In two previous articles, we paid attention to the legal technology trends of 2019. Most of those are expected to continue in 2020. Apart from those, several authors made their own predictions, too, for what legal technology will bring in 2020. We’ll summarize the most interesting and important ones below.

Now, when looking at all the predictions, three items stand out. The first one is the omnipresence of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Whether we’re talking about legal service delivery (to lawyers as well as legal consumers), marketing, cybersecurity, eDiscovery, etc., there is no escaping AI. Secondly, the general mantra for 2020 seems to be ‘automate, automate, automate’. And thirdly, the cloud, too, becomes more and more omnipresent.

Market: The judiciary finally boards the train of legal tech and automation. Authors predict an increase is online courts, in courts using case management software, and in using legal analytics to speed up decision making.

When it comes to the service providers on the legal market, experts expect some cross-industry mashups, where players from other markets (e.g. accounting, analytics & data mining) join forces with legal service providers.

The trend where law firms are being run like business continues, with law firms hiring more people who have joint business and law degrees.

Law Firm Management Software: authors expect the trend of focusing on process automation to increase efficiency to continue, which will allow law firms to scale their services. Many predict that law firms will finally start becoming more client-centred, with a heavy focus on improving the client experience, and on client collaboration through improved client portals.

Cloud: as mentioned before, the usage of the cloud in the legal market is expecting to keep on rising. When it comes to lawyers using the cloud, security will remain a main challenge. The good news is that many predictions see the clouds getting connected, i.e. they predict that the interoperability between the different cloud platforms will increase. Experts also see a rise in edge computing, and an accelerated adoption of PaaS (Platform as a Service).

(Google Maps is a good example to explain what edge computing is. Google uses servers all over the world. When you use Google Maps in your area, you’re presented with a local copy of the information that is stored on a server near to you. Edge computing means that the information storage and the computation power are distributed to bring them closer to where they are needed. PaaS: the Wikipedia defines it as “a category of cloud computing services that provides a platform allowing customers to develop, run, and manage applications without the complexity of building and maintaining the infrastructure typically associated with developing and launching an app.”)

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that most predictions have to do with Artificial Intelligence. In general, the experts expect advances in NLP (Natural Language Processing), conversational AI (chatbots), Computer Vision, and Reinforcement Learning (a type of Machine Learning). More specific for the legal market, most authors talk about how the work of lawyers changes as AI and automation will take over certain tasks lawyers and paralegals were performing until now, and how this will increase the efficiency of law firms. The increased usage of AI is also expected to have an impact on compliance, research, due diligence, and legal documentation (creation, analysis and review of legal documents).

Apart from that, there are also more specific predictions. Law firms are expected to start using more data-driven legal marketing, predictive legal analytics, and Virtual Assistants. AI is also expected to start contributing to finding new legal solutions.

Most of the predictions about Security are rather dire. All experts warn about deepfakes and that there will be a considerable increase in incidents of security breaches, both on-premise and in the cloud. Artificial Intelligence is increasingly being used by both cybercriminals and by those fighting cybercrime.

eDiscovery: the experts see three trends and three challenges. The trends are a) that eDiscovery continues its move to the cloud; b) that the line between e-discovery and information governance will continue to blur; and c) the continued increase of AI usage. A first challenge has to do with the tension between eDiscovery and privacy legislation with regard to analytics. A second challenge lies in the increase of atypical data sources like ephemeral messaging, IoT device data, collaboration tools and app-based information. A third challenge is how to deal with an increase in deepfakes and fabricated evidence.

When it comes to Blockchain, the experts don’t agree. Some point at the fact that thus far, there has been far more hype than actual results. Most of them, however, are expecting an increase in real-life applications in the legal market. At the same time, they also expect more cases of Blockchain fraud and litigation.

As a market leader, we at CICERO LawPack like to stay on top of current trends and evolutions. That way, we can stay ahead of the curve. Our customers expect no less.

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We have talked about chatbots on several occasions in the past. Most of those targeted legal consumers. Today, we’ll have a look at how a chatbot could benefit your law firm.

Let’s start by defining what a chatbot is. A chatbot is a computer program designed to mimic human conversation. It is typically powered by rules or by more advanced Artificial Intelligence technologies like Machine Learning. Most chatbots are text-based, but more advanced ones like Siri or Alexa, are voice-based. In law firms, they are often used for simple tasks like increasing lead generation, client intake, booking an appointment or accepting payments. More advanced legal chatbots can generate, review and analyse legal documents.

You may think a chatbot is not for your law firm, but you’d be mistaken. There are many benefits, both for your clients and prospective clients, as well as for your law firm.

What makes chatbots attractive to the legal consumers?

