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Every year brings fresh promise of new technologies to benefit the legal profession. And every year I look into the crystal ball to spot the key trends in legal technology for the year. I’m making some predictions for legal technology this year. I’ve also tapped six legal technology experts to get their predictions. MY PREDICTIONS 1. Incrementalism: 2001 will be a year of fine-tuning and improvements rather than a year of great innovation or change. For example, a new version of Microsoft Office will hit the shelves in 2001, but most users will find themselves hard-pressed to identify any must-have features. Expect most software releases to consist of incremental releases rather than blockbuster releases. 2. Outliners: 2001 will mark the return of outlining tools for lawyers. Lawyers love outlines, but the quality of outlining software has been lackluster in recent years — most lawyers find the outlining features of Word and WordPerfect inadequate. Outliners, which have become a hot tool on Palm devices (I use BrainForest — www.aportis.com), will make a return to PCs as well. Indeed, some defunct outliners from years past are now available at www.outliners.com). More importantly, CaseSoft, makers of CaseMap and TimeMap, will ship a general purpose outlining tool called NoteMap in 2001. Outliners constitute a valuable piece of the information overload puzzle by enabling people to engage in what I call “personal knowledge management.” 3. Security, security, security: It’s dangerous out there, especially with full-time Internet connections. Most networks have significant security vulnerabilities and the security measures at many firms remain less than state-of-the-art. Security requires constant attention and effort. Look for some scary stories of security problems at law firms in 2001. Don’t let one of the stories be about you. 4. Remote access: Remote access isn’t just for those on the road anymore. The real benefit of remote access to office systems consists of the ability to work from home — in bad weather, when a child has fallen ill, or to avoid a trip into the office on a weekend. Many affordable tools and methods are available. All lawyers and firms can benefit from remote access and I expect a big increase in the numbers of lawyers with remote access. Be aware, though, that attention to security issues is mandatory in any remote access setup. 5. Moving the practice onto the Web: I consider the e-commerce practice of law found at www.desktoplawyer.comone of the most thought-provoking developments in legal technology in 2000. It offers a glimpse of the future. A number of large firms have implemented extranets that deliver information and services to clients via the Internet. As we move to the next generation of law firm Web sites, watch for innovative uses of the Web for delivery of legal services and for marketing. 6. Just coming onto the radar screen in 2001: open source. By the end of 2001, look for interest from law firms in Linux and the Star Office suite, and the unveiling of legal software developed under the Open Source approach. THE PREDICTIONS OF MY PEERS Wells Anderson, a legal technology consultant based in Minneapolis and found on the Web at www.wellslegaltech.com, writes:
First, more lawyers will use videoconferencing over the Web. Though not the same as being there, videoconferences eliminate unproductive travel time. As more clients and small firms obtain high-speed Internet access, lawyers will share documents, whiteboards, and live video from their desks. Second, the public will turn increasingly to free legal information and low-cost legal advice on the Web. To remain competitive, lawyers will automate simple legal services and charge less for them.

Jeffrey Beard, Legal Technologist at Milwaukee’s Quarles & Brady, and legal technology columnist for American Lawyer Media and Law.com, writes:

Look for embedded speech recognition to hit mobile devices within twelve to eighteen months, particularly in cell phones. Watch for developments from companies like Voice Signal Technologies www.voicesignal.com, which already works with interactive toy manufacturers and GE for embedding speech recognition systems in microwave ovens and other appliances. Let’s hope it’s more than just ‘hot talk!’ Next, as handheld computer microprocessors become faster and more powerful, the mass technology convergence will generate even more ‘jack-of-all-trades’ types of devices, with the lines blurring significantly among cell phones, personal organizers, wireless messengers, personal entertainment devices, and even consumer appliances.

Stephen Bour, a legal technology consultant based in Indianapolis, writes:

First, lawyers trying small cases as well as large will benefit by routinely scanning discovery documents, medical records, and exhibits to disk because retrieving, sharing, and physically transporting paperless copies is more efficient and less expensive than working with stacks of hard copies. Second, video depositions will be stored on disk instead of on tape, making for fast review and direct access to any portion of the deposition as well as easy computer editing of excerpt clips. Third, legal professionals will regularly use computers to display documents, photographs and videos in court.

Jerry Lawson, a lawyer, Internet expert, and author of “The Complete Internet Handbook for Lawyers,” available at www.netlawtools.com, writes:

First, more small law firms will realize that the Internet exists not just as a place to generate business, but as a place to do business. While they may not be appropriate for ultra-sensitive matters, services like Visto www.visto.comoffer a cheap, easy way for smaller law firms to use intranets for client service. Second, the furor over the FBI’s Carnivore e-mail surveillance system will make law firms and their clients more aware of the need for e-mail security measures. Third, some lawyers will fall into the trap of equating the crash of Internet stocks with the value of the Internet to lawyers. Underestimating the future business impact of the Internet would be just as unwise as assuming in 1910 that horseless carriages would be just a fad.

Wendy Leibowitz ( www.wendytech.com), the legal technology columnist for Pro2net.com and former legal technology columnist for the National Law Journal,writes:

1) The recent election chaos will produce much interest in voting technologies. All methods of decision-making technologies will come under increased scrutiny. 2) While we’re pondering the mechanics of our national democracy, it’s worth looking at the antiquated ways that many law firms make decisions, especially technology-related decisions. Generally, there’s an exhaustive examination of what’s out there, what it does, why, what the firm wants to do, what we should want to do — and then a vote to postpone a decision, or to buy what’s cheapest. This process can and should be improved. 3) Groupware technologies — anything that facilitates client-lawyer decision-making — will grow in use, reliability, and sophistication. Might be extranets, might be virtual deal rooms, might be threaded e-mail discussions and targeted electronic discussion groups, but it’ll be better than the ‘fax and copy sent by postal mail’ method.

Alan Pearlman, a lawyer and legal technology expert known as ” The Electronic Lawyer,” writes:

1) The Application Service Provider, or ASP, market will become a lot stronger, but ASPs must prove themselves to attorneys. Too many lawyers remain quite afraid to have their confidential data floating around in cyberspace. 2) We will finally see, towards the fourth quarter of 2001, a new breed of PDA — an all-in-one handheld computer and digital phone. 3) More people will carry around a digital camera at a cost of around $80. Take a look at the Aiptek Pen Cam Trio www.Aiptek.com! It is a PC cam, a digital cam and a digital camcorder — all for $79.95, and the size of a marker that I carry in my shirt pocket.

TECHNOLOGY FOR THE BETTER The above observations should give you some good ideas and help shape your technology plans for 2001. I want to close with something that Wendy Leibowitz mentioned on her “wish list” for legal technology and something with which I fully agree. We’d like to see technology used in the legal profession to provide better and cheaper services to those who can’t afford lawyers. That’s really something worth thinking about in 2001. Dennis Kennedyis an attorney who writes and speaks frequently on Internet and legal technology topics. He practices in the Intellectual Property and Information Technology Department at Thompson Coburn in St. Louis. Dennis has collected many of his articles on legal technology on the Web. This article originated in The TechnoLawyer Community, a free online community in which legal professionals share information about business and technology issues, products, and services, often developing valuable business relationships in the process. To join The TechnoLawyer Community, visit www.technolawyer.com.

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