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Top 3 Tech Challenges Facing Lawyers in 2019

July 18, 2019  |  9 min read

Cloud Leader

As legal professionals prepare to meet the demands of the future, they face a host of challenges. Those that are best positioned to meet the challenges ahead have “a head start on the future.” That’s the conclusion of the 2019 Future Ready Lawyer Survey recently released by Wolters Kluwer. Involving more than 700 lawyers, the survey asked attorneys to identify the challenges most likely to impact their firms in the future—challenges that only one-third of lawyers feel prepared to address.

So, what hurdles stand between legal professionals and being “future ready”? Data, of course. Also ranking at the top are demands for greater efficiency, which follows naturally from the first challenge, particularly in the discovery context. Finally, most lawyers cited difficulties finding the right technological solutions as a significant challenge. Let’s break these down in turn.

How the Increased Data Volume and Complexity Impacts the Practice of Law

The number one challenge facing lawyers today, cited by 76 percent of the Wolters Kluwer survey respondents: data. More specifically, “coping with the increased volume and complexity of information.”

The inclusion of both volume and complexity is significant. Readers of this blog are well aware that we’re in the midst of a digital explosion. In 2013, IBM estimated that 2.5 exabytes of new data were created every day. That’s 1 billion gigabytes or nearly 75 trillion pages’ worth of information. However, that estimate is now over six years old. Today, our daily data creation is surely much larger.

That explosion has created a “golden age of evidence,” but this doesn’t come without a cost—and when it comes to eDiscovery, that cost is often far higher than it should be.

That growth in data only exacerbates the signal-to-noise problem legal professionals already face. That is, there is now much more noise to cut out in order to hone in on the signal, on the documents that matter. Imagine a legal team facing a terabyte of discovery data—less than the total amount of data that can be stored in just two iPhones. That team would be staring down the barrel of approximately 35 million pages of information. That’s 35 million pages that need to be sifted through, one way or another.

Sifting through the data is only part of the problem, though. There are, after all, eDiscovery software tools that are designed to help you do just that.

“In many cases, technology will play an important role in helping lawyers cope with the increased volume and complexity of information, improve efficiency and productivity and provide insights to meet changing client needs. Organizations gaining experience with these tools today will have a unique advantage over those that delay.”
-2019 Future Ready Lawyers Survey

Equally challenging is that discovery pricing structures are so rarely aligned to the reality of data growth. That’s because so many discovery pricing models are based on monthly, per-GB hosting fees. And those hosting fees aren’t declining at the pace by which data is growing—even though the cost of cloud-storage services like AWS has shrunk to just fractions of a penny per GB. 

For that terabyte matter, for example, a discovery platform that charged just $10 per GB, per month would cost $10,000 a month. Should that matter stay active for a year, that’s $1.2 million in hosting fees alone.

The fact is, data size is only going to continue increasing. As data grows, monthly, per-GB hosting fees will become increasingly unsustainable, even for the most well-heeled clients.

Then, there is the complexity of the data, which can be equally challenging. After all, a million emails can be relatively easy to handle with the right eDiscovery tools. Automated processing can immediately deduplicate files. Culling Intelligence can automatically organize those files by date, type, recipient, potential privilege, etc. And a few quick selections can radically reduce the number of documents requiring review.

But when you have a million docs that all come from different data sources, that poses a whole new obstacle. It’s not just that we’re facing growing data, but we’re facing growing data from an ever-expanding universe of sources. The average employee uses more than eight different apps, for example, and companies may be using hundreds of different software programs—all of which may host and create data that could require later preservation and review.

Dealing with that data requires rethinking the way we approach discovery and litigation. That means understanding not just where data lives—in mobile messaging apps, cloud-based software, GPS records, and collaborative business tools—but what that data means. What’s the difference between a private channel and a group message in Slack, for example? Where do your JIRA files live? Oh, and how will your review platform make sense of data that comes out looking something like this:

“user”: “U6NJNUGSH”,
“inviter”: “U5KTXUGSW”,
“text”: “ has joined the channel”,
“type”: “message”,
“subtype”: “channel_join”,
“ts”: “1502749986.378906”
“user”: “U026B7H8B”,
“inviter”: “U5KTXUGSW”,
“text”: “ has joined the channel”,
“type”: “message”,
“subtype”: “channel_join”,
“ts”: “1502749986.378906”

Legal Teams Face Increasing Demands for Efficiency and Productivity

The second challenge facing lawyers flows directly from the first. With so much information to get through, modern legal teams must be able to work more efficiently. After all, while data has exploded, deadlines have not—nor have client budgets.

