Big Law is so behind the legal IT curve


Big Law is so behind the legal IT curveWhen I did my legal IT predictions for 2014 I hadn’t read the latest editions of Legal IT Today (Issue #4) or the Briefing from the Legal Support Network on Legal Technology in 2014. If I had I may have been a little more conservative about what the future holds especially in so far as it relates to Big Law.

When I am referring to Big Law here I am probably doing so in the traditional sense of the larger law firms rather than the BigLaw business model referred to by George Beaton in NewLaw New Rules. That business model can include smaller law firms who operate along traditional law firm lines. Not all of those are as behind as Big Law is when it comes to legal IT, although many certainly still will be.

Legal IT Today and Legal Technology in 2014 Briefing are probably more aimed at Big Law and have, on the whole, contributions from and about Big Law. The picture both paint of the future of legal IT is one that I recognise from several years ago. But then I come from Small Law or perhaps NewLaw.

I hadn’t quite realised how far behind the legal IT curve Big Law is.

Apparently cloud is “probably the future for legal”. Probably! It is undoubtedly. But it is clear that Big Law is way behind Small Law / NewLaw on that front. I was writing on this blog about my law firm’s move to the cloud in 2011.

There is an acknowledgement that the cloud makes NewLaw “as agile, if not more agile, than Big Law”. I think much more agile.

However, there is a report on a NewLaw firm that set up as recently as 2011 but decided to “stay on the ground and invest in [their] own heavy duty servers” because the document management system they set their sights on could only unleash its full power if it was installed on the firm’s own hardware. I think I would have moved my sights elsewhere fairly quickly!

An article on the cloud tells us that lawyers will be able to work using any connected device. Will! They can. I do.

These articles come from interviews with Chief Information Officers or IT Partners at Big Law. All who are in law firms that are clearly several years behind when it comes to cloud technology.

It is, however, recognised that the problem is that Big Law has invested heavily in non-cloud based technology and needs to “sweat their expensive IT investments” before they can justify a move to the cloud.

So I clearly need to revisit my 2014 predictions on the cloud as I now think Big Law will be speaking about it for years to come and it will not become as ubiquitous as quickly as I predicted.

Apparently Eversheds now have 500 iPads in circulation and it is therefore assumed by the Legal Support Network that the idea has worked. I, on the other hand, would imagine that for most of the 500 users their iPads are nothing more than a plaything perk rather than workhorses bringing real benefit to the law firm. This will be especially true if you are not fully in the cloud where tablet access would at least be somewhat beneficial. It would be interesting to see facts and figures on the actual Return on Investment.

When the iPad first came out Lev Grossman wrote in Time:-

While it’s a lovely device for consuming content, it doesn’t do much to facilitate its creation. The iPad shifts the emphasis from creating content to merely absorbing and manipulating it. It mutes you, turns you back into a passive consumer of other people’s masterpieces.

Walter Isaacson in his biography of Steve Jobs commented on this:-

It was a criticism Jobs took to heart. He set about making sure that the next version of the iPad would emphasize ways to facilitate artistic creation by the user.

I don’t think Steve Jobs had lawyers in mind when he did so 😉

However, many tablets have evolved into mini-laptops (at least those that have their own keyboards) and might now be a more all rounded device for a lawyer to whom screen size is not essential whilst working.

It would appear that at least one Big Law firm is “looking at Windows 8.1, the Surface and Windows phone”. No need to waste time looking – get on and buy! It is beyond me why any law firm would not be buying Microsoft when it is already so ingrained within the legal profession and actually works well for it. Seduction and perceived prestige over function and practicalities leads to a law firm biting at Apple.

Another area where Big Law is clearly way behind the curve is social media:-

Social media has been on our radar for a while.

That while must be about five years or so!

It is perhaps apt when looking at law firms to quote William Gibson:-

The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.

Image credit: Diagram (adapted by The Time Blawg for this post with the addition of law firm references) by Craig Chelius (private communication with Craig Chelius) [CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons:

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