25+ Legal Tech and Business of Law Predictions for 2020

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25+ Legal Tech and Business of Law Predictions for 2020

Predictions are an educated guess – equal parts reflection, intuition, experience, and aspiration. The end of the year presents an opportunity to look back on what has happened and make predictions as to what will happen next.

For the third year in a row, we’ve reached out to big thinkers in the legal community and asked them for their predictions for legal tech and the business of law in 2020. Some of these predictions are grand, and some are pointed; all are interesting.

Importantly, these fascinating predictions are not grouped or ordered by any importance.

Finally, would you like to make a prediction next year? There’s a link to be added to the invitation list at the bottom of this post.

1. Pricing and process come back into focus

“Legal technology will continue to advance, especially with the advent of AI. There will be more attention paid to client focus, improved value and efficiency. Alternative fee arrangements and other pricing strategies will be brought back into a renewed focus coupled with a focus on process improvement and project management, employing lean and six sigma principles to providing efficient and cost-effective legal services.”

Frederick J. Esposito, Jr., MBA, CLM, Rivkin Radler LLP

2. Client collaboration takes center stage

“Law firms will respond to client pressure for greater transparency into their legal matters. This will drive better collaboration that grows to include legal budgets, matter plans and decision making. Law firms that adopt sooner will enjoy a first-mover advantage that yields stronger client relationships and a greater share of client work. The renewed focus on client collaboration will usher in greater acceptance and adoption of secure cloud tools for critical law firm systems.”

Chris Cartrett, Executive Vice President, Aderant

3. Predictive legal analytics heats up

“The predictive legal analytics market will begin to heat up. Until 2019 legal vendors were focused on analytics for uncovering historic trends. The next wave will focus on developing products that offer analytics with weighted predictions and scenario planning.”

Jean O’Grady, Dewey B Strategic

4. The age of legal technology embarkment

“2020 will mark a turn in the age of legal technology adoption for lawyers. We now enter the age (or stage) of ‘legal technology embarkment’.

Firms will embark on the future of law by solidifying their choices when it comes to the tools they have adopted, and even advanced technologies they have eyed with suspicion, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Firms will accomplish this by fully leveraging what they adopted in the past. Firms know which technologies – practice management, document management, mobile tools, data analysis, etc. – and which workflow processes are critical, and understand how to interpret and leverage the analytics reported from their endeavors.

In 2020, firms will embark on ensuring their rules for data governance and security, and work production will continue to help them reach empirical financial and firm goals. The future for law firm technology is here, and firms will steadily take their places in this ‘futurescape’ secure in the technology they have chosen.”

Natalie Robinson Kelly, State Bar of Georgia

5. The year of the client portal

“2020 will be the year of the client portal. Because of the cybersecurity threats, clients will trade the convenience of getting documents via email for the safety of logging into a portal. Not having a secure portal for collaboration will be like using an AOL email address for business.”

Craig Bayer, Optiable

6. More ways to improve client experience

“Less talk, more rock. People in the legal technology world will finally learn that real, deep innovation does not rely on disruption or hyped technology like chatbots, AI, or blockchain. We will (maybe) hear the end of the quixotic attempts to ‘replace lawyers’ and instead hear more about ways lawyers can improve client experience. All to be taken with a grain of salt, naturally.”

Jon Tobin, Counsel for Creators LLP

7. Easier compliance with outside counsel guidelines

“Law firms have been drowning in an effort to comply with the sizable and growing volume of disparate outside counsel guidelines (OCGs) for years. To date, this has, historically, largely been a wholly manual process.

In 2020, more and more firms will realize, solving this challenge requires a systemic improvement in how a firm structures the entire process and applies automation to streamline it while ensuring transparency across the firm. New developments in AI and natural language processing will facilitate the compliance of an implemented OCG agreement as the computing power long applied to crunch numbers, can now also crunch text.”

Marie Burgess, Director, Product Management, Aderant

8. Law firm innovation stays hot but needs focus

“Law firm innovation will remain a hot topic, yet most of these efforts will be very unfocused. Although firms will commit more money to innovation, they lack the structural roles and methodology to deliver on new client offerings that lawyers are able to sell, and clients are willing to buy on a sustained basis.”

Toby Brown, Perkins Coie LLP

Editor’s note: Mr. Brown is one of the original “geeks” contributing to 3 Geeks and a Law Blog.             

