Top Five Under-the-Radar Legal Technology Trends That Law Firms Need to Know About
August 3, 2020
Today's issue of TechnoLawyer explores five legal technology trends that the pundit class has ignored but which you need to know about — AI-based legal writing, the golden age of legal documents, online conferences, Apple CPU laptops, and word processing censorship.
Top Five Under-the-Radar Legal Technology Trends That Law Firms Need to Know About
The downside of our BlawgWorld newsletter is that we can only aggregate what exists. In this issue of TechnoLawyer, I discuss five under-the-radar developments in legal technology that have (largely) escaped the attention of the legal industry's pundit class.
1. AI-Based Legal Writing Is Closer Than You Think
OpenAI is the Silcon Valley equivalent of a super group with both star talent and star financiers (Elon Musk and Peter Thiel among others).
Recently, the company unveiled GPT-3, an API that makes it relatively easy to add AI-based text generation to a software product. Early experiments suggest that GPT-3 is a significant leap forward. For example, it can write computer code and marketing copy.
Earlier this year, Casetext launched Compose, AI software that automatically writes a first draft of a brief or at least its bones. This helped the company close $8.2 million in additional financing to expand Compose's motion practice portfolio.
Casetext is an OpenAI customer. The company uses one of OpenAI's services for its CARA brief analysis tool.
But what about Compose and GPT-3? I reached out to CEO Jake Heller who responds:
Today GPT-3 is being using internally to help us get all the citations necessary for each argument/legal standard. In the near future, we will be trying it for text generation/prediction within the writing system, helping with Parallel Search, and many other features.
Parallel Search is the company's own AI technology that finds supporting case law based on concepts rather than keywords. Try it here.
There's no question that brief writing automation will exist. But some important questions remain. How much work will litigators have to do versus the AI? Will many companies offer solutions that use widely available AI technology such as GPT-3 or does Casetext possess important proprietary technology and/or pending patents?
2. You're Practicing in the Golden Age of Legal Documents
We recently collaborated on a Learnpaper with DocsCorp called Key Technology Trends Driving the Golden Age of Legal Documents. I came up with the "golden age" language as I think it perfectly sums up the current era.
Remember that old political wisdom, "It's the economy, stupid!" In the legal market, "It's the documents, stupid!" While "legal innovation" is getting all the headlines these days (beware grifter consultants), new legal document solutions with measurable productivity gains are flying way below the radar. Some examples:
  • Documate, Knackly, Lawyaw, and Woodpecker are web-based document automation apps that generate Word documents. Did I miss any startups? Industry giant HotDocs also supports the cloud for end users.
  • When it launches, LexWorkplace will become only the second web-based document management system designed for the legal market. The other one is NetDocuments, which launched in 1998. Will the floodgates now open? Read our Learnpaper interview of CEO Dennis Dimka.
  • The convenience of the cloud isn't really about the web. It's about replacing a local server with a datacenter connected to the Internet. DocMoto started as a Mac-based document management system requiring a server but most users now host their data in the cloud. With version 5, the company offers native apps for both Mac and Windows and is betting that law firms prefer native software over using using a web browser, especially for managing Word, PDF, and other documents.
  • Back to DocsCorp, I've always liked that fact that it sells to solos and mega firms alike. The company has doubled down on integrations this year.
There are too many new products in this space to list and I'm sure many exist that I don't know about. Reply if you have started using a new product related to legal documents, including one of the above.
3. Online Conferences Will Surprise Their Owners
Thanks to COVID-19, virtually all legal conferences announced cancellations starting in mid-March. Since then, conference owners have announced virtual conferences as replacements, most notably ABA TECHSHOW, Clio Cloud Conference, and ILTACon. These conferences may think they're making the best of a bad situation but I think they're in for a pleasant surprise.
Look at the data from the past few months. Movie and music releases from established franchises have performed well despite movie theater and concert hall closures. Apple just reported a blowout quarter despite many of its stores being closed. Most importantly, online meetings have become normal experiences for countless lawyers.
We will soon find out whether lawyers primarily attend conferences for the networking or the education. I'm betting on the latter.
Convenience and price are also important factors. Think of the number of people who consider attending these conferences but decide against it because of the travel or price.
The above three conferences have all dramatically lowered their prices given their own lower costs. For example, the 2019 Clio Cloud Conference in San Diego cost $999 - $1,299. By contrast, this year's virtual conference costs $199 - $299.
4. An Apple in Every Law Firm, Well Maybe 40%
Apple's stock price has skyrocketed this year for several reasons but one spike occurred after it announced it would move all Macs to its own ARM-based chips starting this year. I cannot overstate the importance of this news.
A sizable number of people, myself included, still look at benchmarks when we buy a Mac or PC but ignore them when we buy an iPhone or iPad. Part of this stems from the fact that Apple's A-series chips consistently lead Qualcomm and other Android suppliers by a wide margin year after year. If you buy the latest iPhone, you know you're going to get industry-best performance. No need to conduct any research.
Macs with an Apple CPU will offer improved speed, laptop battery life, and security. If performance and battery life make unprecedented gains that leave Intel-based Windows PCs in the dust, Apple finally stands a chance to make inroads at law firms, especially smaller firms.
According to our own data, 33% of TechnoLawyers use Macs and 77% use Windows PCs (some of you obviously work in firms that use both). This comports with the ABA's data in terms of Windows' continued dominance. However, most lawyers are already Apple customers — 58% of TechnoLawyers use an iPhone and 53% use an iPad.
Think about recent developments — more software running in the cloud, more lawyers working from home, and more cross-platform support than ever with Microsoft 365 as a prime example.
This video overview featuring Apple's CPU boss Johny Srouji is worth watching.
5. Law Firms Need to Prevent Word Processing Censorship
I've been running into so many Google Docs-based companies lately that I now ask if they want a document in Word or GDocs format. Therefore, I was tempted to predict the rise of Google Docs in law firms. In fact, Google Docs is gaining in law firms but I think word will eventually get out that it's too risky.
Google's terms of service for G Suite give it the power to ban a document if its contents violate Google's Acceptable Use Policy. This is unacceptable for law firms. A word processor should not have opinions.
The fundamental problem with Google Docs is that you cannot store documents outside of Google Drive. In 2017, Google locked countless documents because of an "error" that flagged the documents as violating its terms of service. Google's mea culpa confirms that an algorithm can block access to your own documents.
Google now gives you 24 hours to correct a "problem" but a busy lawyer could easily miss that deadline. And what if the "problem" is central to your document? Imagine losing access to a brief right before a deadline.
Microsoft has similar terms but you can store Word documents anywhere and you can open them with many third-party products. Therefore, Microsoft Word is the wiser choice for law firms. However, do not use Microsoft's OneDrive for document storage. Instead, use DocMoto, LexWorkplace, NetDocuments, etc.
Come to think of it, WordPerfect is an even safer choice for word processing. Version 2020 just launched and remains as local and private as ever. Back to the future!
Meet Neil J. Squillante
Neil J. Squillante is the founder and publisher of TechnoLawyer, an award-winning network of free email newsletters for lawyers and law office administrators. Many consider TechnoLawyer newsletters the only ones they need. A Fastcase 50 award winner, Neil has a long track record of inventing successful advertising and publishing technologies and related best practices. Previously, Neil practiced commercial litigation at Am Law 100 firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher. He received his J.D. from UCLA School of Law and his B.A. from Duke University. At UCLA, Neil served as a Managing Editor of UCLA Law Review.
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