I quickly shifted my focus to the tools that would help law firms continue to operate seamlessly and securely, even with a dispersed workforce.
As we continue to face significant disruptions because of the effects of COVID-19, and by all accounts will continue to do so through the fall and winter, the cloud-based legal technology tools I’ve written about over the past year continue to be relevant. Whether your law firm has already begun the shift to a cloud-based law practice or is planning to do so in the new year, you’ll undoubtedly find some or all of the software I covered over the past year to be useful. So, without further ado, here’s a roundup of all of my columns from 2020.
January: Virtual and chatbot assistants
Virtual legal assistants and AI-based chatbots offer affordable and practical alternatives to hiring someone in-house to handle redundant administrative tasks. Virtual assistant services provide a bank of virtual receptionists to whom your firm’s phone calls are routed. At the most basic level, the receptionists will answer the phone and take a message. Some services also include bilingual capabilities, the ability to schedule appointments, handle client intake and more. Pricing will vary depending on the company you choose and the services they offer. In comparison, AI-powered chatbots provide a “personal assistant” that you add to your firm’s website. It can capture leads, complete client intake and schedule appointments. Regardless of whether your law firm takes advantage of AI technology or outsources these tasks to a company that will handle them for you, the end result will be to increase efficiency, thus saving much-needed time.
February: Client relationship management tools
Now that online lawyer advertising is commonplace, there is an increased need to track and manage legal marketing efforts by using legal client relationship management tools. Typically, this software streamlines the lead intake process and then provides tools to manage communications and appointments with potential clients. Other features often included are the ability to run analytics and create reports that provide insight into lead sources and the lead management process.
March: Top tools to help lawyers set up virtual practices
Setting a firm up for remote work is easier than ever in 2020 using cloud-based technologies. When it comes to remote working tools for law firms, there are lots of affordable and powerful tools available. The top tools lawyers will need to invest in to remotely handle essential law firm functions that are covered in this article are: 1) video conferencing software, 2) a VOIP phone system, 3) law practice management software, 4) online fax services 5) scanning tools, 6) collaborative word processing tools and 7) speech-to-text dictation.
April: Document management software
One of the top challenges faced by law firms as they shift to a remote workforce is the ability to access case-related information. The accessibility of documents, in particular, often presents significant issues for law firms. That’s where cloud-based document management software—created with firms in mind—comes in. Legal document management software provides a built-in organizational system for documents. Documents can be associated with case files or matters, and access can be limited to certain firm users. More robust systems often include document versioning, audit trails that track user access to documents, document collaboration and sharing features, annotation tools, built-in e-signature and more.
May: Online payment tools
A common issue faced by many law firms operating virtually has been setting up a process to get paid promptly. Even under normal circumstances, when clients put off paying a legal bill—or even ignore it completely—law firm finances can be affected significantly. With online payment processing software, your law firm clients can make an automated clearing house (e-check) or credit card payment online from the safety and comfort of home. As a result, firms get paid faster by offering their clients a safer, contactless way to timely pay their legal bills.
June: Secure online communication
One of the greatest challenges lawyers have encountered when shifting to remote work has been finding ways to effectively and securely communicate and collaborate with colleagues and clients. In this article, I cover the tools that are the most helpful in facilitating secure communication and collaboration for lawyers who are working remotely, including videoconferencing tools, messaging platforms and secure online communication portals.
July: Legal billing software
Efficient and accurate legal billing is essential for law firms, but when a firm’s billing software is premises-based, then the transition to remote working can be a challenging one since remote access tools tend to be clunky and very unreliable. Thanks to cloud-based legal billing software, it’s possible to access the software and your firm’s data in the cloud, no matter where your firm’s workforce is located. With this type of software there are two choices: stand-alone versions or the billing tools built into law practice management software.
August: Time-tracking software
Before the pandemic, the old-school method of tracking time using a pen and paper timesheets would sometimes suffice, but no longer. Now, if you’d like to ensure that all time is captured and billed by your firm’s attorneys—even when employees are working remotely—your best option is to upgrade to a more streamlined and centralized cloud-based time-tracking system. Depending on your firm’s needs, there are a host of options available ranging from robust law practice management or legal billing software with built-in time-tracking features to stand-alone time-tracking software.
September: Contract review software
Contract review is grounded in machine learning and natural language processing and assists lawyers in analyzing contracts for their clients more effectively and efficiently, saving time and money. This type of software learns from new contracts, such as nondisclosure agreements, as they are uploaded into its database, and then compares the document under review against a multitude of similar documents contained in its database. The software analyzes the uploaded document and then typically provides a report that includes recommended revisions, including suggesting paragraphs that appear often in other contracts but are missing from the one uploaded and highlighting outlier paragraphs in the uploaded document that are atypical.
October: Litigation analytics software
Last, but not least, there’s litigation analytics software, which uses artificial intelligence to sift through, organize and analyze massive amounts of litigation data. After accessing relevant data sets, this software provides litigation attorneys with the information they need to make informed decisions. The types of analytics that are often provided include: 1) judicial analytics tools that offer insight into the rulings and decision-making processes of judges and can predict whether a particular type of motion will be successful if brought before a given judge, 2) law firm analytics, which provide an analysis of data relating to a given firm’s prior litigation history, including case outcomes, clients represented and the lawyers assigned to given cases, 3) company analytics that include data regarding its litigation history, such as lawsuits, outcomes and the law firms that handled the litigation, and 4) expert witness analytics that typically cover data about expert witnesses’ involvement in past litigation, including their CVs, which parties they testified for and whether their testimonies (or parts of it) were excluded.
Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York, attorney, author, journalist and the legal technology evangelist at MyCase, legal practice management software for small firms. She is the nationally recognized author of Cloud Computing for Lawyers and is co-author of Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier, both published by the American Bar Association. She also is co-author of Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes regular columns for ABAJournal.com, Above the Law and the Daily Record, has authored hundreds of articles for other publications, and regularly speaks at conferences regarding the intersection of law and emerging technologies. Follow her on Twitter @nikiblack, or she can be reached at [email protected].