The Transformation of Legal Technology: 1990 to 2020

January 13, 2020

By: Caroline Cornell

Since the 1990s, legal technology has transformed dramatically.

The tools and technology that were once a luxury are now a necessity for firms of all shapes and sizes. From keeping track of billable hours to task management and invoicing, everything has shifted to digital first.

But, many law firms are still stuck in the past. Is your law firm one of them?

We’ve broken this incredible transformation into a few key categories. Check out the infographic at the bottom of this post to gain deeper insights into each one!

Case Management

Back in the ‘90s, some high-tech law firms started adopting “personal information managers” that stored files on a single computer. But, most lawyers still stored all their files and conversations manually in file cabinets.

Now, client conversations, agreements, and documents can be automatically consolidated to a cloud-based system that can be accessed anywhere by anyone who needs the information at the firm. In 2019, 43% of small firms were using practice management software to manage their firms, and 58% of firms were using cloud services, according to the ABA’s 2019 Tech Report.

Communication

In 1990, over 59% of law firms were using PCs but only 3% were using email. Most communication took place over the telephone, fax, or via snail mail.

Email is now a standard form of client communication, while texting and chatbots have emerged on the scene. In fact, Gartner predicts that by this year, 25% of customer service teams will use chatbots.

Phone calls are still made, but they too have been transformed thanks to CRM integration. Agents know exactly who to call and when, and records of phone calls can be attached to the relevant client.

And clients are no longer as patient as they once were. Now, 82% of consumers want an immediate response from companies when they have a question.

Legal Research

The 1990s truly revolutionized legal research. Gone were the days of manual research. LexisNexis was taking off, with over 600,000 users by the time it was sold in 1994 for $1.5 billion.

While LexisNexis is still a popular resource, firms also use Google Scholar and other online resources today to research case law. Soon, lawyers may not have to do legal research at all, but instead rely on A.I. to find and review documents related to their case. Programs like Relativity and Everlaw are already using natural language processing to scan documents related to a lawyer’s query.

Billing and Payment

By 1995, some firms were using computerized billing systems to create invoices. However, these invoices still had to be mailed to the client manually and took way too long to create in the first place. Throughout the 1990s, clients would receive their invoices in the mail and send back a check. Law firms then had to manually cash checks at the bank.

Today, invoices can be created with the click of a button and are usually sent via email to the client. Once a client receives a digital invoice, they can pay online using their debit or credit card.

Document Management

Throughout the 90’s, documents were becoming computerized, but had to be manually shared via floppy discs between computers. This made accessibility and collaboration difficult.

Today, documents are stored, accessed, and integrated into cloud-based practice management platforms, allowing lawyers to easily save records to each matter. This significantly reduces the amount of time it takes for firms to find and share documents. Templates make document creation even more efficient, allowing users to quickly generate new letters, agreements, or requests. You’ll want to make sure that any platform you’re using has enterprise-level security baked in.

Calendar

Before we had cell phones glued to our hips, keeping track of important dates meant legal teams would use their computers, Palm Pilots, and old school paper calendars. Devices didn’t talk to each other so they had to be diligent in keeping everything up to date.

Now, our devices communicate with each other. Calendars are digital and can be accessed from anywhere. But most importantly, Outlook calendars can be easily integrated with practice management platforms, ensuring that lawyers don’t miss a single call, meeting, or court date. Everything from your calendar to your practice management platform should be accessible on mobile so your firm can work anywhere, anytime.

Marketing

Two decades ago, law firm marketing involved the phonebook, billboards, and television commercials.

The most high-tech firms have shifted to a digital-first marketing strategy and run ads on Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and more. Forty-one percent of firms rely on email marketing, and 30% cite Facebook as a leading marketing channel. A high-quality practice management platform will integrate your marketing efforts so you can have full-funnel insights into what is working and what needs fine-tuning.

Reporting

Creating a data-driven law firm used to involve a ton of manual labor and an overwhelming amount of spreadsheets. Most organizations didn’t have the talent or time to optimize their firms and stuck with old school tactics that “just worked”—or at least seemed to work.

Now, high-performing law firms use platforms like Litify to automatically extract deep insights about their firm’s operations, intake efficiency, and marketing. A lawyer can quickly assess the firm’s health by glancing at a dashboard that they’ve customized to show the numbers that are most important to them. No need to ask someone else to run a report: real-time analytics are at everyone’s fingertips.

Get Your Firm into the Future

Check out the infographic below to see other ways firms operated in the 1990s vs. today. Does your firm feel stuck in the past? Whether you don’t have a cloud-based case management platform, or your firm still has to run manual reports, Litify can help.