  • First, there is the unprecedented popularity of messaging apps. One of the reasons chatbots can be found everywhere is because they became popular on messaging aps. The first chatbots appeared on Facebook Messenger and soon after were offered on other platforms like Skype, weChat, Telegram, Slack, Kik, Line, and SMS.
  • People love their mobile devices, and chatbots are typically designed for mobile first.
  • People love to text. Did you know text messages boast a 98% open rate? Chatbots benefit from this.
  • People love interaction, and chatbots are interactive. They increase engagement.
  • Chatbots are available 24/7.
  • Our online culture is an instant gratification culture. Chatbots can give instantaneous responses. Research shows that 70 % of consumers prefer a chatbot to interacting with a human being, if it means they’ll get an instantaneous response.
  • Chatbots can mimic lawyers for several tasks, which means the legal consumers who need those services can get their needs met faster, and typically at a lower or no cost.

What are the benefits for your law firm?

  • Because consumers love interaction, conversational marketing has become a key part of promotion for any business, including law firms.
  • Chatbots can perform repetitive tasks that lawyers do. They have proven useful in:
    • Client acquisition and intake, as well as lead generation.
    • Answering FAQs, so you don’t have to email back and forth answering questions you are frequently asked.
    • Document generation and review.
  • Using chatbots to take care of repetitive tasks therefore leaves you more time for more productive and profitable endeavours.

So how do you get started? Once you know what you want your chatbot to do, there are plenty of tools available. In his article, “5 Often-Overlooked Steps to Building a Useful Chatbot for Your Law Practice“, Tom Martin from Lawdroid explains the best way to proceed. He outlines 5 steps.

Step 1 is to determine what your chatbot’s purpose is. Do you, e.g., want to use it to allow new clients to enter their details into your system and book an appointment? Or do you want a more advanced bot who, e.g., can generate or analyse legal documents? Be as specific as possible.

Step 2 is to determine where your bot lives. Will you offer your chatbot on your website, or on Facebook, or Whatsapp, etc.?

In step 3, you choose your bot’s personality: its name, visual style, backstory, and the conversational tone. (People enjoy a bit of humour). Make sure you also tell people they are dealing with a chatbot.

Step 4 is to determine your chatbot’s conversation structure.  Martin breaks this down in six components. First, you need to do some preparation where you look at some essential questions like who your target audience is (e.g. existing or new clients), what they are trying to do, and what they need for that. Next, you can diagram your dialog tree, where you map how the conversation can unfold. Let your chatbot start the conversation with a greeting, and make sure that you manage the users’ expectations: explain what the bot can and cannot do.  Martin calls the next step the “Glide Path to Goal”: the conversation should lead the user to a goal, and to reach that goal as effectively as possible, open-ended questions should be avoided. So, it’s good to suggest possible answers the user can choose from. Once the conversation is ended, and the goal is achieved, it’s good to thank the user, and to provide him or her with a deliverable or a specific call to action. Last but not least, make sure you pay sufficient attention to error handling.

In the fifth and last step, you choose what tools you will use to build your bot. Martin’s article includes a checklist and a list of available platforms.

The checklist includes the following items:

  • Is creating the chatbot free or paid?
  • Is any coding required?
  • What are the publishing platforms for the chatbot?
  • Does it use or need Artificial intelligence?
  • How are the third-party integrations with apps like Gmail, MailChimp, Office 365, etc.
  • What are the supported languages?
  • What is the recommended use? (You don’t need a bot, e.g., that uses Machine Learning if you only want your new clients to fill out their details).

If you want to build your legal chatbot, the following platforms are currently available:

(In his article, Martin goes over the checklist items for each of these platforms).

Let’s leave it at that for now. We’ve only been able to scratch the surface of this topic. The articles listed below can help you further.

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In an online world, legal consumers need to be able to find your law firm. Google My Business (GMB) plays an essential – and often overlooked – part in that.

What is it? GMB is a free online listing in Google’s business directory. It is available for businesses and organizations to manage across Google’s services like Search and Maps. What is important is that Google uses GMB listings in the local search results it presents. A well-organized entry in GMB therefore results in a better ranking in Google’s local organic search results, making it easier for people to find your firm. (‘Organic’ search results are the ones that are not paid for).

GMB offers other benefits as well. It allows you to manage your own information: you can specify areas of expertise, address, opening hours, your website and how you can be contacted. GMB also offers you several ways to interact with your target audience (see the overview of features below). Lastly, GMB offers metrics, called insights that allow you to better understand and expand your online presence (see below).

Google My Business offers several useful features.

Messages: people can use GMB to leave you private messages that you can reply to.

Questions and Answers are similar to messages, except that they are public, so people can see them in the ‘Knowledge panel’ of your law firm. (The knowledge panel offers a summary of your GMB listing and is what is shown in the local search results).

Posts are short announcements you make that have a limited life span. You can use them, e.g., for promotions, or to wish people a happy new year, to announce days with different opening hours, to announce new staff, etc.

Bookings allow people to directly make an appointment with your law firm.

A GMB listing also offers Reviews from your clients. Google has de facto become the largest review site.

Insights is the name Google gave to the metrics it provides with regard to your GMB listing. You can discover how people found your firm (e.g. what key words they used), where they came from, how many people directly clicked on the link to your website, or on the telephone link, etc.

