On their own, or as the member of a large firm, how a lawyer uses technology today is crucial to their business and career survival.
Staying on top of tech developments in any legal discipline can be daunting. Pick a flavor: criminal, corporate, real estate, matrimonial, patent, personal injury; or specialization … DWI, homicide, divorce, estate planning, civil rights, immigration, bankruptcy. Even the solo general practice attorney is faced with a litany of tech limited only by what they choose to focus on.
Technology out in the field, inside courtrooms, and back at the office, plays such large roles in litigation, legislation, prosecution, and defense work that “technological competence” is an actual standard for lawyers. Promoted by the American Bar Association (ABA) in “Model Rules,” the standard has been adopted by more than half the states in the U.S.
Hanging out a shingle today as an attorney, or even as a group of lawyers, means taking technology into account.
At the Law Office – Software
Hardware can wait. Software rules the day when it comes to running a law firm. Robust software often requires powerful computers. Consider the sheer number of applications needed:
- Firm management software. Managing cases, clients, phone calls, billable hours, calendars, accounting, payroll, and personnel can be divided among several applications, but complete suites are now customized for the legal business.
- Case organization/trial management and presentation software might be part of a management system. Specialty applications like L-Tron’s OSCR360 Photographic Solution provide new and exciting ways to organize that digital evidence, which can overwhelm even a team of attorneys. OSCR360 was used by the DA in the Rochester Rideout case to do just that.
- Videoconferencing. Web-based applications might work, but secure, proprietary software and hardware solutions might serve the confidential nature of a law firm better.
- Web design. Do you keep a web designer on staff? Or do you hire an outside company to handle images and marketing?
- Speech to text software. Dictation can streamline a business founded on producing legal documents.
- Legal research software. Laws, case law, and legal records are often the foundations of legal arguments. Online legal search services were among the earliest digital technologies available to attorneys.
- E-discovery software. Online documents, images, video, and social media as evidence is an expanding segment of the legal field.
- Productivity software for legal documents, databases, imagery, video production, etc. Is Microsoft enough? Not likely.
- Stand-alone document assembly software. Casework involves pulling packages of quantities of documents together, duplication and collation.
- Document scanning apps including PDF conversion. Physical paperwork may still be required; however, e-filing expedites workflow, helps meet deadlines, and increasingly is the process both legal institutions and law firms look to for document exchange.
- Phone systems. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) or analog service. There are pros and cons to both.
- Online storage capability. Storing vast quantities of documents securely, on-site, with backups, can be problematic for even large firms. Secure cloud-based solutions are likely the more sensible operational and economically sensible choice for most attorneys.
- Social media. For some people, if you don’t have a social media presence, you don’t exist. No matter what platform, some interaction, whether by a law firm or individual attorney, may be in your best interest.
- Virtual call services. What about after-hours legal access? Emergencies? Team members working from remote locations may need to interact and a virtual call center may offer advantages over traditional phone calls or texting.
- Secure client portals. Do clients and staff have a way to securely access, download, and private information held directly on firm servers?
What about Hardware?
Software requirements dictate minimum requirements for computing power. Computers, no matter the form – desktop, laptop, tablet, cell phone – need interoperability with each other, access to the internet, as well as security. It’s the peripherals, stationary or mobile, which complicate matters:
- High-capacity scanners will be needed for assembling all that legal documentation.
- Laser printers are the industry standard. Much like thermal printing, ink-jet produced documents can be considered impermanent and rejected by courts.
- Fax machines. Yes, they’re still around and used by some.
- Servers for data processing, network computing, and storage. RAID configurations for backup.
- Video cameras for video conferencing.
- Still and video cameras for evidence documentation, including physical and testimonial evidence. L-Tron’s OSCR360 has a capture kit that is often used by District Attorneys and Law Enforcement to capture overall images of a scene. It is even being used to continue investigating & organizing cold cases.
- Projectors for in-house presentation. Portable projectors for courtroom presentations.
- Laptop computers for mobile fieldwork and courtroom presentation.
People – they remain a critical part of tech.
To stay on top of technology changes, larger law offices may keep an IT professional on staff, or hire out computer services. Entire careers for legal “technology specialists” have opened for professionals in audio-visual production, case presentation, and computer forensics.
With almost daily exponential growth in technology, lawyers often turn to tech experts to assist them in and outside the courtroom.