Law firm

The History of Law Firm Automation

Due to the complex nature of legal service delivery and the “information overload” situation the industry is notorious for enduring, it’s no surprise that lawyers are looking for ways to automate law firms. lawyers for many decades.

Looking back really helps put law firm automation into perspective, especially when you see how far the profession has come in less than 100 years. It’s particularly interesting to see how much automation has accelerated over the past 20 years, as it helps law firms recognize where they are in their digital journey and informs decisions about which direction to take. they must take.

All of the technological developments listed below have contributed to and enabled the advancement of case management and workflow automation tools that currently exist for law firms today.

  • 1950 – Dictaphones: In the 1950s, lawyers began to invest in dictaphones, which were revolutionary at the time, so that they could record their thoughts, instructions and correspondence at the appropriate time, on the go, to be typed up later by their secretaries. .
  • 1973 – Jurisprudence research: In 1973, the big red UBIQ terminal was the first thing that looked like a desktop computer, and lawyers in big law firms could use it to research case law instead of spending hours sifting through books in law libraries. Automation of the legal profession ahead of its time.
  • 1978 – Word processing: Then we had the Wang word processor in 1978, a special purpose computer that was on many law firm desks that provided proprietary word processing software. It has automated the creation and production of documents beyond recognition, allowing law firm records management to take a significant leap forward.
  • 1980 – The Fax: The device, which allowed users to insert a printed sheet of paper at one end, transmit it over telephone lines in seconds for output in hard copy to other offices that may be anywhere in the world, has been a game-changer for the legal profession. . History tells us that the very first fax machine was invented as far back as 1843, however, this innovation didn’t appear en masse in law firms or other offices until the 1980s. for the legal profession, an industry that had been so dependent on moving paper for so long. Until the fax, lawyers had only the Royal Mail and the DX to rely on. Always looking for speed, the profession had favored DX, a British document exchange service created in 1975 during the Royal Mail strikes and the rise in postal rates, which guaranteed delivery before 9 a.m. the next day anywhere in the country (including London to Aberdeen). Fax was to trump DX, however, allowing attorneys, third parties, and clients at opposite ends of the country to exchange sheets of paper in seconds.
  • Also in 1981 – the IBM PC: It was the first personal computer to have a significant impact on the law firm environment, and throughout the 1980s a wide range of applications began to evolve, including volume packages like the spreadsheet software Lotus 123 (1982) and the very first legal accounts, time recording and business. management software for law firms, based on the MS-DOS single-tasking operating system, began to emerge. In 1984 Apple released its first Mac PC with a Graphical User Interface (GUI) and in 1985 Microsoft followed suit with a Windows for MS-DOS.
  • 1985 – LAN: Local networks allowed law firms to start sharing documents and printers.
  • 1990s – Email: although the appearance of e-mail (or electronic mail) dates back to the 1960s, it did not become commonplace for law firms and many other sectors until well before the 1990s. In 1996 we saw the arrival of e-mail attachments. This development has had a huge effect on the advancement of law firm case management software. Of course, some of us remember when now widely acclaimed legal IT guru Richard Susskind was nearly banned from speaking in 1996 as a legal industry commentator for predicting that lawyers would use email as the main means of communication in the future. He was accused of “…discredit the profession.”
  • 1992 – SMS Messaging: The very first SMS was sent on December 3, 1992 by an employee of the Sema group to a Vodaphone associate wishing him a Merry Christmas. Over 48 billion outgoing text messages were sent in 2020 via UK networks. Many leading case management software systems now include SMS functionality, as a convenient and fast means of communication for lawyers and their clients. According to Techjury, text messages reach an open rate of 98%.
  • 1993 – Mosaic: The first web browser made it easier for lawyers and other business people to use the Internet. Many describe Mosaic as the catalyst that started the current digital revolution that we are now part of. Again, when Susskind rightly predicted that “… the web would be a lawyer’s first port of call” he was criticized for “…not understanding the importance of the law library.” Of course, for law firms, the use of the Internet has opened many doors. Law firm automation has been able to advance much faster than before as more and more businesses and people have gone digitally connected.
  • 1997 – Dictation from speech to text: Although Bell Labs invented Audrey in 1952, who could recognize numbers spoken out loud, it wasn’t until Dragon released a new version of Dragon Dictate in 1997 that text-to-speech took hold enough for widespread adoption. by law firms. Previous iterations had forced users to pause abnormally between words. As it has evolved, the integration of this type of technology with case management has further increased the automation of the legal profession.
  • 1999 – The Blackberry: Very popular with lawyers, the Blackberry 850 launched in 1999 offered a portable unit for making and receiving calls as well as e-mails. Employees were literally able to advance their workload as they performed their jobs at home, in police stations, in court, and in the community.
  • 1999/2000 – The Millennium Bug – The millennium bug scare has wreaked havoc around the world for organizations relying on the use of IT systems, including the legal profession. The gist of the problem was that many of the old green screen software systems we all relied on had a potential date field issue. With a 2-digit capacity date field for the year, no one really knew what would happen when the clock changed from 12/31/99 to 01/01/00 – would our computer systems recognize the new day? of the new year like the year 2000 or 1900? It turned out that most computer systems did well. However, this sent many law firms and other industries into serious panic for some time.
  • 2002 – The first “virtual law firm”: American law firm, Fisher Broyles presented itself as the first purely virtual law firm in the world. A virtual law firm has no physical premises. Built on the use of modern technology, its attorneys work remotely from home. Ironically, in 2020 all law firms were forced to go virtual when the Covid-19 pandemic took hold.
  • 2005 – eDiscovery: Enabled by the maturity of Internet access, improved download speeds and user awareness, the use of eDiscovery for legal cases has really started to gain momentum.
  • 2007 – the first iPhone: The iPhone alongside a host of other smart phones and advanced devices gave the lawyer access to powerful mobile technology in his hands 24/7. The iPad followed in 2010. With this technology came the mobile app. Good legal case management providers today offer mobile apps specially developed for lawyers on the go.
  • 2009/2010 – Advances in case management: Case management software had been available to law firms wanting to automate their practices since the 1980s, but it wasn’t until the late 2000s that the proliferation of the Internet allowed it to make gigantic progress. In terms of connectivity with the DOJ, legal aid agency, courts, other law firms, expert witnesses and third parties – and all the possibilities for integration have really started to unfold . Records management and workflow automation for law firms has advanced tremendously with improved internet access and improved broadband speeds over the decade 2010-2020.
  • 2013 – The smart contract made possible by the blockchain: The computer scientist, Nick Szabo, wrote an article in 1996 describing his vision of a smart contract. It took the advent of cryptocurrency to bring this idea to fruition more than a decade later.
  • 2016 – Chatbots emerged and we saw a flurry for the legal industry – as the friendly face of artificial intelligence (AI) and as a way to make customer service scalable. One of the first justice-related chatbots was DoNotPay, famous for waiving parking fines and helping refugees with immigration applications and asylum assistance, it was invented by Joshua Bowder and is often called “robot lawyer”. LawBot and DivorceBot followed, created by Cambridge University students. LISA (Legal Intelligence Support Assistant) non-disclosure agreement generator came next in late 2016, developed by Chrissie Lightfoot.
  • 2020 – Widespread use of artificial intelligence: A survey of lawyers accredited by the University of Oxford and the Law Society found that half of respondents admitted that their firms use some form of AI for various aspects of their business.

Legal Access, is a provider of legal software for law firms. It brought together, through acquisition, six of the leading legal software, technology and compliance companies, employing more than 400 people with legal technology experience dating back nearly three decades in some cases.