So, how do you start using your GMB listing? Stacey Burke describes the process in four steps: claim the listing, have Google verify it, optimize it, and keep it active.

Step 1: Claim your listing. To be eligible for a GMB listing, you must be able to meet clients in person, either at your law firm’s physical address, or at their premises. If you haven’t claimed your listing yet, perform a search on your law firm’s name and address. If a knowledge panel appears with information on your law firm, it is already listed. If there is no knowledge panel (area in the rectangle) then you will want to create a listing following these steps from Google. To claim the listing, you will need a Google account.

Step 2: Verify your listing. To make sure not just anybody claims your law firm listing, Google will have to verify it first. This step is required in order for your law firm’s listing to be eligible to appear on Maps, Search, and other Google properties. Once you’re verified, it also means Google deems your law firm a legitimate business, providing third party verification of your company’s credibility when people search for your law firm online. To verify your listing, sign into your Google My Business account where you will see a “Verify Now” option. As part of the verification process, Google will contact your business to ensure your contact information is correct and legitimate.

Step 3. Optimize your listing. Once you’ve claimed your listing, you want to optimize it for the best search engine results. First, you have to add the basic information like the name of your firm, the phone number and other contact modalities, as well as the business category and location, the service area (=geographical area your law firm mainly serves), and opening hours. Optimizing your listing is an art in itself, and these two articles will greatly assist you in the process.

Step 4. Keep your listing active. In its search results, Google tends to favour law firm that remain active: make posts (e.g. to announce blog posts), answer questions, make sure to get reviews and respond to them, etc. Burke recommends checking your GMB listing once or twice a week.

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In November, the American Bar Association (ABA) published its annual Legal Technology Survey Report. The report typically is accompanied by a series of detailed reports on specific subjects, that are published over a period of several weeks. In a previous article we dealt with the first four of those reports. In this article, we’ll have a look at the next four, which deal with practice management, budgeting and planning, technology training, solo and small firms. A ninth report was published on lawyer well-being, but it largely repeats items raised in the other reports.

Practice Management

Law Technology Today summarizes the following key points regarding the survey’s findings on practice management solutions.

Usage and satisfaction of Practice Management software: while the rest of the world increasingly relies more and more on technology, the legal profession hasn’t really followed suit. The use of practice management software has been more or less stagnant for the last four years. The majority of users of these packages remains satisfied with their usage.

Need for improvement and all-inclusiveness: one of the main problems with practice management software is that most of them are still only offering partial solutions. There isn’t any program that handle every aspect of law firm management. As a result, law firms typically must rely on several programs, where their interoperability leaves much to be desired.

Rise of CRM as an alternative: as a result of the limitations of existing practice management software, there has been an increase in the usage of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions in law firms.

Shifts in the Use of Laptops, Computers, and Mobile Devices: 57% of lawyers still use a desktop computer as their primary work computer. This confirms the downward trend of the last years and corresponds to the increase in the use of laptops as the main work computer, which now stands at 41%. This shift towards laptop computers can be seen mainly in large firms, followed by medium sized firms. For small firms the increase in laptop usage was limited to a 1% increase (to 35%), and for solo lawyers, the number remained the same at 40%.

The Continuing Increase of Remote Access: one of the main findings of the report is that lawyers are increasingly using remote access, with 73% of lawyers using telecommuting technologies in 2019, compared to 68% last year. These are mainly used to occasionally work from home.

Consistency of Fee Structures and the Adoption of New Technology: there was little change in how law firms charge. Most law firms, 69%, are still using hourly fees. Fixed fees saw a slight increase from 15 to 17%, which came at the expense of contingent fees which fell from 11 to 9%. Other fee structures remained the same.

Budgeting and Planning

There is some good news when it comes to budgeting and planning: in 2019, the law firms that have a budget for technology slightly increased their spending. Solo firms spent about the same as last year, and have no intention of spending more next year, where all other firms that have a budget intend to increase it for next year.

The report also advises to consider budgeting for technology training (see below), and to start using metrics to measure technology usage and the track what is working and what isn’t. “Plan well, spend wisely, and prioritize accordingly; technology is and will remain an essential part of running a law firm.” (Law Technology Today)

Technology Training

In 2019, lawyers need technology to efficiently run their practice. In fact, by now most bar associations require lawyers to be familiar with “the risks and benefits associated with technology”. To be able to use that technology effectively, training is essential. A majority of 82% of lawyers understand that technology training is important. The bad news is that in 2019, fewer attorneys had access to technology training at their law firms. Barely more than half of the attorney respondents to the survey had technology training available at their firms. The chance of having training available at the firm rises with the size of the firm, as was the case in previous years. Interestingly, the report also warns that solo lawyers may be overestimating their technology competence and underestimating their need for training.