9. Virtual assistants and automation grow

“Virtual assistants and law office automation tools will gain even more traction. Small firms and solos without staff will gain from having a live person answering their phones (no matter where that person is located). For smaller firms with staff, releasing them from the phone duties a few hours to do other tasks will have an immediate benefit. Automation tools will become more widely used for things like automated intake and scheduling.”

Jim Calloway, Law Practice Tips Blog

10. Lawyers simplify the tech they use

“With the heightened emphasis on wellness and life balance, I predict that lawyers will simplify the technology they use. Racing after technology too often wastes resources: money and time. Avoid the exhausting siren song of implementing technology solutions to problems you don’t have. Simplify in 2020.”

Sheila M. Blackford, Oregon State Bar Professional Liability Fund

11. AI drives new legal solutions

“In 2020 we are going to see artificial intelligence applications start to drive entirely new solutions for existing legal problems. Starting with the firms and law departments with access to large data sets, practicing lawyers will start to understand how machine learning methods allow them to improve the strategies used to satisfy client needs.”

Warren Agin, Managing Director, Digital Strategy and Solutions, Elevate Services, Inc.

12. Machine learning drives an adaptive experience

“AI and machine learning continue to advance within legal technology products, I’m excited about how we can use data to drive predictive capabilities that enhance a lawyer’s experience and law firm efficiency. Machines will be able to anticipate what lawyers will likely need to do next in their day-to-day work and provide options for consideration. We call this the adaptive experience.”

Deane S. Price, CEO, Aderant

13. Pushing pricing and project management beyond the finance silo

“Although price tags (aka, billing rates) will continue to drive firm growth in 2020, many AmLaw 100 firms will see new revenue from performance-based and value-based fee arrangements, thanks to the maturing Pricing and Project Management (P+PM) functions, as well as the increased pressure from clients’ Legal Ops professionals.

The AmLaw Second Hundred will continue to grow their P+PM functions, albeit at a slower rate than its larger colleagues. Look for half of the Second Hundred to invest in P+PM professionals.

As sophistication grows across the legal industry, both the AmLaw 100 and Second Hundred firms will understand Pricing sits at the intersection of Marketing/Business Development/Client Relationships, which will push the P+PM functions out of the Finance silo. Look for an increase in Chief Pricing Officer roles to emerge as a result.”

Patrick Johansen, CLM, CPP, Pricing Strategist, Law Firm Pricing

14. New investment, products and legal tech consultants

“Legal technology investments will reach new heights in 2020. Angel investors, some of them, legal technology founders and executives from earlier eras, will fund startups. Private equity funds will drive more acquisitions given the number of (relatively) small legal software companies that might benefit from centralized operations. eDiscovery seems ripe for consolidation.

Some of this capital will find its way into highly specialized software products that have the potential to become a category killer because of little competition. This, in turn, will fuel a new class of legal technology consultants who specialize in helping law firms assemble and integrate these products.

I’ll close with a long-shot prediction. The smart money in document automation suggests you should build a product that resides in Microsoft Word’s Ribbon. However, Word grows ever longer in the tooth and these add-ins don’t usually work on Macs. Many lawyers use cloud word processors like Google Docs and my favorite, Dropbox Paper. If a company nails the user experience, the market is ready for a cloud word processor with document assembly tools that outputs Word and PDF documents. In other words, a self-contained cloud legal drafting environment, perhaps with AI too because why not?”

Neil J. Squillante, TechnoLawyer

15. Law firms scale services with automation

In my new book Automating Legal Services: Justice through Technology (ABA Publishing), I discuss how more law firms will scale their services through the use of various automation technologies.  Outsell research, along with the feedback I’ve had from lawyers since the book was published, indicates that many mid-sized law firms across the world are now actively planning their automation strategies, and in 2020 the adoption stage will move from innovators to early adopters. However, a lot of this is dependent on the right solutions being made available by the legal tech vendors, and while progress is being made, there is still some way to go. The innovators in automated legal services had to do much of the development work themselves in-house and by working with small legal tech companies, but the early adopters are likely to be better served by the large legal solution providers.”

Hugh Logue, Lead Analyst Legal Technology, Outsell Inc.

