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Legal profession adopts new technologies and trends

From e-discovery to virtual firms, attorneys adapt to the age

As the legal profession changes over time, so must those who practice law.

No longer can law firms – from solo practitioners to Big Law – rely on print advertising and word of mouth to inform the public of their services. With so many people in cyberspace, lawyers must be willing to create and maintain a presence on social media sites, the better to engage colleagues, clients and potential clients with posts about what they offer, what they have accomplished in the past and what they propose to do in the future.

Meanwhile, as paper files have given way to digital documents, attorneys must be tech-savvy – or at least be willing to hire someone who is – when conducting discovery of the opposing side’s documents, emails and text communications. The rise of electronic discovery has created a cottage industry of companies that specialize in e-discovery while remaining bound by the ethical responsibilities of attorney-client and work product confidentiality.

The technological boon has also made it possible for attorneys to work from home – even when their home is outside the state in which they are licensed to practice. Lawyers whose specialties do not require them to appear in court – lawyers who handle estates, wills, trusts and transactional work – particularly benefit from advances in computer software and telecommunications that enable them to draft, edit, sign and transmit documents and hold “face-to-face” conversations with colleagues, clients and opponents using video-conferencing programs.

Advanced communications have also made it easier for overextended law firms to outsource some of their preliminary and administrative work to solo practitioners and office-management companies elsewhere in the United States and even overseas. The American Bar Association has given its approval to such legal outsourcing, as long as clients are informed and all ethical rules are complied with, including attorney-client and work product privileges and the obligations of diligence, competence and client communication.

Quite apart from the changes wrought by technological advances, law firms are altering the manner and increasing the frequency of their performance reviews for associates. For many firms, these evaluations are no longer the familiar annual critiques of what lawyers are doing wrong. Rather, the reviews take place in meetings throughout the year and focus more on what associates are doing right. Law firms that have gone this route say these new, regular reviews are increasing office morale, reducing stress – and bringing joy to the practice of law.