Clients are increasingly refusing to pay for inefficient approaches to legal work. Seventy-six percent of law departments identify controlling outside counsel costs as a top priority, for example. Nearly a third of corporate legal teams now conduct 75 percent or more of their litigation and discovery work in house, up 12 percent year over year.

Yet, while 71 percent of respondents say this focus on efficiency will impact their firms, only 31 percent rank themselves a very prepared to address this challenge.

That missing 40 percent —the legal professionals who recognize the importance of increasing efficiency but don’t feel able to do so—aren’t alone. Last year, Georgetown Law’s Center for the Study of the Legal Profession reported that lawyer productivity had dropped since pre-Great Recession levels, at an average loss of $74,100 per lawyer. That dropping productivity, coupled with rising hourly rates but declining realization, has resulted in over a decade of stagnating firm profits.

“While 71 percent of respondents say a focus on efficiency will impact their firms, only 31 percent rank themselves a very prepared to address this challenge.”

Law Firms Still Struggle With Choosing the Right Technology

How do you get through exploding data volumes, without just throwing more bodies (and money) at the problem? How do you increase productivity in an era of slow-to-nonexistent growth in the demand for legal services?

Well, technology for one. As the 2019 Future Ready Lawyer Survey notes, “technology is a key enabler of the future,” the one “distinct and recurring theme” that emerged throughout the survey.

The right technology can operate as a significant force multiplier, allowing legal teams to do more with less—to cut through large data volumes, to handle new and ever-changing forms of data, to turn services such as discovery into valuable sources of in-house work, in a way that is both client-friendly and firm-friendly.

“You could spend a week, for example, just watching webinars on how to select an eDiscovery vendor. You could devote years to fielding RFPs, if you’re so inclined, only to find that, well, maybe that black box wasn’t as good as you thought.”

The participants in the 2019 Future Ready Lawyer Survey certainly recognize this. Sixty-nine percent of them identified “understanding legal technology of the highest value” as having a potentially significant impact on their firms. Once again, only a small percentage (29 percent) felt they were very prepared to address this trend.

That, too, is understandable. There are, after all, plenty of legal technology companies and vendors out there promising the world. Testing out their claims can be fairly time consuming. You could spend a week, for example, just watching webinars on how to select an eDiscovery vendor. You could devote years to fielding RFPs, if you’re so inclined, only to find that, well, maybe that black box wasn’t as good as you thought.

How Smart Lawyers Are Tackling Data, Increasing Productivity, and Embracing the Right Tech

Of course, it’s not all sturm und drang. There are, after all, ways to address these challenges—and it’s encouraging that about a third of the Wolter Kluwers survey respondents feel very prepared to address them.

Rising data sizes can be addressed with powerfully simple software (or incredibly complex and expensive software, if that’s your thing too). Instant discovery software like Logikcull can automatically process data, deduplicate files, and prepare them for review. Culling Intelligence can be used to quickly filter data down, while industry-leading search technology can further narrow your data set down to the information that matters. And with the right software, legal teams can handle discovery in all its forms, whether dealing with traditional documents or emerging communication tools like Slack.

Such simple, powerful technology is why innovative litigators can use Logikcull to search through Slack data and win their case, and why one of the world’s largest companies is able to reduce the document volume requiring outside counsel review by more than 98 percent.

That ability, itself, can be a massive productivity gain. Now, with the right tools, legal teams can take on work, and matters, that would have once required an army of associates and six-figure budgets for outside vendors. 

“Modern software is increasingly cutting out the traditional sales and implementation cycle, eliminating the months of presentation and allowing nearly instant access, so you can get into the software and see just how it works.”

Of course, picking that technology can sometimes feel daunting. You can, as mentioned above, dedicate a year or two to finding the solution that’s right for you, reading through massive RFPs, sitting through demos, and being hounded by salespeople.

Or you could see what’s worked for your peers. Consulting review sites such as G2Crowd, Gartner, and Capterra can quickly give you a survey of what technology works best, and what might not. These sites have hundreds of verified, independent user evaluations, ranking technology not only on a traditional five-star scale, but also by factors such as “ease of set up” and “ease of use.”

Or you could just try it out

Modern software is increasingly cutting out the traditional sales and implementation cycle and allowing nearly instant access, so you can get into the software and see just how it works. 

After all, if you’re not consulting with colleagues or testing out technology yourself, you’re essentially just listening to sales pitches. 

And that’s no way to get ahead of the future.