Bloomberg BNA Big Law Business posed the question “What technologies will most affect Big Law in 2016?” to a handful of legal technology experts who took issue with the question to varying degrees.

There is no single technology that threatens to disrupt the industry. Rather, they described emerging threats, processes already underway that will transform the way legal services are delivered and tasks that lie ahead for the industry.

A Threat From In-House?

Casey Flaherty, principal at legal technology services company Procertas, said “It’s a buyer’s market,” referencing the purchasing power of in-house legal departments. Admonishing Big Law “sellers” of legal services and paraphrasing Jeffrey Carr, former vice president and general counsel of FMC Technologies Inc., Flaherty said, “What the buyers find interesting, the sellers should find fascinating.”

“Fierce competition not just among law firms but between law firms and their own clients and law firms and alternative providers. It is not an existential threat to the industry (where 2016 will look a lot like 2015) but it will deeply affect some individual lawyers and firms,” Flaherty said.

A Demand: Security

Chris Romano, chief information officer at Ward & Smith PA of Raleigh, N.C., wrote that information technology security “Is client driven, particularly by financial and health care institutions that are passing down regulatory requirements to all vendors, most notably law firms.”

“Firms will have to take a holistic view of their environments; having robust firewalls isn’t enough,” Romano said. “They will have to make investments in intrusion detection, more hardening of internal systems, and containment technologies. From a policy standpoint they will have to develop firm wide policies that address security from desktops to servers (thumb drives, loaner laptops, remote access, etc.) together with limiting access to data.”

“Culturally this will be a big change for firms,” Romano said. “IT must take the lead on the technology, though I think policy must be developed, maintained and enforced by senior management.”

Theodore L. Banks, compliance and ethics consultant and antitrust lawyer at Scharf Banks Marmor LLC in Chicago, would agree with Romano but thinks “cloud vendors can do as good or better job on security” than law firms, which brings up technology as a destination in 2016.

A Destination: Cloud

The year of the cloud has been prologue and dialogue since 2008. At first, the cloud seethed with overpromising and underperforming application providers, but applications have recently matured and network connections have virtually transformed private and public clouds to the next hop on law firm routers.

Cloud computing will penetrate law firms when they realize vendors can supply “as good or better” security than firm data centers.
Jeffrey Brandt, Chief Information Officer, Jackson Kelly PLLC, Charleston, W.Va.

Jeffrey Brandt, CIO of Jackson Kelly PLLC in Charleston, W.Va., said “The largest single technological impact on law firms, isn’t really a new technology” it is “ the cloud. In 2016, firms will begin to put both feet into the cloud, pushing core functionality and divesting themselves of certain parts of management they no longer want but also some of the controls they currently enjoy. They will be forced to change, or fail.”

“When Big Law fully embraces cloud technology, it will irrevocably change law firm IT, Brandt said. “For the firms that make a successful leap into the cloud, their IT departments will need to be fundamentally transformed.”

Romano said “Some of this will be vendor driven.” Vendors “will no longer offer a data center choice,” he said. Of Microsoft products, he said “I firmly believe Exchange and Office will come to an end in data centers and we’ll all be pushed to Office 365.”

Banks said that cloud computing will penetrate law firms when they realize vendors can supply “as good or better” security than firm data centers. Romano would agree with that but qualify it: “That gets dicey with some clients, ironically enough, in financial and health care arenas, who seem to think I can make my data center more secure than the cloud.”

Romano said that “Firms must still perform due diligence and vet the security of any cloud vendor, but by and large it makes much more sense to move things out of the data center. Ultimately it’s more predictable when it comes to the budget and it gets you out of the applications and storage business.”

“What then, will IT be responsible for?” asked and answered by Romano: “Our staffs must develop skills in the switching and routing arenas, with some continued emphasis on user support.” Banks, however, predicted a “reduction of employment in the law firm IT support world.”

Herculean Task: Windows 10 Update

Tony Cordeiro, CIO of White & Case LLP in New York, takes a pragmatic view of technology in 2016 and returns to basics. “Many are gearing up for Windows 10 and Office 15 or 16 depending on the vendor readiness and interdependency.” This “will be a huge time commitment when you factor in change management, training and application of the new tools.”

However when firms aren’t busy with basics, they “will be keeping the trains running and addressing the mobility and security spaces to varying degrees,” he said.

The Law: EU Data Protection

Anthony DeCerce, director of the information technology consulting firm TDGCE Ltd., said the European Court of Justice’s invalidation of the U.S.-European Union Safe Harbor Program “could have major implications for firms that process personal data and move it between geographies.” The deadline for replacing the Safe Harbor data-sharing agreement is set for Jan. 31, DeCerce said, “with the European Union and the U.S. authorities risking enforcement action if they miss it.”

One day in 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will replace the European Union Data Protection Directive (95/46/EC). The text of the GDPR will soon be formally approved, according to DeCerce.

Although the impact to Big Law is unknown at this time, he said, the “changes will have a significant impact on how firms process internal as well as client communications and data. It would be prudent to have a contingency line in the budget to fund any changes to systems and to monitor compliance with these new regulations.”

The opinions of individuals in this story are their own and not those of the institutions they are affiliated with.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sean La Roque-Doherty at sean@laroque-doherty.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Casey Sullivan at csullivan@bna.com