Solo and Small Firms

Solo and small firms (with 2 to 9 attorneys) still form the majority of law firms: with 32% and 31% respectively, they’re good for 63% of law firms. When looking at the ages of the lawyers, the largest (10-year) segment consists of lawyers between 60-69.

The survey found that technology adoption among solo and small firms appears to be stagnant or declining. The only exception is the use of practice management software, which slightly more solo and small firms are using in 2019 than before. As mentioned before, rather alarmingly, less than 50% of solo and small law firms use file and email encryption, file access restriction, intrusion prevention and detection, web filtering, whole or full desk encryption, or employee monitoring.

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Good2bSocial (www.good2bsocial.com) recently published its annual ‘Social Law Firm Index.’ It is study of social media marketing adoption, use, and best practices within the legal industry. The Social Law Firm Index analyses each firm’s presence on the internet and across social media and evaluates their social usage to extend thought leadership content and to engage with clients and constituents. It measures social media reach, engagement, and marketing performance on platforms that include Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Based on this information, the report also publishes rankings of America’s Top 200 law firms for best social media achievement.

The report observed the following trends for 2019:

  • There is a notable rise in ‘Paid Social’, especially on LinkedIn. When you publish an article, your followers or connections can read the article. That is referred to as organic social or organic reach. Paid social is when you pay the platform to promote your content as ‘sponsored content’ on other people’s accounts. The amount of law firms that uses paid social tripled over the last year, from 10 to 30%. LinkedIn remains the most popular platform for lawyers to publish and promote their content.
  • There is a decrease in the use of Facebook, and an increase in the use of Instagram. This reflects a general trend that is not limited to law firms: younger users prefer Instagram to Facebook.
  • People use more videos and podcasts. Traditionally, law firms mainly use blogs. But to stay competitive on social media, video is now a required medium, and law firms are increasingly starting to use video. There also is an increase in podcasts. (Our recent article on podcasts explained the benefits).
  • Law Firms continue to invest in marketing automation. “With marketing automation, your law firm can utilize various tools [to] save time, free up bandwidth and ultimately improve ROI. Time-consuming processes can be replaced by a system that can automatically send out emails based on an email response or website visit. When firms combine content with marketing automation, they can analyze what their clients engage with and how. By knowing more about your client, you can deliver better customer service.” (Legal Newswire)

The report always selects the best performers, and based on their performance, distills the current best practices.

  • Measurement and ROI: the law firms that score well clearly identify their goals and develop clear metrics to evaluate how well different strategies work.
  • Think like a leader: “Most Law firms produce client-centric content that discusses pain points or issues that their clients are facing. They are also publishing content that provides added value to their existing clients. Thought leaders also produce content on a regular and frequent basis, written in an easy-to-digest and understandable style and length.”
  • Employee Engagement: legal consumers want to know the people who will represent their interests and use social media to learn about them. The best performing law firms are investing time and money to properly train their lawyers and employees on the use of social media and digital marketing. They also use specialized platforms that offer employee advocacy tools, like LinkedIn, Elevate, PostBeyond, and Clearview Social.
  • Automation: as was mentioned before, more and more law firms invest in automating their marketing efforts. Notable is the increase in law firms using chat bots on their websites to engage with new leads, 24/7.

The report traditionally also focuses on the worst performers. These are the mistakes you want to avoid.

  • Making marketing decisions without data: The majority of law firms don’t use any metrics to evaluate and improve their marketing efforts. (Confirming what this year’s ABA Tech Report called ‘random acts of marketing’).
  • Having home pages and practice area pages on your website that offer low content. One important criterion, e.g., is whether the page answers the searcher’s query. Avoid pages that are thin on content or merely copy content that can be found on other pages. Are you using the right key words that will attract potential clients? “In today’s marketplace, firms need more than just a sharply designed website—they also need to make sure that they’re using appropriate key terms, that they have content that is both useful and relevant, and that there is an organized and logical home page.”

The report expects the trends it identified (and mentioned in the first part of this article) to continue in 2020.

 

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Traditionally, towards the end of the calendar year, the American Bar Association (ABA) publishes its annual Legal Technology Report (often referred to as the ABA Tech Report). It combines data from the annual Legal Technology Survey Report with expert analysis, observations, and predictions from leaders in the legal technology field. Noteworthy is that after the ABA publishes its full report, it always publishes a series of articles, focusing on a specific theme. For each of these, it offers a summary and analysis of the findings of the report. Those articles are published over several weeks. At the time of writing, six out of nine have been published. In this article, we’ll have a look at four articles of the ABA Tech Report. Next month, when all the articles will have been published, we’ll have a look at the remaining articles on the ABA Tech Report.

Cloud computing

As was to be expected, the number of lawyers that use cloud services is still growing, with 58% of lawyers replying they were doing so, compared to 55% in 2018. As was the case in previous years, solo and small law firms lead the way, with cloud adoption around 60%. But compared to the rest of the business world, lawyers are still slow to move to the cloud.

