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Checklist for Updating Your Law Office Technologies

Usually, technology evolves faster than the law firm. Sometimes, however, law firms evolve faster than their technologies.

This can be a good thing because it may be a sign a law firm is growing. At the same time, lagging technology may be one of the growing pains.

In any case, it is important to assess the firm's technologies from time to time because technology always affects the bottom line. Technology can increase profits if it increases productivity, but it can also cost more than it's worth if it is not efficient.

Here's a checklist for updating your law office technologies:

Analytics Offers You Can't Refuse

If you thought you could ignore business analytics in your law practice, well, analyze this:

Big Data, with more than 25 billion smart devices on the Internet of Everything, is getting bigger by the nano-second. Not even Big Brother can ignore the need for analytics to handle the information overload.

Take, for example, the case of Gary Pusey. He pleaded guilty to insider trading last year after the Securities and Exchange Commission identified him by using analytics to pour though billions of rows of data going back 15 years. The Analysis and Detection Center of the SEC's Market Abuse Unit uses the software to identify individuals who have made repeated, well-timed trades ahead of corporate news.

Basically, they made him an offer he couldn't refuse. So it is with business analytics: you just have to accept it. Here are some reality checks:

The legal industry isn't winning many awards for diversity. The industry as a whole is severely lacking in racial diversity and gender parity, for example, while there are long-running and well-documented disparities in criminal outcomes across racial lines. What's worse, those disparities are growing. The racial gap in sentencing has expanded between 2005 and 2013, according to federal reports.

But some think that technology might be able to solve, or at least mitigate, some of the legal practice's most stubborn biases. In a recent article in the Observer, diversity consultant Monique Tallon looked at how the legal tech industry is confronting bias in the law. Here are some of the highlights.

Federal prosecutors have charged three Chinese citizens with insider trading that netted them more than $4 million in illegal profits.

But these weren't your typical tippees. The men didn't get their insider scoops from their family, friends, or colleagues. They got it from hacking into at least two New York law firms, stealing the emails of M&A partners, and trading on the information they found.

You've probably heard the buzz about so-called 'smart contracts.' These contracts resemble computer code more than typical legal documents, relying on programing to create, facilitate, or execute contracts, with the contracts and conditions stored on a blockchain, or a distributed, relatively unhackable ledger. The technology is considered so promising that PC Magazine recently declared 2017 to be "The Year of Smart Contracts."

But some are questioning whether smart contracts, alone, really are the future. Kevin Gidney, the co-founder and CTO of Seal Software, recently argued that contracts must be intelligent, not smart. Intelligent as in "artificial intelligence," that is.

Data analytics and the law is a burgeoning, promising field. Lawyers can use data analytics to help sift through discovery, identifying responsive documents faster and easier, for example. They can apply analytics to monitoring client communication, gathering valuable insights into their top clients. There are even services that will sift through data on individual judges, letting you know how quickly you can expect a decision on that motion.

And now, there's a new analytics service that crunches the numbers for entire court systems. Ravel Law, a San Francisco-based legal analytics startup, launched its new Court Analytics service last week, which can spot patterns and pull out insights for jurisdictions as a whole.

Competition is heating up in the email killing space, with office communication platforms gaining serious attention from major technology companies. In the past few months, Microsoft has rolled out Microsoft Teams, a "chat-based workspace" allowing online collaboration, and Facebook unveiled Workplace, or Facebook for your office. Both products take aim at Slack, the collaborative communication startup that allows professionals to chat, send messages, and share files. Now Slack is fighting back, announcing a new partnership with Google and more seamless integration with Google's online tools.

So, will any of this impact how you do business? Probably, in time.

You're probably familiar with how data analytics can speed up the eDiscovery process, helping attorneys quickly review documents for responsiveness. You may have heard about how "big data" can be mined to improve law firm practices, helping lawyers monitor clients and improve their efficiency. You probably also know of legal tech companies who are mining data in order to make legal services and research faster, better, and more automated. In sum, there's a lot that data analytics can do for lawyers.

But can data analytics help you in trial prep as well?

Black Friday shoppers in San Francisco were able to hop on the city's light rail system for free last week, after the city's Muni transit system fell victim to a ransomware attack. Ransomware infected about a quarter of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's computers, encrypting their files on Friday.

The hack shut down many ticketing kiosks for days, giving San Francisco straphangers a free ride for the weekend, as hackers demanded a bitcoin ransom worth $73,000.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are the future of the law, or at least of legal research, we're told. Hi-tech algorithms will soon reduce time spent flipping through irrelevant caselaw, allowing lawyers to pinpoint the best research in just seconds. There are a host of traditional research companies and legal tech startups vying to be on the forefront of this developing technology and AI-powered research has already been embraced, if cautiously, by a few of the country's biggest firms.

But not everyone is convinced that research powered by machine intelligence will actually yield intelligent results.