16. Incremental change

“For law practice and law firm business, 2020 will see incremental change, notwithstanding the ongoing hype about innovation and AI. Even very visible economic changes – the e-commerce driven de-retailing of the US – takes years to unfold. Law won’t move faster. With so many new legal products and new law firm innovation leads, the market needs time to absorb and deliver.

For competitors to the law firm and the supply side, 2019 saw Big 4 moves and an explosion in legal tech funding. As with law firms, the impact will take time to play out. We’ve heard a lot about investment. Until we hear about returns, I am skeptical 2020 will bring more big investment or dramatic change.

For clients, legal operations will mature in 2020. As I see the data, rapid growth of legal ops has peaked, and it now faces a period of focusing on greater impact instead.

For 2020 wildcards, watch US states that may re-regulate law firm ownership rules. Outside owners would be big, but the UK experience suggests not market busting. A recession? If law firm demand plummets and management slashes costs, which law firm innovation initiatives and legal tech companies survive?”

Ron Friedmann, LAC Group

17. Cybersecurity: the first core component of technology competence

“Cybersecurity becomes the first core component of technology competence definition. To say that the ethical duty of technology competence still remains amorphous is a charitable reading of the current situation at best. I often ask ethics experts, but I’m still not seeing anything that gives lawyers guidance on how to meet this requirement.

When I teach law students about legal tech, I always start with an overview of basic cybersecurity principles and approaches. I’ve become convinced that, if tech competence means anything, it should mean that lawyers improve their woeful security practices. As we begin to map out ‘technology competence,’ cybersecurity is an extremely important topic that can be taught, with results measured and even tested.

I’m not prepared to go as far as to say that state bars will require cybersecurity classes, even though I would argue that would be a wise course, given the general impression that lawyers are the weak links in any security chain. However, I do predict that much more attention will be placed on creating a tech competency curriculum and cybersecurity training will be the logical first step in that process.”

Dennis Kennedy, Legal tech and innovation consultant, author and speaker, adjunct law professor at University of Michigan and Michigan State University

18. Non-lawyers, diversity and the Golden Spike

“California will repeal Rule 5.4 and open the gates to non-lawyer investment in one of the country’s largest legal markets.

The diversity needle won’t appreciably move next year.

Spurred by Denton’s ‘Golden Spike’ initiative (and other factors) mergers will continue driven largely by fear – rather than clear strategic thinking.”

Janet Stanton & Bruce MacEwen, Adam Smith, Esq., LLC

19. Reforms coming to legal regulation

“Early in 2020, the California State Bar’s Board of Trustees will accept many if not most of the recommendations of its Task Force on Access Through Innovation of Legal Services, including several that essentially permit ‘State-certified/registered/approved entities to use technology-driven legal services delivery systems to engage in authorized practice of law activities.’

That will constitute a sea change in legal services regulation in the United States and will lead other jurisdictions to consider and implement similar steps in the coming years. Along with smaller but equally interesting reforms in legal regulation in Utah and Arizona, this will be, to borrow another term familiar to Californians, ‘The Big One.’”

Jordan Furlong, Law21

20. Regulators respond to clients and change the rules

Firm leaders are optimistic for 2020 (or at least less pessimistic than general counsel). Continued economic gains or a recession? No end to the chaos in our capital or a new administration and a different type of uncertainty? Peace with China? War with …?

At the macro level, predictions about the legal industry depend heavily on predictions about the world. At the microlevel, one is always safe to stick with small, incremental changes from the present state. In any event, when making predictions it is best to follow the golden rule:

Be vague! It is hard for someone to say your predictions were wrong when they lacked specifics.

With those guidelines in mind, here are three thoughts for 2020:

  1. At least one additional state will break the regulatory barrier and allow individuals without law licenses greater participation in the legal industry.
  2. Legaltech (or just tech) will remain a barren wasteland in the legal industry. In business, leaders are slowly awakening to the realization that AI has its greatest benefits on the revenue side, not in cost-cutting. Their trick is how to reinvent their businesses (rapidly) and get wide adoption of AI. In law, tech remains a ‘nothingburger’. Most (and I’m being generous here) AI is really basic tech wrapped in flowery marketing gibberish. Odd as it may seem to outsiders, this gap probably will remain for a long time.
  3. Despite regularly listing the need for productivity gains as a top priority, general counsel will continue to studiously ignore low-cost, straightforward means to get significant productivity gains. (The prediction, then, is that general counsel will continue complaining about something that is well within their power to fix – productivity.) A small part of this is the tech malaise noted in point 2, but most of it is driven by ignorance of basic business practices.

