Saturday, March 24, 2007

Building Law Firm 2.0

The current revolution of new applications and uses of the Internet has frequently been termed Web 2.0. In thinking about how this revolution will affect the practice of law, the term “Law Firm 2.0” came to mind. Based on a quick google search, I see that I am not the first to use this term.

What is Law Firm 2.0?

Law Firm 2.0 is a way to describe the impact that technology and the web will have on the next generation of law firms.

In October 2005, I heard Carly Fiorina, former President and CEO of Hewlett-Packard Co., speak at MIT’s convocation. Having just revitalized one of the worlds leading technology companies, she had a very clear understanding of how technology was reshaping the world. She believes that we are at the beginning of a new era dominated by the power of the individual, driven by technology that is digital, mobile, virtual, and personal. (And I would add a fifth characteristic for law firms: secure).

Last month, I wrote that Knowledge Management will drive the law firm of the future. The core platform for managing knowledge will be web-based applications. The Law Firm 2.0 concept requires rethinking the web as the lawyer’s primary control center. Are lawyers using the web as their primary control center now? No. Not by a long shot!

Today, I use the web mainly to visit specific web sites, read news, and do occasional google searches. My central focus is on email. If anything, MS Outlook is my control center. First thing in the morning I check email, then calendar events, and then todo lists. I use PC-based word processing to draft and revise documents. My day tends to be interrupt-driven with telephone calls, email messages, and calendar alerts continually resetting my priorities.

In the future, I expect to use my web browser as my control center. I envision working virtually, relying more on online systems than PCs. I want to be able to work anytime anywhere without carrying my office with me. I want to have access to people, information, and tools that enhance and facilitate the practice of law, automate mundane tasks and allow me to leverage my time. The web-based tools are more suited to the style of practice I envision.

Note: I did not mention building computer networks or network storage systems. I worked in the computer networking industry and I was President of a networking software company. Although networking and storage are critical technologies, they have no place inside the law firm of the future, any more than an electrical generator or telephone switching station does. Networking and storage technologies should be provided by utilities like electricity, heat, and water. Law firms need to have these resources, but they do not need to build or manage them.

I don’t mean to offend anyone, but building a large IT department is a mistake! Instead, build a large KM department. Law Firm 2.0 is about leveraging technology and systems to facilitate the practice of law. It is not about building technology and systems.

Getting to Law Firm 2.0 takes a lot of work and a willingness to change. You have to constantly adapt and upgrade tools without disrupting work flow and client priorities. (As you can see by my sporadic postings of late, I am still fine tuning that balance).

So, what are some of the changes I envision?

Digital – paperless office; all documents scanned and stored electronically (except where original signatures are required),

Mobile – working anytime, anywhere; information should be accessible over the web and compatible with pdas, cell phones, and the latest messaging applications.

Virtual – access to people, information and tools, working in the office is an option; systems must be designed with the assumption that people may be working next door or on the other side of the globe; systems must facilitate communications and sharing of knowledge without assuming the traditional in-person contact.

Personal – the power of the individual; lawyers are extremely intelligent and each have their own style of practice; tools must allow sharing of knowledge without constraining individual preferences or inhibiting individual contributions.

Secure – trust is a foundation of legal practice; lawyers must preserve client confidentiality and maintain the integrity of the profession; systems must have access control, encryption, off-site back-up, and automated processes.

What do you envision for the law firm of the future? What technologies are critical for Law Firm 2.0?

1 comment:

Elaine said...

If you have a chance, check out a virtual law firm based in San Francisco:

Rimon has also stripped down the overhead costs of a traditional law firm, and only employs high-end partner-level attorneys from top law schools and firms. They get an added cost benefit of using ex-pat lawyers – thus getting the attorneys for a lower cost simply because of their location. The idea was, once you go virtual, the location of the attorney no longer matters.