18 Types of Legal Tech All Legal Professionals Should Understand
Stay ahead of the curve and develop your tech-savvy with these 18 essential types of technology that every legal professional should understand, from e-discovery tools to cloud computing and AI-powered legal research.
The practice of law is undergoing a tectonic shift. Being a lawyer these days is as much about being a businessperson, project manager, salesperson—and yes tech expert—as it is about writing motions and negotiating contracts. This shift isn't leaving anyone untouched. We all see it, and we are all figuring out what it means for each of us.
But change is hard, especially for lawyers. And especially when it comes to technology.
In working with folks trying to adapt, we've found that one pain point is simply the mystery of tech. This cloud of confusion and abstractness that makes overwhelming picking up new tools. For many of us, technology feels both scary and annoying. It's a million programs and a million opportunities for things to go wrong. Functions to learn; malfunctions to deal with.
And that's sad. Because technology holds the potential to empower every lawyer. It can take the monotonous and aggravating parts of legal practice right off your plate. It can open up new opportunities for your clients and colleagues. It can change (for the better) how you feel about your day-to-day job.
We at Write.law have been working for years to show lawyers and law students how technology can be a friend instead of an enemy. Much frustration stems from approaching technology the wrong way, pushing buttons and getting angry when things don't work like you think they should. But once you learn a basic framework for how technology works and how you should be incorporating tools into your workflow, it all gets easier.
To build that framework, consider a few steps. First, understand the universe of tech tools available for lawyers. No need to master everything, just get a basic sense of what's out there—a taxonomy. That will take the mystery out of tech. It will also ensure you can follow along and ask the right questions when clients or colleagues discuss tech or use new tools. You'll also have a better sense of how tech might assist you when facing challenges.
Second, learn the right approach to using tech. Most tools work in similar ways. It's about learning the key functions, investing the time to set them up for your workflow, and using your resources wisely when things go wrong.
In this post, we will concentrate on the initial step: Exploring the tech universe for lawyers.
First, we have technology specifically created for those in the legal field—legal tech. This includes tools like legal-practice management software, eDiscovery platforms, legal analytics, contract analysis tools, legal communications tools, and other tools created specifically for lawyers and other legal professionals.
But just as important are non-legal technology tools. These include tools that nearly all legal folks use—like Microsoft Word, Excel, and conference call software—to more advanced tools, like sophisticated AI-enabled calendar tools, editing programs, and much more.
For now, let's discuss some essential legal technology tools that you should recognize. Many will probably be familiar if you've been practicing a while. In future posts we will break down non-legal tech you should also become familiar with, including everything from basic mobile scanners to sophisticated AI-calendaring tools. And later on, we will cover some core strategies to assist you in mastering any new tech tool correctly.
So let's dive in. Here are some core legal tech categories that you should be familiar with:
Yes, know how to use basics like Westlaw. But be familiar with new legal research platforms like Casetext and Ross that approach research in new ways. They don't handle legal research like other platforms, and you will find new tools that you might like better. Each of these platforms has also been shown to turn up different results using the same terms.
Legions of tech tools help lawyers keep data secure these days—whether it be file encryption programs, file security programs, or password vaults. Get familiar with the options you have for securing your files, communications, and even your video conferences.
Even if you aren't a litigator, e-discovery tools can extract and sift through vast amounts of data. Some e-discovery platforms give you visual insights and analytical data which can assist in identifying trends, locating critical information, and viewing data from various perspectives. And if you work as a litigator, e-discovery platforms can assist in sorting documents, generating privilege logs, organizing exhibit lists, and performing various other tasks.
Many legal orgs use document management platforms: Systems designed to assist in managing document versioning, storage, and security. These platforms offer significant benefits for every lawyer, and even if you do not use one, you can create your own system using simple tools such as Airtable or even an Excel spreadsheet connected to a database.
PDF and E-signature
PDFs are a core lawyering tool. Nearly everything gets PDFed in our line of work, whether it be a financial document, a filing, or any other document shared externally. The market is flooded with PDF editors, with powerhouses such as Adobe (the company that created PDFs) and Nuance leading the pack. Ensure that you choose a tool with the necessary features and invest time in mastering at least the basics.
Legal tech companies specializing in analytics have emerged throughout the sector in recent years. These tools assist in extracting valuable information from data. For example, predictive judicial analytics can provide insights into the tendencies of specific judges when ruling on certain types of motions or matters. Attorney analytics can perform a similar function but for attorneys. And many legal organizations are now investing in their own legal analytics: Extracting a wide range of valuable insights from the data within their systems.
Practice Management Platforms
Practice management platforms are becoming standard in many firms and legal organizations. These platforms manage all the data and information associated with a case, matter, client, or your entire practice. They provide you with rapid access to high-level information, such as the amount of time billed on specific cases or budgets for similar matters.
E-filing and Dockets
No matter your practice area, you should understand the basics of how the workings of e-filing and court dockets. You never know when you might need to file something or, at the very least, look up a case for a client.
Knowledge management is one of the most powerful yet underused tech tools. It assists in organizing previous work product, research, contacts, and other information, making it easily accessible when needed in the future. Invest in this tool now, and you will thank yourself again and again.
Numerous companies create tools for aiding companies and lawyers in managing risk and identifying compliance problems. These tools can assist in identifying risks in contracts, regulations, and more.
Contract Analysis and Drafting
This is one of the hottest areas of legal tech. Emerging contract tools can analyze contracts to identify weaknesses, generate template contracts, and even pull from databases of vetted contract terms. The potential time savings for in-house and transactional attorneys are significant.
Docketing and Calendaring
Tools like Docket Alarm can manage all your case deadlines and even calculate due dates based on the rules of a court.
Tracking time is critical, even for folks who don't charge by the hour. That is because time is a valuable asset for every lawyer. The more productive and efficient you are, the more things you can do. But tracking time is also a hassle. Tools can assist in automatically tracking your time by monitoring your activities on your devices. They can even automate the process of describing your time.
Trial Presentation Software
Trial presentation software can make an impression on judges, juries, and even clients for litigators. These platforms organize and present evidence such as documents, images, and videos, incorporating impressive features like zoom capabilities.
Legal Document Automation
Document automation can save you hours on any work product you create. Moreover, exciting new platforms are pushing the boundaries of automation. Compose, for example, can draft simple motions for you in a handful of clicks.
Artificial intelligence gets constant hype and has for years, but folks disagree about what it means. The most helpful definition is probably something like tech that is so sophisticated it manages to mimic some complex tasks that humans typically handle in terms of understanding or processing. But understand that companies use this term all the time and it's often not very helpful when deciding whether the product can help you.
Machine learning enables computers to make data-driven decisions rather than being explicitly programmed to perform specific tasks. It's often considered a subset of AI, but again, it's probably best to focus more on what machine learning tools can do for your workflow, and give less emphasis to the buzzwords alone.
Blockchain is another area that has gotten endless hype in the legal world, some warranted, some not. Blockchain is essentially a process for verifying transactions that can occur without the need for an authoritative intermediary. Because the nature of blockchain makes it hard to forge or modify a transaction in the chain, it is beneficial for applications such as smart contracts.
These are just some of the exciting new legal technologies that are changing the way we practice. Start investing in the ones you need now! They'll pay dividends over your entire legal career.
Write.law co-founder Joe Regalia combines his experience as both practitioner and professor to create exciting new ways to teach legal skills. Learn more about Joe