I’m back from the LegalTech conference in Los Angeles where I met some great people and learned a lot about technology, mostly stuff geared for lawyers and legal professionals. I plan to post my impressions over the next few days, but here are some preliminary thoughts.
Conferences like these are attended by tech-savvy people, and not all of them lawyers. A lot of attendees were from the tech departments of mid-sized to large-sized law firms. It’s too bad that more lawyers don’t attend conferences like this one: there were several great programs that required no special tech-awareness. In fact, the session about ‘Coping with E-Mail Overload’ was one of the most useful programs I’ve seen recently. Obviously, you don’t have to be a techie to understand that E-Mail is something that needs to be carefully managed.
But as I said, there were a lot of tech-savvy people at the conference. So I spent a lot of time listening to their observations and I came away feeling like there were some recurrent themes:
- E-Discovery is hot, hot, hot. The vendor’s hall was teeming with people promising to solve attorneys’ E-Discovery problems. Of course, the biggest problem for an attorney faced with the problem of discovering digital information is figuring out a good strategy in the beginning of the case –i.e., one that takes into account inevitable tech-intricacies at the same time that it considers cost-effective ways of zeroing in on the truly key information, regardless of whether it is in digital form or not. Sadly, you can’t hire a vendor to develop a litigation strategy. And, in that vein, the best advice came from Bruce Wessel of Irell & Manella, who told lawyers at one of the keynote presentations that if they don’t understand technology then they should find a young attorney in their office who does understand it and get them involved in the discovery process.
- Training is desperately needed and almost completely overlooked. People who deal with lawyers and legal professionals understand better than anyone that technology is particularly frustrating to that group of people. When you are busy meeting deadlines and keeping track of billable hours, you don’t want to have to allocate time to learn about software. And, yet, much of the software that we use would allow us to leverage our limited time better if we only took the time to learn how to use it properly. Obviously, we need help or we’ll waste even more time trying to learn. Trainers, especially those who have experience in the legal field, can get us where we need to be. But, unfortunately, very few law firms grasp the importance of proper training. Inadequate training is the source of most technology problems that impede efficiency.
- Email is out of control. Everyone at this conference is adept at dealing with technology, and yet everyone agrees that E-Mail is not being managed properly. Spam gets a lot of press, but the real problem is more insidious: people don’t know how to manage the stream of regular, non-spam E-Mail that they get.
- Fast searching is the Next Big Thing. People have too many documents to deal with and they don’t have time to file them properly. Even if they do file them according to some system, they still need to be able to find information quickly without stopping to think about where it might be. Google has taught people the joys of broad searching, and has even brought that power to the desktop with Google Desktop. Other similar systems include X1, Copernic and Apple’s Spotlight technology.
Most of the lawyers who attended this conference would be regarded as tech-savvy, and yet, as I learned, many of them did not have any background that would have pre-disposed them to be adept at using technology (I suppose I fall in that category, being a Philosophy major prior to going to law school). Interestingly, many of these lawyers –especially some of the older ones– remarked that the thing that made it possible for them to embrace technology was something that their parents (usually their mother) had urged upon them: i.e., typing skills.
I’ve noticed that the first marker buoy in the so-called digital divide is based on typing skills, or the lack thereof. Most current technologies require some form of keyboard entry (e.g. E-Mail), and lawyers who lack typing skills are at a slight disadvantage. Well, it’s a disadvantage that used to be slight. Five or ten years from now it will probably be a huge disadvantage.