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Updating Your Legal Tech? Five Questions to Ask Yourself Before Making a Decision

by CLAY RANKIN — Practicing Attorney & Inventor of Cognito

February 28, 2022

At this unique point in law practice history, technology for law firms is expanding exponentially and becoming more essential as the legal profession struggles to manage the explosion of new knowledge. Effective legal software that didn’t exist five years ago is now widely available, relatively cheap, and actually capable of improving work speed and quality.

But, as you may have noticed, we lawyers are prone to a common systemic problem. Although experts uniformly agree that our need for more robust technology platforms will increase at an accelerated rate, lawyers as a species are notably unwilling to invest the effort required to explore and commit to vital practice improvement technology. The causes of this reluctance may include:

  • The rapidly changing technology landscape has created new and poorly understood requirements to support remote work, collaboration, and hybrid legal services.

  • The software choices that herald themselves as indispensable appear more daunting and confusing than beneficial. “More powerful” often looks more like “too hard and too complicated.”

  • Competing software vendors announce that they have the be-all-end-all solution to all your tech needs, but their offerings are missing key functionality that we must have to do our work.

  • Lawyers have long ago been trained to value the status quo (“stare decisis”).

It is feasible to side-step the paralyzing effect of these problems and make solid decisions about technology acquisition and deployment if we address the right questions in the correct order.

FIRST, what core technology must we have at our fingertips every hour of every day to allow us to work the way lawyers actually work? Stated simply, we must be able to:

  • Enable focus and concentration by eliminating distractions.

  • Create, collect, organize, communicate, share, recall and reuse our knowledge and the documents we store and present it.

  • Switch among these different activities at a moment’s notice to respond to changing external demands.

  • Return to formerly activities with minimum disruption.

  • Access and review documents and web resources.

  • Organize collected knowledge as appropriate to perform tasks.

  • Create new work product as needed to present organized information for a particular purpose.

  • Preserve all organized knowledge and work product for rapid recall to address similar new work requirements in the future.

  • Allow others to collaborate and work remotely by providing them access to the same integrated information environment you are using.

SECOND, what additional technology do we need for specialized work requirements like heavy-duty word processing, email, institutional level document management, legal research, and time billing/ accounting?

THIRD, with Step 1 clearly in mind, look for always-available core technology that delivers as many of your “Step 1” constant requirements as possible in one application. A web platform is far more likely than desktop software to provide the key requirement of ready access to a shared, integrated workspace by multiple workers in multiple locations.

FOURTH, choose the special-purpose software you have identified, and then create, deploy and consistently use effective processes that pass as much information as possible between your core and special purpose applications.

FIFTH, teach your team to use your selected software in their daily work, provide them readily available support as they begin using it, and set a high firm-wide standard for working only within the new environment. Even the finest technology solutions succeed only to the extent that they are widely adopted in daily practice.

The likely results of these suggested steps will produce permanent valuable benefits in addition to improved consistency, work quality, and billable time. Most notably, the legal knowledge created and preserved in context will become an ever-more valuable asset for the future. Here technology can make its most valuable contribution to both the present and the future of your organization by automatically providing in-depth case history, single information set for onboarding new lawyers and staff, and a comprehensive reference for similar work in the future.

It is this knowledge base and collective expertise that becomes the firm’s legacy.

Clay Rankin is the inventor and Chief Development Officer for Cognito, a Core Legal Practice solution. Cognito is a revolutionary cloud workplace that optimizes legal knowledge work. Cognito focuses on each legal task by organizing all related information on a single list that shows all work in context and provides a robust toolset enabling the completion of the task.

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