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Legal Technology’s Changing Landscape

A key focus for today’s CIO is how to remain relevant while navigating the complex world of IT management. Knowing and understanding the latest technology and business trends means not only self-preservation of the IT leadership position, but ensuring your company remains competitive in the marketplace.

Reflecting back over my 25-year career in legal IT career, the landscape has changed dramatically.  CIOs in manufacturing, healthcare, professional services, and government whose career has spanned a a few decades will have similar stories.

In the early days of my career, institutional law firms were using a mini-computer platform, typically the Wang VS (rest its soul…). You could produce a document, save and search documents, produce a bill, and engage in accounting practices. And that was about it. Personal computers hadn’t yet entered the scene, and while there was some electronic research available, most of it was done in extensive law libraries on premise.

Then Wang went bankrupt, and overnight law firms were thrust into the fledgling world of local area networks. I built the first one (Novell, rest its soul…..) at my first law firm. Suddenly, lawyers had at their fingertips the power of personal computing – very similar to what they had at home – and the market responded accordingly producing a plethora of legal specific software that could run on a LAN/WAN.

For IT, the transition was challenging; we were no longer a back of the house operation. The front of the house needed not only more attention but more in terms of solutions.

IT needed to be more strategic, and some CIOs did it better than others.

The next sweeping change came with the demise of Novell and the WordPerfect Suite, unable to stop the Microsoft behemoth. The landscape settled into predictability. By and large, attorneys began universally using Microsoft Products, marrying them with specific legal applications via SQL and MS Server.

Where we’ve been

Then in 2008, the world broke.

Banks tanked, real estate tanked, the economy tanked. For an industry that billed time like they were Pirates of the Caribbean, this was earth shattering.

But the news wasn’t all bad, because 2008 also saw the advent of Cloud Computing and the iPhone.  Blackberry cornered the market on law firm mobility but offered little more than remote email. The iPhone ushered in mobile computing tied to the cloud. In an atmosphere where clients began pushing back on the billable hour and the exorbitant fees charged for faxes, copies, and the like, mobility and the Cloud were ways to leverage technology and make clients happy.

And, they expected it. They wanted attorneys to be more collaborative and available, and the Cloud enabled the industry to meet those expectations. Again, legal wasn’t the only industry adapting to these technologies; think about the way we bank and interact with our physicians and receive medical care has evolved in the last decade.

Where we’re headed

So, what’s next?  According to Legalis there are five trends to watch.

I’d agree that the advent of global law will require different technology solutions, as will proactive risk management for clients. I disagree when it comes to their document management predictions, as most firms have been engaging in document management and document assembly for decades.

That being said, moving documents to the Cloud is becoming the norm, certainly more so that it was 10 years ago when I moved my firm’s 600,000 documents to the Cloud!

AI will undoubtedly move to the forefront in the coming years, particularly as it relates to e-discovery.  The tonnage of data typically available in email (ask Robert Mueller about that) for discovery has long required robust analytics, but the tools have been limited to complex search algorithms.

While that’s important, enabling artificial intelligence to analyze content and make decisions about what is discoverable means technology stands to reduce the number of eyes traditionally required to make those decisions.  

AI will never replace lawyers in the discovery process, but like all valuable technology it can make the process far more efficient. In the frighteningly expensive area of litigation, AI is a potentially disruptive technology.  This article from the ABA Journal provides a glimpse into the future of legal.

So begins your journey as a CIO in 2018; remain relevant.  

Whatever your vertical, there is technology out there that will make it more competitive.  

I go back to my Wang days. In the death throes of the organization, they produced some of their greatest technology including a system where you could use a tablet connected to your PC to make written annotations to documents, and using workflow, route those documents to the next person. This level of efficiency was unheard of in the late 90s. Their last word processing software, called UpWord, was as good as anything on the market today. I got an early copy of it for evaluation, but I knew it would go no further than a PC. They were at the end.

Don’t let it happen to your organization.  Remain relevant.


Chris Romano"> Chris Romano
Chris Romano, a former CIO, spent 25 years working for lawyers, so he’s going to hell when he dies. In between binge watching Bloomberg News and The Simpsons he continues to look for gainful employment. Offers or soul crushing rejections can reach him at cromano34@hotmail.com.
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