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The Core Tech Challenge

by CLAY RANKIN — Practicing Attorney & Inventor of Cognito

September 22, 2022

A perfect storm of increasing demands, remote work, and an unremitting firehose of emails and interruptions is stripping away the time and focus required to practice law on any single workday effectively.

Simultaneously, lawyers are currently facing an unprecedented combination of technology-related challenges. The sheer volume of digital information that is potentially relevant in any legal matter is ten times greater than a decade ago and continues to explode at an accelerated rate.

Lawyer working on computer, underwater

The damage can be significant on a professional and personal level.

Some surveys report billable time as low as 2.5 hours per day. A recent article, citing the Bloomberg Law Attorney Workload and Hours Survey (Q4 of 2021), reported that first-time respondents are “experiencing burnout in their job more than half the time, and an increased number of respondents reported that their overall well-being had declined.”

The legal profession has arrived at the tipping point.

Although new technology platforms have arrived with practical solutions to specific aspects of our work, e.g., document creation, legal research, timekeeping, network or web-based document management, and client relations management, lawyers continue to feel increasingly distracted and unable to focus on quality legal work.

The root of the problem.

The inability of our current hodge-podge of technical tools to solve these overwhelming demands results from practically universal failure to consider and holistically address the lawyers’ technical needs in day-to-day practice. Predictably, there is a substantial disconnect between the methods and processes that lawyers need to do our work and the digital environments in which we operate. The result is often frustration.

We struggle to make do in a multiple-platform world where we must cobble together multiple

single-purpose tools from a tree of different apps to complete even the simplest task. We are required to switch repeatedly between screens and windows at a dizzying rate. We must create and store our work in different and often inconsistent formats and insulated information silos. Collaborators working on the same task frequently use different tools with different collections of information. A particularly common and painful waste of time is that we find ourselves reinventing the same “wheels” as we are required to repeat similar work. This inevitably leads to stress related to time constraints and longer hours.

"A particularly common and painful waste of time is that we find ourselves reinventing the same “wheels” as we are required to repeat similar work."

It’s time to strengthen the core of our practice.

Without an agreed-upon solution for day-to-day core legal workflow, we as lawyers will come face-to-face with the same productivity barriers that have caused us headaches for decades.

To remediate, we must first identify the necessary core workflows and processes that constitute the bulk of our daily work, those that bring to bear our experience and expertise, including:

  • Collecting and accessing pleadings, evidentiary documents, transcripts, and communications that contain substantive facts.

  • Reviewing these sources, extracting key evidence, and organizing it by subject matter.

  • Gathering new information from witnesses.

  • Creating new work product required to effectively advocate for our clients—briefs, outlines of testimony, and oral arguments.

  • Accessing previously completed work for reuse on new work.

  • To the extent that we routinely work with other lawyers and support staff, agreeing on using the same processes in the same way.

Then—and only then—can we investigate, plan and agree on a standard set of tools that support the efficient performance of our key workflows with a minimum number of apps and platforms.

We can adopt processes and solutions that result in logical and contextual collections of information and integrate data across different workflows. We can build knowledge bases to enable teams to draw on our and our colleagues' expertise and eliminate duplicated effort.

We should also adopt clear business rules that maximize efficient and standard use of these tools to produce consistent and high-quality work across multiple projects and workers.

We can efficiently layer solutions to incorporate those much-needed function-specific technologies with core workflow and practice management technologies. These are not mutually exclusive and can be complementary, often through a simple process adaptation.

Once we examine our processes and prioritize our technology to optimize every lawyer and paralegal’s daily work, we enable daily incremental growth in billable hours and task progress. We need to do this now. Our ability to practice effectively, sustain our revenue model, and preserve our sanity depends on it.


About Clay Rankin

Clay Rankin is a practicing attorney, inventor, and chief development officer of Cognito Legal Workflow Software. As a civil litigator for decades, Rankin has consistently adapted emerging digital technologies to capture, organize and access case evidence in his practice. Rankin has led small teams of lawyers and paralegals to succeed in high-profile maritime cases against substantially larger corporate and government opponents by leveraging legal experience with computerized databases for fact and document management.

His determination to develop more technically advanced information management processes has led to the release of Cognito Legal Workflow Software in May 2021. The mission of Cognito is to simplify litigation workflows to capture, create, preserve and repurpose case knowledge effectively.


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