Trends & Technology in the Legal Industry

Instructor: Patricia Jankowski

Patricia has a BSChE. She's an experienced registered nurse who has worked in various acute care areas as well as in legal nurse consulting.

The legal industry is changing rapidly to better accommodate a public in need of simple, quick solutions to legal problems. Technology is at the forefront of much of this change. This lesson will examine current trends in the legal industry.

Too Many Lawyers, Not Enough Law

Every year, law schools produce new graduates at about twice the rate that available job openings appear. Yet, access to legal representation is expensive and the cost is prohibitive for some. Because of this imbalance, the legal industry is changing. More efficient and equitable ways of delivering legal services are needed, and the industry is finding creative ways to meet this need.

The legal industry is changing
Image of gavel

Factors That Led To Change

The profession of law developed during the twentieth century to serve, for the most part, the aristocracy and the elite. Unfortunately, attitudes about admission to the profession and to the American Bar Association were often founded on racism and disdain for poor immigrants. Because it has failed to serve so many who need legal help, the profession has been forced to evolve in order to survive.

Economic Changes

In past years, lawyers would bill their clients by the hour. Clients would have no say about how the work hours of their attorneys would be spent, nor would they have an idea of how much the legal expenses would amount to by the time the dispute was over. Unscrupulous attorneys could take advantage of clients who didn't have much knowledge of the law. This inefficiency and lack of transparency, coupled with a shrinking middle class with less ability to pay, has made many people feel that obtaining legal help is simply too impractical. To be competitive, it became necessary for law firms to find better ways to bill their clients.

Changing Workforce And Attitudes

The lawyers of the previous generations are aging. As they age, new lawyers and paralegal personnel from younger generations are entering the field. Often, these attorneys and paralegals must work together and may have differing ideas about how the job should be done. Those of generation X (those born between 1965 and 1980) and especially generation Y (those born in the 1980's and early 1990's) were educated and raised with technology as an active part of their lives.

Global Expansion

The world has become a global place. Advances in air travel and technologies such as the Internet have made it much smaller than it once was, and this has affected the legal industry. Corporations and other organizations now have branches in countries around the world. Large law firms are now often international endeavors.

New Trends In The Legal Industry

Because of all these factors, new trends are developing within the legal industry. Let's take a look at some of these.

Use Of Technology

Perhaps the most important and comprehensive trend that has affected the legal industry is the use of technology. As lawyers and support personnel travel around the globe, laptop computers and mobile phones go with them. The amounts of data that is collected during the discovery phases of a legal case and during a trial can be enormous, and no longer must all this be stored in cumbersome boxes of files. It can be stored on a compact disc, or on small storage drives. Data can even be stored in the cloud, or remote database that can be accessed via the Internet. This means that the person who needs access to the data doesn't have to be in or near a fixed spot, like at a desktop computer, to get to it. It's out floating on the Internet ''cloud''.

But that's not all! Computers are being ''taught'' to think like lawyers. They're sometimes being used to gather information about how a certain judge often rules on a case, and then, based on that information, to make predictions about how he'll rule on a current case being worked. Sounds far-fetched, doesn't it?

Virtual Law Firms

To increase access to legal services and provide better work-life balance for attorneys, the law has gone virtual. A client can actually visit a website, click on a category of services such as wills and trusts, and get computerized instructions for how to file the needed forms, for a given fee. This can often be done in minutes from the comfort of the client's home.

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