Here are my views of trends to watch in 2004. I choose the word trend intentionally because, as Yogi Berra said, making predictions is hard, especially about the future. Regular readers of my blog know that I focus on the strategic use of technology and not technology per se.
I therefore start with what strikes me as important legal market trends, phrased as questions:
Law firm mergers – seems likely to continue but the question still is, are they working and are there synergies (marketing or operational)?
Alternative billing – is it dead or alive? When I started in the legal market in 1989, it seemed inevitable. Its seemed inevitable now for so long that I wonder if it really is.
Convergence programs – do they really work and, if so, is there more to come? Several large law departments have widely publicized programs to reduce the number of outside counsel and manage them more effectively. Why havent we seen more of this?
Management Structures and Approaches – will there be a move toward a more corporate form of managing law firms? It seems to me that law firms have moved toward more more systematic management and an increasing professionalization of staff functions. Is this perception true and, if so, will it continue?
On the technology front, I start with the premise that most firms now have decent infrastructures and keep them reasonably current. Though there are a host of infrastructure questions such as storage strategies and disaster recovery, Ill focus on what I consider the more interesting strategic questions:
E-Discovery – why isnt most discovery focused on digital data, rather than paper? What are the best approaches to e-discovery? I think that in 2004 more litigators will embrace e-discovery and the profession will make progress in establishing norms for how best to conduct it.
ROI – How should firms evaluate returns on tech investments. Now that infrastructure expenses are considered operational, how should firms think about measuring the return both on infrastructure and expenditures beyond the basics? Firms are more conscious than ever of costs, but it does not seem that many have adopted a more strategic approach to thinking about tech investments.
Outsourcing – Will firms outsource more? There were several interesting developments in 2004. It seems likely the trend to outsourcing will continue.
Work Flow, aka Business Process Modeling – Will more law firms adopt work flow technology? Some firms have installed work flow systems, primarily for back office functions such as opening new matters. The key question for me is what the opportunities
are to use work flow on the practice side – I suspect they are limited to high-volume, niche practices.
Knowledge Management: Hire PSLs, buy fancy full-text or taxonomic software, buy portals, do nothing? Firms are still wrestling with the best approach to KM. I expect that in 2004 we will see some consolidation of thinking on best approaches. (See my blog entries on KM.)
E-billing- how much is happening? What is the impact beyond reviewing charges and paying bills? I think that if inhouse departments moved to e-billing and knew how to analyze the data, the implications could be significant all around.
Online Legal Services? What is the future of online services? As my recent update on this topic indicates, online services have not taken hold as much as some of us expected, but the future is still an open question.
Note that the trends I focus on are about how law firms and departments use existing technology. We should also keep an eye on new technologies that will continue to be important. The top three Im watching are Wi-Fi, Voice Over Internet, and Web Services. [Strategic Legal Technology]