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Legal technology you should know

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To be an effective lawyer today means something quite different from what it meant even as recently as 10 years ago. Today technology plays an outsized role in our lives. Our cellphones have become inextricably linked to each one of us. In fact, the very term cellphone has become a bit of a misnomer since the cellphone is less of a phone these days and very much more a pocket computer.

So, what does technology have to do with becoming a lawyer and practicing as a lawyer? Quite a bit, and so to be prepared to be an effective lawyer, you have to have a vastly different set of skills than what you might have needed 10 years ago. Many of these new required skills have to do with technology.

I’m not going to write about what I would call basic tech skills. These would be skills like using Microsoft Word to format documents, using Google Drive for advanced collaboration, calendaring and the like. A recent ABA blog post covers this topic. Instead, I am going to discuss the need for young lawyers ad law students to be aware of these technologies, since the likelihood is that even if you won’t be using some of these things right off the bat, you very likely will be shortly thereafter.

One type of legal technology that has quickly gained prominence and use is contact management. These tools seek to address four key functions, which are storage, tracking of key provisions, searching, and reporting. Many offer alerts that an individual can set to warn stakeholders of key events such as renewals and expirations of key provisions or entire contracts. Moreover, these systems also offer ways for users to aggregate data to get a broad view of a particular trend, e.g. how many contracts have a certain type of clause, how often a certain type of case heard by a specific judge was settled, etc. Each system differs in their ability to handle inputted data and how that data can be inputted. In addition, some systems are better suited for smaller companies whereas others are better suited to handle larger enterprises.

Related to this technology is contract automation. Contract Automation is based on the concept of document assembly. Essentially, document assembly consists of having a template with blanks for some other party to complete and having that party go through the document and fill in the blanks. Today, technology has, thankfully, allowed us to move far beyond this simplistic task to creating entire documents without having to type a single word. Moreover, many of these programs work either with programs you already use like the ubiquitous Microsoft Word or SharePoint.

Another type of legal technology is legal analytics. I recently did an interview of a leader in this field on my own blog, Kevin D. Ashley, which I would suggest you read for more background. Another key leader in this field I would suggest looking into is Professor Daniel Katz and an organization he is associated with, Lex Predict. While one need not be an expert in this field, you should be aware of it and what it concerns. Put simply, Legal Analytics is about drawing conclusions that can be acted upon from a defined set of legal data. Typically the data itself and the conclusions to be drawn are based upon some form of statistical analysis.  There are many companies out there currently performing this work, a couple of the more prominent companies being Lex Machina and Ravel Law.

Briefly discussing the topic of legal analytics brings to me to yet another area which lawyers should become fluent in.  I hesitate to bring it up, due to some of the likely bad high school or college memories it may bring up, but here goes. Alas, lawyers, going to law school and not business school will not excuse you from needing to be comfortable with math. Granted, you likely won’t need to be great at calculus, but the basics of algebra and statistics, you likely will need if you desire to be successful. Quantitative literacy is a crucial skill and a skill that it is becoming increasingly clear that lawyers cannot effective practice without having.

What do I mean by quantitative literacy? I don’t mean you need to be a mathematical genius. You simply need to be comfortable looking at a set of numerical data and being able to draw conclusions from that data. That data could be in the form of a balance sheet, an economic forecast, or simply a set of statistics. Thankfully, law schools are starting to integrate into their curriculum courses that provide a solid introduction to this subject, whether it be in the form of legal analytics, accounting for lawyers, basic legal tech programming or something else. I, myself, hated my math classes in high school. However, once I saw the broad applications of math in college that longstanding feeling quickly changed and now, as a corporate transactions lawyer, understanding numbers is essential to negotiating an effective deal.

I’ve only covered a few of the many subtopics within legal tech. There’s certainly plenty to be said about the other subtopics I didn’t cover, let alone the ones that I did.  However, the bottom line is this. The practice of law is changing quickly and it is up to all of us, e.g. law schools, law students, and lawyers together to prepare for practicing law currently and in our future.

Colin Levy Colin S. Levy is Corporate Counsel for Salary.com and was previously Manager, Contract Negotiations at Pearson Education. As an experienced in-house corporate lawyer, his focus has been on both domestic and global corporate transactions. He also has a strong interest in legal technology and is a strong advocate for its use and application to the practice of law.