To sum up, regulators – feeling the heat from a growing population of potential clients and clients who are fed up with an unresponsive legal industry – will move forward changing the rules of the game. Stalwarts of the legal industry, desperately trying to hang on to outsized profits driven by antiquated and poor business practices, will resist change.”

Kenneth A. Grady, Michigan State University College of Law

21. Balancing conservative choices with growth investments

“While I don’t think we will see a downturn in the legal industry in 2020, firms will start to manage towards an expected downturn. They will be more conservative in hiring, investments in new initiatives, and expense management, particularly by the end of the year. While these are all good things, and firm leaders need to be prepared to make tough decisions, it’s important not to overreact. Firms need to continue to make smart investments that will help drive revenue.”

Lisa R. Smith, Fairfax Associates

22. Law firm leaders embrace change

“The mere mention of change causes us to feel discomfort. Why is this? There are too many reasons to list here, but at the root of these is a common trend: the need for strong change leadership. Law firm leaders know their law firms need to embrace change, but they struggle with how to sharpen their change management skills. I predict that 2020 will see law firm leaders who embrace change and who work to cultivate change in their organizations. These will be the law firms that thrive.”

Camille Stell, Lawyers Mutual Consulting & Services

23. Hiring to improve efficiency

“In 2020, and beyond, law firms will change the way they hire. Part of this will be driven by the continued push for the creation of substantive job types for non-lawyers (like the limited license legal technicians in Washington), and part of it will be representative of law firm’s continuing desire to hire non-lawyers for roles they have direct experience in and can excel at (like sales, process management and C-suite administrative roles).  As more variety comes to the law firm job market, attorneys will be able to focus on high-level, substantive tasks, while the introduction of more non-lawyers into the law firm environment will mean that law firms can become more efficient. And, that’s key: because the biggest differentiator between law firms that make money and law firms that lose money is utilization rate, which is a metric focused almost exclusively on how efficient a law firm can be.” 

Jared Correia, Red Cave Law Firm Consulting and Gideon Software Inc.

24. The beginning of positive and overdue changes

“Business of Law – Cost of Representation: The access to justice gap won’t close in any significant way but 2020 will see increased internal pressure at State Bar levels to review and revamp existing regulations in the following areas which could make future strides in that issue:

  • UPL (unauthorized practice of law)
  • ABS (alternative business structures)
  • Advertising and fee-splitting

There will be no efforts to simplify the way laws are written (plain language) or reduce the volume of laws on the books. In addition, there will no effort to improve the experience of pro se litigants.

Legal Technology:  Legal research will see increased accessibility. The practical use of artificial intelligence will gain greater footholds. An important paradigm shift towards modernizing the legal profession will accelerate as the first generation of ‘digital natives’ are beginning to enter and influence the practice of law. We are at the beginning of a lot of positive and overdue changes to our legal system and the institutions that support it.”

Laurence Colletti, Legal Talk Network

25. A different convergence of law firm panels

“More clients will undertake law firm convergence in 2020 than ever before…but they’ll do it differently. Convergence (aka law firm consolidation) is on the rise as in-house counsel are more focused on integrating with the business and don’t have the energy to manage too many firms.

Also, corporate cost containment is a big deal in 2020-21, and law firm panels can help.  But the ‘sinecure model of convergence’ – whereby more expensive incumbents win all the plum work after the panel is formed and law firms making the panel based on innovation and efficiency aren’t given a real shot – is out. The old panel model not only underperforms for clients but alienates the very firms clients want to bring closer. (The new panel model focuses on making firms feel like part of a team and assigns work based on merit.)

So why the new model now? GCs are extra intent to hit their goals and most have seen (consistent with our data) that panels don’t deliver if not carefully structured. Related, general counsel have reached a tipping point in their willingness to migrate important work to the best high-value firms (or what some are calling the ‘blue chip’ firms of today).”

Firoz Dattu, AdvanceLaw LLC

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Many thanks to our participants for sharing their ideas about the future of legal tech and the business of law.

Would you like to be in the prediction’s invitation list next year? If so, please sign up here: Business of Law Predictions Invitation List.

Also, see the predictions from previous years:

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