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TechnoLawyer's 2008 Predictions

By Neil J. Squillante | Monday, January 7, 2008


In past years, we have published the predictions of others. But this year we bring you our own predictions.

1. Viva Law Evolution!

Don't expect any revolutionary changes from 2007. Most of the lawyers who presided over law firms five years ago let alone one year ago remain in charge today. It takes decades for management to change across a profession. The old guard embraces new technology, but out of necessity, not because they grew up with a mouse in their hand.

Talk to me in 20 years when today's young lawyers (under age 35) are running the show. At that point, the differences from today will be dramatic. But then as now, the differences between 2027 and 2028 will be evolutionary, not revolutionary.

2. Apotheosis of the General Counsel

Years ago, few legal vendors had much interest in corporate counsel. Even today, it would seem to make more sense to pursue the 800,000 or so lawyers in private practice than the 100,000 or so in corporations. And plenty of vendors still do that. (See American Bar Association, Market Research Department.)

But with the rise of electronic discovery, corporate counsel find themselves in need of technology solutions that didn't exist five years ago. Chief among these — applications for archiving email and other documents in anticipation of lawsuits, and applications for preserving and culling relevant documents from these archives after being sued but before engaging outside counsel.

On the corporate end, vendors that provide document automation solutions have discovered just as much of a need exists in legal departments as in law firms. Also, the needs are not exactly the same.

This burgeoning market coupled with the relatively small number of lawyers in corporations means that they now wield considerable power. In this respect, their relationship with legal vendors has become increasingly like that of doctors with pharmaceutical companies. Expect the power of general counsel and their minions to grow in 2008.

3. Web Applications Inch Towards Greater Acceptance

Web applications will continue to make inroads in 2008, but they will not displace desktop software anytime soon.

A Web application can do almost anything a desktop application can do. And now that lawyers have become accustomed to online banking and online backups, concerns about confidentiality have largely vanished.

But several issues remain unclear.

First, while Web applications don't require an initial capital expenditure, they can end up costing more, particularly if a firm skips upgrades and doesn't work with consultants. Therefore, cost is ultimately a losing argument. Instead, Web application providers should focus on their inherent advantages — new features without installation hassles and ease of use.

Second, while every airplane will someday have WiFi, that day won't arrive in 2008. Will Google Gears or a similar technology enable lawyers to use legal Web applications without an Internet connection?

Third, a year ago desktop software had a key advantage over Web applications — their mobile counterparts worked better on smartphones. But Apple's iPhone proved that you could have a real Web browser on a smartphone.

Fourth, when will Microsoft release a Web version of Office? That will be a very good day for Web applications. It probably won't happen in 2008.

Fifth, who ultimately wins — startups or today's market leaders? Both probably. The legal technology market remains remarkably fragmented. While some market leaders will acquire Web applications, others will probably have no choice but to build their own since it's probably impossible to make a Web application look and feel like your desktop application unless you build it from the ground up that way. As with every inflection point, one or two of today's startups will become market leaders themselves.

4. PDF Cedes Some Power But Remains an Essential Format

The first revolution in discovery occurred when software enabled lawyers to convert paper into digital files. The TIFF format eventually gave way to PDF because of the latter's flexibility and ubiquity.

The second revolution is now underway and will gather steam in 2008 — software and Web applications that manage email and other electronic documents. Many of these solutions enable law firms to review documents in their native file format without having to buy the original software programs.

When law firms employ such solutions, PDF doesn't play a role during the review process — except of course for scanned paper documents. Instead, it only serves as an export option for production, depositions, and trials.

While PDF may no longer have the spotlight all to itself in discovery, it remains the top dog for law firm records management. The certification of PDF/A as the preferred format for long-term storage pretty much ended whatever prospects competing formats may have had in this area.

5. Print Publications Pass Their Prime

Let me start by revealing two embarrassing mistakes, one from long ago and one recent.

When I put together our first media kit (a term of art to describe a document that lists advertising rates) in 1998, the cover depicted our mascot Netsquire (half computer, half lawyer), placing Web banners in garbage cans. The message was that our marketing opportunities were more effective than Web banners.

All well and good except in 1998 virtually all advertising dollars were spent on print ads, not Web banners. Wrong target. Oops.

Last summer as we geared up to release our eBook we hired a public relations firm to generate coverage among the major legal print publications. We thought the simultaneous launch of an eBook on 77 Web sites would be newsworthy.

We soon learned what should have been obvious — these publications don't cover events like this or even review eBooks for that matter. That's what online publications do. You know, like TechnoLawyer. And blogs. Duh. To this day, no print publications have covered our eBook.

In 2008, online legal publications will continue to apply pressure to mainstream legal print publications.

For example, note the rapid rise of Above the Law in which David Lat singlehandedly covers the dark underbelly of large law firm life as no print publication would dare. David is the Matt Drudge of the legal world.

Above the Law costs a fraction of what it costs to produce a print publication, which means it can thrive on a fraction of the revenue that print publications need.

This example underscores why print publications cannot simply shift their business model online — as uninformed armchair quarterbacks often suggest. The dollars online don't measure up. And whatever dollars do exist online, 30-40% go to Google.

The economics of the online world — lower advertising rates, measurable return on investment demanded by advertisers, and few if any subscription opportunities — benefit publications built from the ground up with these facts in mind.

Perhaps most vulnerable are print legal technology publications. Last year, James Publishing pulled the plug on Law Office Computing, which relied on subscription revenue.

The free publications are better situated. However, even if they overcome the cost structure problems outlined above, they face one insurmountable problem — you cannot click on a Web address printed on paper. Don't laugh. It's not a joke. It's a serious problem for a technology publication.

6. Others' Predictions

Finally, a few predictions relayed to me by others:

• A solo independent legal technology consultant confided in me that he and others like him are the last of a dying breed.

Brian Ritchey of More Partner Income predicts good times for bankruptcy and voting rights lawyers, more law firm mergers and practice group acquisitions, increasing use of business intelligence tools, the quasi-death of the billable hour, and minimal impact on lawyers by a recession.

John Wallbillich of The Wired GC predicts corporations will tighten legal spending and more law firm mergers.

Kevin O'Keefe of Real Lawyers Have Blogs predicts that savvy law firms will incorporate social networking into their marketing plans. He also predicts that law firm marketing managers who dismiss this form of marketing and don't seek expert help risk losing their job.

About TechnoEditorials
A TechnoEditorial is the vehicle through which we opine and provide tips of interest to managing partners, law firm administrators, and others in the legal profession. TechnoEditorials appear first in TechnoGuide, and later here in TechnoLawyer Blog. TechnoGuide, which is free, also contains exclusive content. You can subscribe here.

Topics: Business Productivity/Word Processing | Litigation/Discovery/Trials | Online/Cloud | Technology Industry/Legal Profession | TL Editorial
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