The most important finding regarding cloud usage by lawyers, however, was the lack of security measures taken by lawyers when working in the cloud. The report warns that the situation is reaching a crisis point, as there were significant drops in the use of very standard cybersecurity practices. “Although lawyers say that confidentiality, security, data control and ownership, ethics, vendor reputation and longevity, and other concerns weigh heavily on their minds, the employment of precautionary security measures is quite low, with no more than 35% (down from 38%) of respondents actually taking any one of the specific standard cautionary cybersecurity measures listed in the 2019 Survey question on the topic.” (Law Technology Today).

Security

Last year’s report concluded that ” All attorneys and law firms should have appropriate comprehensive, risk-based security programs that include appropriate safeguards, training, periodic review and updating, and constant security awareness.” The same still holds true in 2019. In some areas, progress has been made, but as the situation with cloud usage demonstrates, other areas still need a lot of work. Most law firms need to take extra steps in designing and implementing security solutions.

Some statistics:

  • 26% of law firms reported having experienced a security breach in the last year, while a staggering 19% didn’t know.
  • In 2019, 31% of law firms reported having an incident response plan, up from 25% in 2018.
  • When it comes to encryption, 44% of lawyers encrypt their files; 38% encrypt their mail, and 22% use full disk encryption.
  • 33% of lawyers have cyber liability insurance, compared to 34% in 2018.

Websites and marketing

When it comes to marketing, the report again found there is much room for improvement, especially for solo lawyers and small law firms. The survey revealed that most of them do not have a planned approach to marketing in general, are clueless about online marketing, and may instead be engaging in “random acts of marketing.” For many law firms, it is unclear who oversees marketing, who is making the decisions and why. Law Technology Today summarizes the findings as follows: “The 2019 Survey results show that law firms—and especially solos and small firms—have a long way to go. Unless they begin to develop marketing plans and budgets, establish an online presence and regularly analyze whether their firms are reaching their targets, they will continue to face increasing difficulty competing for business.”

Some statistics:

  • Only 47% of law firms have a marketing budget, with some considerable discrepancies depending on the size of the firm: 94% of large firms, 61% of medium-sized firms (10 to 49 lawyers), 21 % of small firms (2-9 lawyers), and 17% of solo lawyers.
  • 86% of law firms have a website: solo lawyers are again lagging behind, with only 57% of them having one, whereas over 90% of all the others have a website.
  • The number of law firms with a blog has remained stable since 2016 at 30%, with solo lawyers again staying behind at only 9%.
  • More lawyers than ever – about 80% – are using social media. LinkedIn is still the most used platform at 79%, followed by Facebook (54%), Martindale (38%), and Avvo (23%). Noteworthy is that the reported use of Facebook and Avvo has declined over the past year.

Firm Culture

When it comes to demographics, the report found that the majority of respondents, no less than 71%, were male, although the gender gap decreased as age decreased. 33% of respondents was between 60-69, while less than 2% were under 29 years old; 21% were in their 50s.

With the exception of solo lawyers, the vast majority of lawyers still mainly work from a traditional office space. 34% of solo lawyers work from home. Overall, the profession keeps flexible working hours (offered by 77% of law firms) and mobile: roughly 50% of lawyers have telecommuted. 88% of those who telecommute work from home.

The report also found that there is a large and continuing gap between what the larger firms offer in terms of amenities, cyber protection, and training and what smaller firms offer.

Overall, lawyers are still working too hard, and continue to not acknowledge the strain this puts on their mental health.

Next month, we will have a look at the other findings of the report.

 

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In previous articles, we’ve discovered that legal consumers have become online consumers. To attract these online consumers, lawyers have to be active online, and build a solid online reputation. To achieve this, the most common medium lawyers use, are blogs. But there are many other ways, too, to stand out from the crowd. These include podcasting, live video streaming, and, e.g., Instagram. So, in this article, we will have a look at podcasting for lawyers. And for what it’s worth, Pat Flynn called podcasting the #1 content platform.

What is a podcast? The easy explanation is that it is a type of on-demand radio that you can listen to online, on your phone, computer, tablet, or internet radio. The Wikipedia goes into more detail and defines it as “an episodic series of digital audio or video files which a user can download in order to listen. Alternatively, the word ‘podcast’ may refer to the individual component of such a series or to an individual media file. Podcasting often uses a subscription model, whereby new episodes automatically download via web syndication to a user’s own local computer, mobile application, or portable media player.”

Podcasts are popular. Statistics for the US reveal that half of the population has listened to podcasts; 32% are monthly podcast listeners, while 22% listen on a weekly basis. The popularity of podcasts keeps growing, and their reach keeps expanding. That also applies to legal podcasts. (The list with sources below includes an article with some of the best current podcasts for lawyers).

Why should you, as a lawyer, consider starting a podcast, apart from the fact that they’re popular? There are plenty of reasons.

