Denver Bar Association
January 2012
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Emerging Technology Trends in the Practice of Law

by Brenda M. Clarke, Ronald L. Seigneur

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here are a number of emerging practice management issues that will impact law firms and attorneys in the year ahead. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants’ most recent annual survey of the Top Ten Technology Issues, available at aicpa.org, notes these as important issues:

 

• Control and Use of Mobile Devices

• Information Security

• Data Retention Policies and Structure

• Remote Access

• Staff and Management Training

• Process Documentation and Improvements

• Saving and Making Money with Technology

• Technology Cost Controls

• Budget Processes

• Project Management and Deployment of New Technology

 

This article will focus on control and use of mobile devices; information security; data retention and structure; and saving and making money with technology.

Regarding the first two issues, have you sufficiently tested your backup protocols and fully considered where your key data is located? Recently, a professional services firm was robbed by someone who gained entry with the cleaning crew. The thief stole about a dozen laptops, which no one noticed were missing until the next day. The laptops were not backed up and the firm lost sensitive and confidential audit client information.

Balancing accessibility with information security is a continuing challenge, as the incident at this firm highlights. It’s also important to be aware of how much data we carrying on our PDAs, iPads, and other devices, notwithstanding that the advent of cloud-based technology solutions may render this type of data storage obsolete in many instances.

Recently, it was reported that the addition of a very small amount of salt during the manufacture of memory chips will increase the amount of data that can be stored roughly six-fold in the coming months.

Also, we have just seen the launch of the iCloud by Apple. A number of people are predicting that 2012 will see many of the software and utility applications we and our clients use migrate to cloud-based solutions. A recent study that was highlighted at the College of Law Practice Management’s Futures 2011 conference noted that roughly 33 percent of law firms were moving to or considering cloud-based solutions for their technology plans. Decreasing concerns about secure, reliable Internet connections is a key driver in justifications for the cloud and all it appears to offer.

Many insightful issues also were covered at the Futures 2011 venue, an annual gathering of legal industry thought leaders (see colpm.org for more). Law firms are using the Internet more and more to compete for business, and one presenter made the comment that legal services access points, such as Direct Law, are to law firms what the website Open Table is to restaurants. For those that have used Open Table to find and reserve a table at a restaurant almost anywhere they travel within the U.S., think about the consumers of your services now having that level of access to alternative providers for the more routine services attorneys provide. It should make you sit up and pay attention to how you market and brand your firm online. Direct Law is by no means the only provider in this space, and do-it-yourself legal services are expected to approach a $1 billion market in the near term.

We are all in business of making a reasonable return on our investment of time and money, as well as on the risks we subject ourselves to every day we are open for business. Technology has long been touted as a way to increase efficiencies and profits, and we have been told this as part of the sales pitch for the new upgrade, new network, added monitors, Internet-based resources, and on and on and on. We still are not sure we will ever quite realize the enhanced efficiencies and profits we are promised, but we must continue to embrace and invest in evolving technologies to stay competitive. This is more evident today than at any other point in history.

In summary, here are just a few take-away points:

Invest in cutting edge—not bleeding edge—technology and listen to the younger folks in your firm to find out about their needs and preferences—they are the future of this profession. The way you were taught to do things to be successful still may work for you, but it might not be the most effective method for those who have grown up using computers. For example, our firm committed to two monitors for each professional a couple years ago, and now we are seeing the justification for more than two when the individuals in front of them can use them efficiently. Providing employees with tech support for tablet-based applications is probably a better example of where we are today.

• Identify who should be the champions within your practice to take the lead on assignable technology-related aspects of your practice, such as building and maintaining your electronic knowledge library, or being the lead person on the use and application of certain resources like searching databases, accessing online resources, or when and how to migrate applications to the cloud. It is not long before your firm’s accounting; time and billing; and library resources will all be maintained in the cloud.

• Strive to find the balance necessary to maintain key relationships with staff, clients, and referral sources when it is so darn easy to just fire off an email to advance the ball. You might have the ball taken away from you when you do not also reach out, when appropriate, to communicate on the telephone or invest the time needed to arrange and have that face-to-face contact.

• Lastly, embrace the reality that Moore’s Law remains in full bloom. Intel founder Gordon Moore predicted that with the advent of transistors, computing power would double roughly once every 12 to 18 months. That prediction was made in 1965, and our sense is we ain’t seen nothing yet. Technology impacts just about everything we do today, but don’t let it get in the way of maintaining balance in your life or interfere with the relationships that are most important to you. D

 

Ronald L. Seigneur is the managing partner of Seigneur Gustafson LLP, located in Lakewood, where he focuses on a wide range of practice management solutions for professional service providers. He is a fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and an adjunct professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, where he teaches applied leadership and management theory for law firms. Brenda M. Clarke is a partner at Seigneur Gustafson LLP and works with attorneys and law firms on a wide range of tax, accounting, and litigation support matters. Ron and Brenda can be reached at (303) 980-1111 or info@cpavalue.com.


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