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Top Five Technology Trends That Will Change the Legal Industry [#Cloud]

Technology is quickly becoming an influential member of the practice

From the way legal teams prepare for trial to how they communicate with clients and other professionals, technology is quickly becoming an influential member of the practice. However, even in today's technology-driven world, not all firms can label themselves tech savvy. To help those firms integrate technology into their businesses, this article explores the top five technology trends presented by the American Bar Association's 2013 Tech Report to keep an eye on for the future of successful law firms and professionals.

Mobile Usage on the Rise: With 79 percent of small firms using smartphones for work purposes, and 45 percent using tablets, the recent mobility explosion has caused exponential growth in mobile usage in the legal industry. Mobile usage allows lawyers to be...well, mobile. With everything attorneys need from calendars to documents to emails at the tips of their fingers (or bottoms of their pockets), these devices now allow them to work on anything, anytime, anywhere.

Additionally, mobile devices are changing the way lawyers work on each case from start to finish. As Dallas-based lawyer Tom Mighell says in a 2013 Illinois Bar Journal article, "You can do client intake on an iPad and take notes on it when you're meeting, tally deadlines, review documents, review and take depositions, review transcripts, conduct jury selections [and] you have access to a number of trial presentation apps to help you present evidence in the courtroom." In other words, everything you need to be a successful lawyer can now live in the palm of your hand.

However, as mobile usage continues to grow in both large and small firms, so do the security concerns that surround each device, so make sure to establish mobile device security polices that determine how mobile devices can and should be used in the workplace.

Cloud Computing Set to Increase: Law firms are now gravitating toward cloud computing because it gives them the ability to access information and communicate anywhere, anytime - an advantage in a profession that requires employees to work outside of the office. In fact, 29 percent of solo and small firms reported using cloud computing, and nearly 15 percent of firms with more than 500 attorneys have reported utilizing some form of cloud computing as well. Law firms find the cloud beneficial because it doesn't require a large capital investment in hardware and infrastructure. However, security challenges regarding the cloud should always be top of mind for businesses.

Online Research Made Easy: In the past, lawyers had to physically spend hours in libraries conducting research; today is a completely different story. With many print resources going digital and the availability of e-books, more legal research can be conducted online - saving employees a significant amount of time.

Social Media: Networking has always been a big part of the legal profession, but the availability of numerous online communication channels will change the way attorneys connect with each other and with clients. Additionally, social media outlets act as free marketing tools, allowing small and large firms to spread the word out about their businesses to a larger audience, potentially bringing in more clients.

Additionally, courtroom coverage via social media and blogs will also change the legal industry, allowing attorneys and the public to follow trials online.

Data Protection and Business Continuity Planning: As technology use increases, so, too, does the need for data protection and business continuity planning. Law firms handle massive amounts of sensitive data, and any breach or loss of access can set a firm up for disaster. New technologies for Disaster Recovery, also called Recovery-as-a-Service, will help law firms implement a business continuity strategy with minimum complexity and time commitment. This gives firms peace of mind, while ensuring that valuable data and applications are protected and that employees can continue working even in face of an IT outage or natural disaster.

What do these trends mean for your legal practice? Attorneys must educate themselves about how to secure data, thwart security threats and avoid practice interruption in case a disaster strikes.  While technology provides great opportunities for the legal profession, it also brings risks that must be dealt with in order for firms to stay in compliance and maintain their business.

We've seen firsthand the impact that application downtime, be it due to a virus, a computer crash or a natural disaster, have on firms that are not fully prepared. As you look at the technology trends for law firms and plan your IT budget accordingly, make sure you also follow these five simple steps to ensure your staff will remain productive, even if there is an event that could potentially disrupt your technology environment:

  1. Create a disaster recovery plan: This could be as simple as a listing of all critical phone numbers and the contact information of all employees together with key processes to be followed in case the office needs to be evacuated.
  2. Protect your critical data: Running out of the office with tape backups or hard drives under your arm because the sprinklers suddenly came alive is not good protection. Implement a data protection solution that securely stores your data off-site.
  3. Ensure application continuity: Look for a solution that allows your employees to continue accessing key applications like your case management system, financials and CRM even if your office is unavailable.
  4. Test frequently: Ensure your disaster recovery procedures are current and actually work by testing them at least quarterly. Involve different areas of the company and test not only steps for restoring data, but for application and server virtualization as well.
  5. Make disaster recovery a priority: To ensure proper procedures and solutions will be implemented, make sure that disaster recovery is a top priority by partners and other senior staff. The cost of application downtime, which impacts billable hours and completing projects on time, is so great that making DR a priority should be top of mind.

As you begin using technology as an integral part of your practice, now is a good time to put your IT house in order and take proactive and preemptive steps towards avoiding practice interruption.

More Stories By Todd Scallan

Todd Scallan is the vice president of product and engineering at Axcient, where he is responsible for leading the development team and driving product for the Axcient platform. He has over 25 years of experience in a variety of senior-level product management, engineering and business development roles at companies including Interwoven, Segue Software and Black & White Software (acquired by Segue Software). Todd holds an MS in computing engineering, a BS in electrical engineering and has published numerous articles and papers on a range of computing topics.

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