  • Podcasts are fairly easy to create. You only need a decent microphone and some recording software (which your phone, tablet or pc may have preinstalled), and once you’ve recorded your podcast, you can use one of the available platforms to distribute your podcast.
  • A podcast helps build credibility and trust, as well as a connection with your audience.
  • It’s easy to attract the right audience.
  • It’s a solid – and usually easier – alternative to video.
  • Podcasting fits into people’s lives: podcasting is the only online content platform that allows for passive, or indirect consumption. People can listen to your podcast while they’re doing something else, even while they’re driving.
  • You can get people’s attention for longer periods of time: the average YouTube video is 4 minutes and 20 seconds long. Podcasts on the other hand, typically are between half an hour to 2 hours long.
  • There is at present far less competition in podcasting than there is on other platforms. There are approx. 200 000 active podcasts, while there are 19 million active blogs and 1 billion YouTube users.
  • Podcasting Is the best way to scale intimacy: it allows you to build a stronger relationship with your audience, faster.
  • You can connect with influencers.
  • Scalability: with a podcast, you have your own scalable stage. Anybody anywhere can listen, and it’s easy to grow your audience.
  • In an online world, social proof is important. With podcasts, it’s easy to get plenty of testimonials: you can, e.g., feature members of your own audience who have done something or who have taken action after hearing your podcast. It shows that you inspire people and that you love your audience.
  • You learn to become a better communicator.
  • While this may be less appropriate for or applicable to lawyers, podcasts typically also present monetization possibilities, as many of them are offered on a subscription model. (There are many podcasts that, e.g., offer the first half of the podcast for free, and the second half is only available to paying subscribers).

So how do you get started?

  • The first step is to choose a topic you can commit to. Above all, make sure you would want to listen to your podcast. If you already have a blog, you can repurpose your existing content
  • Then you define your show description and organize the necessary artwork (logo, e.g.).
  • This step and the next are interchangeable: set up and thoroughly test your equipment, and
  • Create a plan or roadmap for your episodes (and stick to it, unless you have a good reason not to). Apart from repurposing blog articles, you can do interviews, have guests or even guest hosts. You can do mini episodes in between in, e.g., a FAQ format, where you answer one question.
  • Record your episodes and remember that audio quality is key: poor quality will instantly cause people to stop listening.
  • Edit your episodes: typically, some editing will be necessary to cut out hesitations while speaking, etc.
  • Publish your episodes: there are several platforms available, specifically for podcasting.
  • Launch your podcast to your audience.

It is beyond the scope of this article to go into more detail, but you can find more comprehensive instructions in the articles listed below.

Happy Podcasting!

 

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In an article, published in Law 21, on 20 September 2019, Jordan Furlong shared his insights on the emergence of “the new legal economy.” In it, he describes how the legal profession first evolved from being the profession of lawyers into a legal market. And now we are seeing the next major transformation, where a new legal economy is starting to take shape. Several evolutions indicate that this indeed seems to be the case. Let’s have a closer look at what’s happening, and what the implications are.

Less than a century ago, the legal profession consisted only of lawyers, and they were the only ones offering legal services to legal consumers. Then, in the last decades we saw how a new legal market came into being. Two evolutions played an important part in that. The first one was that law firms started being managed like companies, which meant that more and more non-lawyers started playing a part in law firms, and that lawyers started changing the way they worked. A second evolution was the rise of Alternative Legal Service Providers, where the market was disrupted by non-lawyers offering legal services.

Evolution 1 – the de-lawyering of law firms: As law firms became commercial legal service providers, they started focusing on service delivery, on productivity and profitability. Running a law firm these days requires skillsets like project management, data analytics, design, business basics, digital basics, risk prediction and management, talent management, strategic planning, financial management, vendor management, technology support, knowledge management, growth and development management, communications, litigation support, workflow automation, and others. Law firms now often have law librarians, legal knowledge engineers, legal data analysts among their staff. Some bar associations are even considering allowing law firms to have equity partners. In this new market, law firms must serve more clients and serve them more efficiently, holistically, empathetically, and cost-effectively. This evolution has led to changes in who works at law firms, and in how lawyers work.

Evolution 2 – Alternative Legal Service Providers (ALSPs): In recent years, we have also seen a sharp increase in non-lawyers providing legal services. The services they offer at this stage typically focus on litigation support, legal research, document review and e-discovery. In less than three years, the number of law firms in the US that use the services of these ALSPs has tripled. By now, more than 1 in 4 law firms already uses their services. And a recently published survey by Thomson Reuters revealed that about 52 percent of corporate Canada either already uses alternative legal service providers for litigation support or will do so within the next five years.

Apart from these two main evolutions, there are other changes affecting the legal market as well. These include “the rise of legal process improvement and outsourcing, the technology-driven commoditization of legal work, the growing sophistication of large law firms and law departments, and the slow but steady liberalization of legal regulation.”

Furlong notes that throughout all these market changes, one thing has remained largely constant, and that is what lawyers do. The market evolutions described above are changing the how lawyers work, and to some degree who is active on the legal market as well. But thus far, it has had relatively little impact on the what lawyers do. And now that too is about to change.

