This article started in a much different place than where it ended.
Earlier and longer versions reviewed new technology offerings aimed at the practicing litigator. Writing assistant tools like Hemingway and Grammarly promise to eliminate errors, improve readability and sharpen the tone in briefs (Quick review: 7.5/10 — good for less experienced writers but lacking nuance). Cutting-edge programs like Pre/Dicta, Klear and Megaputer leverage artificial intelligence and terabytes of data to predict litigation outcomes (Quick review: ??/10 — “The real danger is not that computers will begin to think like humans, but that humans will begin to think like computers.”).
But recently during a lunch with a business owner and client, the conversation somehow shifted to this piece. Midway through describing the potential of litigation prediction software, my friend’s eyes started glazing over. Instead of lulling her completely to sleep, I instead asked about legal technology that she likes and that makes her life easier.
And that simple question pivoted this article’s focus on its head. Because her answer — and the answers received after asking others — was enlightening.
“Lawyers who use technology to save me time are my favorite.” The newest apps and software might get headlines. But client-centric legal technology is different.
On a weekly basis, she executes agreements, signs board materials and verifies discovery responses. Many firms she works with send her those documents to sign in native or PDF format. Doing so causes her to open and review the attachments, print hard copies on a copier down the hall, walk down the hall to retrieve the copies, sign them, scan the hard copies, send the new electronic versions back to her office and then forward. them back to her outside counsel. It’s not a huge time commitment, but it routinely distracts her from her work.
“Attorneys who send me executable documents via DocuSign or eSignature have a special place in my heart.” Using those services, with just a couple of clicks, clients can open, review and sign documents. No printing. No wet signature. No scanning. What used to take several minutes via the sign-and-scan route now takes seconds.
That prompted me to survey other clients and friends who rely on lawyers and technology. Each response was different.
The first said he has been with the same lawyer for years. When first retained, he believed that attorney to be an expert in his field. As the years have passed, he is occasionally questioned whether that lawyer continues to keep abreast of his business.
“I need to know my lawyer still values what I do. And I need to be sure he’s an expert in my specialized industry.”
How does that lawyer provide those assurances? “My lawyer has an active online presence on LinkedIn and Twitter. He’s regularly posting original content or sharing relevant industry news.” Those well-established social media channels give lawyers the technological platforms to flex their legal muscles, provide timely information to their clients and generate new business.
A simple text or email does the same: “Sending me a quick email on something relevant to my business shows me a few things. First, it shows me he’s thinking of me. Second, I might learn something new. But most importantly, it tells me he’s got his finger on the pulse of my industry.”
Another business owner at a small company emphasized outside counsel’s use of project management tools. When partnering with a law firm on big projects, this business owner insists on clear schedules with timelines, responsible parties and budgets. His office walls are plastered with huge charts showing tasks and deadlines.
“My resources are limited. I need to be able to plan 12, 18 and 24 months out. Any big surprises can threaten my livelihood.
He meets with his lawyers once every month or two. At each meeting, he expects updated chronologies and planning documents. Deviations from budgets have to be talked through and explained.
“I need my lawyers to manage projects like they’re spending their own money and to keep me updated. Project management software is invaluable in my line of work.”
A third contact emphasized something that’s on most every lawyer and business owner’s mind: data privacy and security. “The privacy and confidentiality of my company’s documents are vital. I need lawyers who I can trust to keep my company’s materials organized, safe and secure.”
Firms with sophisticated document management and backup systems can set themselves apart in a world where ransomware and hacks are all too common.
The last client anecdote is my favorite. I asked him the same question that I asked the others: “What legal technology is important to you and makes your life easier?”
The client paused for several seconds and responded: “I’m exhausted with Zoom. I’m going to throw up if I have to sit through another video conference. Henry Ford and Alexander Graham Bell invented the car and the telephone over 100 years ago. When you need to talk, just call me. But I prefer to see you in person, so drive up and have lunch with me.”
The moral of the story: The shiny new piece of legal technology is fun. But the technologies that really matter are those that make your client’s life easier, focus on the client’s core business and improve relationships over the long run.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to pick up the phone to call a client and schedule a lunch.
Matt Albaugh is a partner in Taft’s litigation group and leads the firm’s M&A Litigation Team. Reach him at [email protected] Opinions expressed are those of the author.