ABA Techshow

How automation can make or break your law firm

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Domination in the legal field today boils down to a rule of three: You need smart people, smart data and a smart business practice, says Bruce Karlson, the CEO of Word-Tech, a task automation company based in Kansas.

“The smart firms will use this as a pipeline for new business,” Karlson says.

It’s the second day of the ABA Techshow 2024 in Chicago, and Karlson and hundreds of other eager attorneys and legal tech exhibitors were attending panels on topics ranging from automation to cyberattacks to generative artificial intelligence.

They were also mingling through tech booths fielded by vendors attempting to lure prospective users in with everything from knowledge to swag, including fancy notepads and coveted Apple AirPods.

But the real reason why attorneys and tech innovators gathered appeared to be a singular one: The legal arena, once a sluggish, slow-to-adapt to tech field, is snowballing into a zone where automation can make or break a law firm.

“It used to be a reactive business model,” Karlson says.

A firm was hired, it did its job, and it waited for the next phone call. Not anymore.

Today, he says, “the old data is the new oil.”

A firm needs a way to automate that data to create a streamlined business practice that it can use as a pipeline for new customers. The firm that has smart data and smart ways to process the work and the ability to keep the cost down will win.

That’s the reason why Beckie Pettis, the co-founder of Pettis Webber Pacific, a 21-person estate planning firm in Vancouver, Washington, was attending her first legal tech conference. While her firm already uses a few generative AI tools, she is hoping to learn about more that will help her firm become even more powerful—without adding additional risk.

“I want a more specific awareness of the AI tools for the purposes of streamlining better legal production and design, plus better client experiences at a higher caliber,” Pettis says.

Follow along with the ABA Journal’s coverage of the ABA Techshow 2024 here.

Sarah Gardiner, the marketing manager of Caret Legal, attended with her team to educate firms about the brand—despite the slew of competitors literally surrounding her booth.

Gardiner points out that her company does technology and automation—a problem that she thinks most attorneys are seeking to solve.

“A lot of them are stuck in the processes in place that they already have, but they’re interested in seeing what’s out there, if there’s another solution that can meet their needs,” Gardiner says, adding that automation is the most pressing need.

“Some don’t even notice how often they’re doing the same thing over and over again, but you can streamline things,” she says.

Brian Zimmet, the founder of the Zimmet Law Group, a 10-person family law, real estate and estate planning firm in New York and New Jersey, has made his way to the ABA Techshow for the past seven years for this specific reason.

He didn’t want to be left behind when it came to technology and made it his goal to stay on top of it, attending every panel, lecture and demonstration that he could during his attendance at this year’s event.

“I love the technology. It makes me better at what I do,” says Zimmet during his lunch break. “It’s critical. Without it, you really can’t compete.”

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