Traditionally, lawyers did mainly two things: offer legal advice (including the drafting of contracts, etc.), and litigation. With the progress being made in Legal AI, we are seeing ALSPs who are offering legal advice, and are offering services like automated and smart contracts. (Though a German court has just ruled that automated contracts still have to be supervised by lawyers). And more and more, legal consumers are going out of their way to find ways to avoid litigation. Both of these changes directly affect what lawyers do.

Furlong: “The old legal economy consisted of paying lawyers by the hour to do every legal task that needed to be done. In the new legal economy, systems, software, and structures are going to integrate, automate, delegate, and eliminate countless legal tasks by which lawyers once made a living.”

Because of this, it becomes essential to redefine what lawyers as well as law firms are and what they do. In this context, Furlong says three important questions must be answered:

  1. What now constitutes “legal work”?
  2. How will legal work be done?
  3. What will lawyers do?

Something to think about.

But rest assured that we here at INFORMA keep on closely following all these evolutions to be better able to serve you.

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A question that is frequently asked, is what CMS to use for your law firm’s website. In this article, we’ll first look at what a CMS is, and analyze some statistics. Then we’ll consider whether you need one, and if so, what all to consider when you make your choice.

What is a CMS, or Content Management System? The Digital defines a CMS as “a software application or set of intertwined programs that allows you to create and manage your website’s digital content. In other words, a CMS grants you the ability to upload, edit, and delete content from a website without having to know HTML, CSS, or other coding languages.”

Let’s have a look at some statistics. There are close to 1.5 billion websites on the Internet. Of those, about 172 million are active. A majority of websites, 56.4%, use a CMS. WordPress, Joomla and Drupal are the most popular CMSs. WordPress powers 34.6% of the websites on the Internet, while Joomla is used for 4.9%, and Drupal for 3.1%. When we look at CMSs on the Internet, WordPress is good of 61% of those, while Joomla is good for 2.8% of the CMS market, and Drupal for 1.7%.

The first question to investigate, is whether you need a CMS, or whether you’re better off without one. There are pros and cons to each.

Pro:

  • With a CMS, no web programming experience is required. Most ISPs have wizards that install your CMS for you, and you can be up and running within a short period of time. Adding content is fairly easy.
  • Easy collaboration and Access: a CMS typically allows several users to publish content, which also allows them to collaborate.
  • Search Engine Optimization: most CMSs have tools, either preinstalled or as optional plugins, to manage and improve Search Engine Optimization.
  • A CMS can – but doesn’t automatically – offer better security. (See below). When there is a serious new security threat, typically within hours a patch may be available.
  • Cost effective and affordable: WordPress, Joomla and Drupal are all available for free, and will probably offer the functionality you need, without having to hire a programmer to customize them for you.
  • CMSs are constantly being updated. There are quite a number of ISPs who specialize in one or more of the CMSs, and where those updates of the CMS are included in the hosting price.
  • CMSs typically also come with built-in search components that allow the visitors of your website to search your content.
  • The functionality of a CMS can easily be extended with plugins, which may be available for free or at a price.

Con:

  • Overkill: if you just want to create an online brochure of your website, and its content won’t change much for several months or years, then a CMS is probably overkill.
  • Bloat: a CMS has a lot of built-in functionality that you may not need but can’t remove. The content you may want to publish may be limited, and with a CMS you may end up with a system that is many times the size of your content.
  • Database access: to run a CMS, you need to have a database included in your hosting package, which may make hosting more expensive.
  • Maintenance: CMSs are constantly being updated, as are their plugins. With a WordPress website that is not hosted with an ISP that does the CMS maintenance for you, you should check at least once a week whether there are updates for your CMS or plugins.
  • Security: if there is a security risk for a CMS or for a plugin you are using, then your site is at risk. Popular CMSs and plugins are targeted constantly by cybercriminals.
  • The themes and plugins that are available for your CMS may not be exactly what you need or want, in which case you will have to hire someone for customizations. That will probably end up costing more than if they were done for a website that doesn’t use a CMS.
  • CMSs allow more people to publish content, but each additional user increases the chances of something going wrong.

So, is a CMS right for you? As a rule of thumb, you can’t really go wrong with a CMS, especially if you plan to have a blog or publish articles, etc. But if you’re only planning to have a website that functions as an online brochure, with content that won’t change much for months or years, then a CMS is probably overkill.

The next question then is which one to choose. For that, several items should be taken into account:

  • The overall cost: there is the cost of hosting, and possibly of configuring your CMS. To get the layout and functionality you want or need, you may have to use themes and plugins that come at a cost. Customizations will add to that cost.
  • Ease of use and maintenance: not only of the actual CMS, but also of the plugins and themes you plan to use.
  • Ability to customize: does the CMS offer what you want it to? Can plugins help?
  • Performance and system requirements: the system requirements for Drupal are typically higher than for Joomla or WordPress.
  • User and permission management.
  • Support for multilingual sites.

