Put technology to work for you

By Julie Sobowale Spring 2015

Heavy workload? There’s an app for that.

Put technology to work for you

Illustration: Dave Murray/i2i Art

When Jason Morris launched Round Table Law in 2012, he encountered a problem many lawyers face. The Alberta lawyer wanted to integrate his email and billing system to simplify file management, but existing software didn’t make it very easy for a busy practitioner. 

“I used Microsoft SharePoint, but it didn’t have the functionality to use in practice management,” he says. "It was too much work to do as a lawyer and I didn’t have the time to program it.” 

So Morris turned to Clio, one of the leading file management programs in Canada. Now Clio automatically files emails, uploads client information into customized templates used for billing and drafting documents and automatically generates labels for new clients.

Morris and many other lawyers are discovering how technology can help lighten their ever-increasing workload, especially as it relates to practice management. The integration of new technologies and workflow management make it possible to create a paperless, cost-efficient, client-friendly system that pleases both practitioners and those they serve. 

Here’s what a difference technology can make in the life of a practice.


Bringing in the business

It’s not enough anymore to create a website and expect clients to find your firm. Today’s consumers do their own online research to find exactly who and what they want — and they have plenty of options.

“When people hear about a lawyer, the first thing they do is look on the internet. They don’t call them first. They do research online,” says Natalie Waddell, founder and president of LawyerLocate.ca, a legal marketing site where users can search listings of more than 200 lawyers based on location and type of law.

This means lawyers need to consider how to tailor their marketing for very specific client needs. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t cut it. 

The wave of the future is video marketing, adds Waddell, who is also setting up on LegalTube.ca, where users can search from hundreds of videos about different legal issues. “We wanted to provide a tool to promote lawyers and bring content to one place. We don’t have sales-y type videos. We want videos that give guidance.” 

Edyta Kowalewska, a Toronto lawyer who seeks innovative ways to make legal services accessible to individuals and businesses, has created LawyerLinx, a legal marketplace where consumers can shop for lawyers. Consumers can find the right match through LegalMatch™, submit jobs and receive proposal bids from lawyers through On Demand Legal Services™ or search through the website’s legal network. 

“LawyerLinx is designed to reduce the difficulties clients face in finding the right lawyer for their legal issue, their preferences, budget and timeline,” she says. “People aren’t looking for a family lawyer but someone who knows about custody. We provide a link between lawyers and consumers of legal services.” 


The client intake process

Client intake forms range from traditional paper for walk-in clients to PDF forms for website visitors. At Axess Law, which has set up shop in various Wal-Mart locations in Ontario, lawyers and clerks fill out intake forms which are stored in the cloud. 

“Generating documents without a lawyer, just clerks or customer service representatives, is not the same experience or it’s insufficient,” says co-founder Mark Morris, co-founder of Axess Law. 

“The value is interacting with lawyers.”


Working the file

More lawyers are using software to automate document generation and contract review to save time and money and to create efficiencies. It’s allowed Axess Law to offer wills for $99. 

“We have document generation engines built into our system,” Morris says. “In Sales Force, it imports or exports individuals’ information like the person’s name or date to other software. It also automatically updates. The program can generate wills on the spot.”

Document review time for corporate files can be cut down dramatically by sorting through files in a digital format. Kira DiligenceEngine offers software that can read through thousands of documents and highlight relevant information through a user-friendly interface. 

“Contract review done by lawyers and professionals is usually done by junior lawyers and it’s very complex,” says Noah Waisberg. A former corporate lawyer, he co-founded DiligenceEngine with Alex Hudek, a University of Waterloo post-graduate student in computer science.

“Sometimes you have to go through 20,000 contracts. We set out to solve these problems through automation. Our clients do more accurate work in 20-60 per cent less time.” 


Managing the litigation (or ODR process)

From the simple email reminder on filing deadlines, technology plays an important role in case management as both lawyers and the courts look for ways to streamline the process. 

New programs such as Lexop help lawyers and judges manage litigation timelines, and LexisNexis software is designed to help lawyers in the process of litigation and document review. Early Data Analyzer helps lawyers to eliminate duplicate, irrelevant files and CaseMap brings together components of a case into one central, searchable database. These are simple legal tech tools that help streamline the litigation process with greater speed and efficiency. 

Meanwhile, ODR is seen as a way to modernize litigation. For clients looking for alternatives to court, provinces are developing ODR programs that are easily accessible for the public. The B.C. Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT), set to launch later this year, will help parties resolve small claims and  condominium property disputes. Parties have facilitators/case managers to help with the process and clients residential tenancy disputes online can map their progress through the CRT website.

“Technology will let the public become active participants in their justice system by tearing down barriers to entry like cost, time, and complexity,” says Shannon Salter, Chair of CRT. “Many people are used to using online tools in other parts of their lives. It’s time for the justice system to catch up in order to serve the public better.”


Billing the client

When it’s time to invoice the client, lawyers can save paper and mailing costs by using one of several e-billing software programs available online. Look for programs that help with tracking billable hours and time management. Clio will soon introduce a dashboard system that tracks billable targets, productivity and communication.

“We understand the ethical and business concerns of lawyers, especially the workflow,” says Joshua Lenon, Clio’s Lawyer-in-Residence. “We have strong privacy and ethical duties to our client, including confidentiality.” 


Securing the file

Once a file is completed, it’s a good time to review your firm’s policies on file storage. Most files are now stored electronically and increasingly firms are using cloud computing as a convenient way for clients and lawyers to store and share documents. 

