Avansic's Newest Whitepaper: Trends in Legal Technology
08-16-2011, Avansic - Corporate
Trends in Legal Technology

The American Bar Association recently released the 2011 Legal Technology Survey Report, and the results align with many of the legal technology trends in the news. The report indicates that more attorneys are using their cell phones and tablets to communicate with their clients and conduct their legal business.

Many are using those same devices to consult social media sites and blogs to find the latest news and happenings in the legal profession. Increasing numbers are also creating their own blogs about legal issues and posting on social media sites about current events in their profession. Although not surprising, this survey is a concrete reminder about the true importance of technology in the modern legal world.

One of the more interesting findings of the survey is that legal professionals are increasingly utilizing “Software as a Service,” or SaaS (also known as “Application Service Providers”). SaaS has many definitions, but is most often known as on-demand software where both the programs and their associated data are hosted outside the law firm and can be accessed using the internet. An example of SaaS is Gmail or Hotmail – in both instances, a user's actual email data and the program that sorts and organizes that data is not contained on the user's computer. Instead, they access their information using a web browser.

This type of arrangement has also been called using “the cloud.” A good example of a software-as-a-service arrangement that relies on the cloud is DropBox, where users can store and access large files on the internet. Note that the terms SaaS and the cloud may not always be interchangeable: SaaS applications are almost always in some type of cloud environment, but not all cloud applications fall under the definition of SaaS. A key element of the cloud is that users typically do not know where their data resides and that may not ideal for certain SaaS applications.

Law firms are taking advantage of the cloud and SaaS in a number of ways. Some are moving their archived data to be stored in the cloud and some are outsourcing portions of their IT distribution and administration. But the most significant use of SaaS by legal professionals is online document review systems for e-discovery projects. The number of options has increased dramatically in the recent past and the tools on the market have a variety of different feature and pricing levels. Most importantly, these systems allow litigation teams to access their data anytime and from anywhere with an internet connection. This directly addresses the responses from the ABA's survey section on SaaS, who “said the most important benefit is browser access from anywhere, followed by availability at any time, day or night.” [“ABA releases tech survey,” Correy Stephenson, Lawyers USA, 2011.]

Most document review systems can be purchased from a licensed provider and hosted at the vendor or within a law firm: examples include iCONECT, Concordance FYI, RingTail, Relativity, and ClearWell. Features are being continually added to these programs in order to keep up with the newest demands of the review market. Although each tool has a very different architecture and pricing model, they all include basic functionalities such as labeling, sorting, searching, viewing native documents, viewing metadata, and showing document statistics. Each has a distinct layout and user experience.

Attorneys should choose their review system carefully since it can be a major factor in meeting budgetary and timeline requirements for their case. Pricing varies widely but is typically calculated by user, by gigabyte, by case, or any combination thereof; potential customers should be careful of hidden costs in loading or producing data. Some of these tools can only handle databases of a certain size, meaning that if a case grows beyond its original scale attorneys may have to contend with multiple databases – this can significantly impact the ability to search and produce documents.

Ease of use and ease of access is critical since attorneys spend large amounts of time interacting with the program; the ABA survey stated that “Lawyers who have not used SaaS said they were most concerned about being unfamiliar with the technology, issues of security and confidentiality and third-party hosting concerns.” Confidentiality, availability, and integrity, and data hosting are all issues to address when researching potential vendors. Security includes the physical security of the data and how users access and administer the system. Confidentiality concerns include the location of data and the ability of anyone that touches the data to sign a protective order (i.e., IT personnel). Availability is affected by bandwidth and internet connections both within a firm and to/from a vendor. All of issues are important whether a firm is looking for an in-house solution or using a licensed provider. Thorough investigation of online document review offerings is especially important when there are several Licensed Service Providers for the same piece of software.

The final online review decision should consider the user's experience, the amount of data for a certain case, the type of review (plaintiff, privilege, etc.), and the necessary viewing and sorting features. Any additional steps that attorneys can take to speed the review process will translate to savings for their clients and a more cohesive and usable data set for their case. In this case, following the trend of increased use of legal technology can smooth the process of litigation.