Probably each one of the three major players will meet your needs. WordPress typically is the easiest to use and maintain of the three, while Drupal is – by far – the most complex. I would generally not recommend Drupal for smaller or medium-sized law firms, unless you have a whiz kid that’s familiar with it. For bigger law firms, especially if they have their own servers as well as their own IT department and want to use an internal system for documentation or knowledge management, Drupal can be a good fit.

For smaller and medium-sized law firms, WordPress and Joomla are good options, and WordPress is used for far more websites than Joomla. That doesn’t necessarily make it the best fit for your website, though. When you want more advanced user management or if you want to have a multilingual website, that functionality is built in in Joomla, where WordPress relies on third-party plugins. For multilingual sites, to do things properly, WordPress has to be set up as a multi-site WordPress configuration, which complicates things. Joomla supports multilingual sites out of the box.

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In October 2017, we published an article on how legal Artificial Intelligence systems had turned out to be as biased as we are. One of the cases that had made headlines was the COMPAS system, which is risk assessment software that is used to predict the likelihood of somebody being repeat offender. It turned out the system had a double racial bias, one in favour of white defendants, and one against black defendants.

To this day, the problems persist. By now, other cases have come to light. Similar to the problems with the COMPAS system, e.g., algorithms used in Kentucky for cash bail applications consistently preferred white defendants. The situation is similar in the UK, where a committee concluded that bias and inaccuracy render artificial intelligence (AI) algorithmic criminal justice tools unsuitable for assessing risk when making decisions on whether to imprison people or release them. Algorithmic bias was also discovered in systems to rank teachers, and for natural language processing. In the latter, there was a racial bias with regard to hate speech, as well as a gender bias in general.

To research and address the problems with Artificial Intelligence, the ‘AI Now Institute’ was created. Bias is one of the four areas they specifically focus on. They found that bias may exist in all sorts of services and products. A key challenge we face in addressing the problems is that “crucial stakeholders, including the companies that develop and apply machine learning systems and government regulators, show little interest in monitoring and limiting algorithmic bias. Financial and technology companies use all sorts of mathematical models and aren’t transparent about how they operate.”

So, what is algorithmic bias? The Wikipedia defines it as “systematic and repeatable errors in a computer system that create unfair outcomes, such as privileging one arbitrary group of users over others. Bias can emerge due to many factors, including but not limited to the design of the algorithm or the unintended or unanticipated use or decisions relating to the way data is coded, collected, selected or used to train the algorithm.”

The AI Now Institute clarifies that artificial intelligence systems learn from data sets, and that those data sets reflect the social, historical and political conditions in which they were created. As such, they reflect existing biases.

It may be useful to make a distinction between different types of algorithmic bias. Eight different types have been identified thus far:

  1. Sample bias is the most common form of bias. It is when the samples used for the data sets are themselves contaminated with existing biases. The examples given above are all cases of sample bias.
  2. Prejudice bias is one of the causes of sample bias. Prejudice occurs as a result of cultural stereotypes in the people involved in the process. A good example of this are the New York Police Department’s stop and frisk practices. In approximately 83 percent of the cases, the person who was stopped was either African American or Hispanic, where both groups combined only make up just over half of the population. An AI system that learns form a data set like that will inherit the human racial bias that thinks people are more likely suspicious if they’re African American or Hispanic. So, because of prejudice, factors like social class, race, nationality, religion, and gender can creep into the model, and completely skew the results.
  3. Confirmation bias is another possible cause for sample bias. Confirmation bias is the tendency to give preference to information that confirm one’s existing beliefs. If AI systems are used to confirm certain hypotheses, the people selecting the data may – even subconsciously – be inclined to select the data in function of the hypothesis they’re trying to prove.
  4. Group Attribution Bias is the type of bias where the data set contains an asymmetric view of a certain group. An example for that was Amazon’s AI assistant for the Human Resources department. Because Amazon had far more male engineers working for them than female engineers, the system concluded that male engineers had to be given preference over female engineers.
  5. The Square Peg Bias has to do with selecting a data set that is not representative and is chosen because it just happens to be available. It is also known as the availability bias.
  6. The Bias-variance Trade-off. This is a bias that is introduced to the system by mathematically over-correcting for variance. (An example to clarify: Say you have a data set where 30% of the people involved are female. Therefore, females are effectively underrepresented in your data set. To compensate you use mathematical formulas to ‘correct’ the results). This mathematical correction can introduce new biases, especially in more complex data sets, where the corrections could lead to missing certain complexities.
  7. Measurement Bias has to do with technical flaws that contaminate the data set. Say you want to weigh people and use scales, but they’re not measuring correctly.
  8. Stereotype Bias. The example given above with Amazon also qualifies as a gender stereotype bias. There are more male engineers than female engineers. That may lead systems to favour male engineers, and/or to preserve the ratio existing in the data set.

The good news is that as we are getting better at understanding and identifying the different types of algorithmic bias, we also are getting better at finding solutions to counteract them.

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