“To select the right cloud provider, you need to perform due diligence — who owns the data? Where is the data located? What is the level of digital security, and so on,” says Mitch Kowalski, author of Avoiding Extinction: Reimagining Legal Services for the 21st Century. 

“As long as you’ve covered your bases, you’re OK. The cloud also makes your files more accessible. It’s easier and faster to send a .pdf to a client than to get it from storage, then send it.”


Keep it moving

With your files safely backed up and secured, it’s time to refocus on preparing for the next client. Part of that preparation includes training and development. Technology gives lawyers greater choice and freedom. Continuing professional development has quickly expanded through the availability of webinar sessions such as the CBA Skilled Lawyer Series, which had more than 6,000 registrants last year, and Grapple Law’s extensive online educational sessions. 

What will be the next frontier in legal services? Will programs using artificial intelligence replace lawyers? Fear not: technology has reduced or eliminated some traditional duties, but there’s still a need for the human touch.

“We’re focused on how the lawyer can serve clients better,” says Lenon. “Clients didn’t have access to fill in their own documents before. Lawyers invest in tools where the client is a partner and the client appreciates that. People want lawyers to help guide them through the process.” 


Natalie Waddell

LawyerLocate.ca Inc.

Name your must-have tech tool (other than your phone or tablet)

• Basis Peak (Fitness and Sleep Tracker)

What keeps you up at night?  

• Right now, nothing. Thanks to my Basis Peak. ;)

What's the next big trend in the legal marketplace? 

• Video used to educate, not just sell. 

How can a lawyer think like an innovator? 

• Brainstorm new ideas with individuals who think differently from you.


Noah Waisberg

Co-founder & CEO, Kira DiligenceEngine

Name your must-have tech tool (other than your phone or tablet)

• DiligenceEngine, my MacBook Pro, a phone headset

What keeps you up at night?

• Too much work!

What’s the next big trend in the legal marketplace?

• Software helping lawyers do more and more of their work

How can a lawyer think like an innovator?

• Much of law practice is ripe for automation. A good place to start is considering tasks that are high volume, repetitive, where details need to be done right.


Mark Morris

Co-founder, Axess Law Professional Corporation

Name your must-have tech tool (other than your phone or tablet)

• Salesforce and salesforce mobile app. All company information at your fingertips, always.

What keeps you up at night?

• From a personal perspective, my two-year-old. When will that kid finally sleep through the night? From a business perspective, the future of retail. Consumer attitudes to shopping are changing. We are retail-based. Our destinies 

are linked.

What’s the next big trend in the legal marketplace?

• ABS. Legal ownership changes are coming to Ontario, likely this year.   

• Further reduction of fees for service. Law services have yet to hit a price plateau. I expect the average hourly rate billed by lawyers to continue to fall.

How can a lawyer think like an innovator?

Not sure there is a good answer to this question but here are some of the innovation lessons I have learned launching Axess Law:

• Remember that the standard of quality of a new concept is that of acceptability, not perfection. From an innovator’s perspective, this means, do not launch a product when it is perfect. Perfection comes from care, attention to detail and a willingness to learn as you go.  

• Be prepared to start over. Remember those long hours you pulled when articling? Be ready to face that again and again and again.

• Do not always think like a lawyer. A lawyer is skilled with the invaluable capacity to assess risk and mitigate it. This skill set is not necessarily an asset at the idea stage of a business as risk can instill fear and inhibit experimentation. This is not to suggest that a lawyer dispense with risk analysis and assessment entirely, rather, a lawyer should be aware that that particular skill set is applicable at certain stages of the business plan and not necessarily at the brainstorming part of the process.


Futures: Transforming the delivery of legal services in Canada

Here is an excerpt from the CBA Legal Futures Initiative report on the role of technology as a major driver of change in the legal profession:

Technology can both sustain the legal profession and disrupt it by completely transforming how a market functions. From an international perspective, Futures expert adviser Richard Susskind identifies what he considers to be key disruptive legal technologies in the future:

• automated document assembly; 

• relentless connectivity; 

• the electronic legal marketplace; 

• e-learning; 

• online legal guidance; 

• legal open-sourcing; 

• closed legal communities; 

• workflow and project management; 

• embedded legal knowledge; 

• online dispute resolution; 

• intelligent legal search; 

• big data; 

• artificial intelligence-based problem-solving.


Whether he is right in whole or in part, what is compelling about Susskind’s predictions and categorization of disruptive technologies is that they affect not only the production and delivery of legal services, but also legal education, research, regulation (because of new markets and new participants), and business structures. Further, in areas such as online dispute resolution, these disruptive technologies act as a substitute, partner or alternative to the formal justice system.

Looking to the Canadian legal marketplace, the following systems and applications present similar disruptive potential:

• cloud-based services that do intelligent deconstruction of documents to facilitate client engagement about contract creation;

• legal process and document production portals that enable lawyers to manage document production and document exchange between different parties;

• legal referral websites; 

• technology that enables lawyers to dispense virtual advice through expert systems in areas with risk or complexity, although the questions may be routine or repetitive; 

• crowd-sourcing and review sites where individuals choose to review companies instead of registering disputes;

• teleconferencing and web technologies for remote and online legal services; 

• greater use of e-filing and other court initiatives such as electronic transcripts. 

Broad technological trends are apparent: greater processing power, more portable devices, and more intelligent systems. The Canadian legal profession cannot rest on the assumption that other lawyers will remain the competition in the future. A sharp and responsive GoogleLawyer engine, which one day could be assembled from Google’s proprietary data collected from online searches, may prove to be the profession’s greatest competitor. 

For the complete report, visit cbafutures.org

Julie Sobowale is a regular contributor based in Halifax.

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