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Charles Christian

Charles Christian is a legal IT commentator and speaker with over 30 years knowledge of the industry. He is publisher and editor of the Legal IT Insider global legal tech industry newsletter. Twitter @ChristianUncut.

It is now nearly 20 years ago since my book Legal Practice in the Digital Age was first published. The book’s central theme was that despite all the money law firms were spending on technology in those days, most of this money (money which might otherwise be going to partners) was being spent on the wrong stuff.

What law firms were spending their money on back then were mainly inward-facing, back office administrative systems, such accounts, practice management, wordprocessing and document management systems. Whereas what they should have been spending their money on were outward-looking, client-facing systems … in other words systems that could help deliver a better legal service experience to their clients.

While any discussions about legal technology inevitably have a strong focus on what sort of technology law firms and legal service providers should be buying and how best to then handle the rollout to get lawyers actually using it, the issue of how to pay for it tends to be ignored.

One of the topics on the agenda for the LexThink.1 event, which takes place in Chicago on the 26th March (presenters are chosen by a popular vote and each get six minutes to speak with 20 slides automatically forwarding every 18 seconds) is titled The End of Richard Susskind.

There has been a lot of talk in recent months about how we are moving into the post-Windows age, when the Microsoft Windows platform, which has dominated the PC operating systems market for over 20 years starts to fade into the annals of IT history (if we begin with the first iteration to gain a critical commercial mass: Windows 3.1 in March 1992).

There is even a suggestion that Google Android is now the new Windows, in that it is currently being installed as an operating system on devices (including laptops/Chromebooks, tablets and smartphones) at about three times the rate of Windows.

One thing is certainly true: the world no longer waits with bated breath for the launch of a new version of the Microsoft Windows operating system.

Back in 1977, the Nobel-winning economist Herbert Simon warned about the dangers of a looming information-rich world in which “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention”. Another variation of this warning is “we are data rich but information poor” – or as my old Granny used to say, “You can’t see the wood for the trees.”

All true, but how do we reconcile such homilies with the enormous explosion of information we have seen, not just in business but in the world generally over the past 5 years?

The biggest successes in law office automation have always been the no-brainers. Projects where the benefits of the new technologies (such as wordprocessing and digital dictation) are so obvious they outweigh any reservations and are embraced by users without a fight – not least because they don’t seek to supplant the end-user but merely bring efficiencies to tasks they’ve always done. So, typists keep on typing but without having to retype entire documents every single time they are amended – and lawyers keep on dictating, without having to fret where the tape is in the transcription queue.

All of which prompts the question: why has there been no similar success in the fields of document drafting and knowledge management?

From time-to-time the legal IT industry hits a tipping point when almost overnight a new paradigm sweeps into the market and permanently disrupts the previous status quo.

Is the legal IT industry now heading for a fresh tipping point over Software as a Service – or at least the different definitions of what constitutes SaaS?

Over the last couple of years there has been a lot of debate in the legal IT world about the “consumerisation” of technology and, in particular BYOD (Bring/Buy Your Own Device). Or, to put it another way, how to cope with equity partners who demand they be able to access all their files on an Apple iPad rather than the standard-issue office laptop.

There are plenty of other manifestations of this trend: iPhones and Androids instead of BlackBerry smartphones; the widespread use of public Cloud services such as Dropbox for exchanging files between parties instead of more traditional (and secure) enterprise portals; and so on. All share one factor in common, namely platforms that evolved in the consumer market are simpler and friendlier to use than technologies that were designed for the business market. Why is Dropbox so popular? – because it is so easy to use! Ditto the iPad.

Delia Venables, Nick Holmes and I go back a long way (remember the old Law Society LOMAT guides Delia, or Computers for Lawyers from Longmans, Nick?) so it’s a great pleasure to be invited to write something for the online version of the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers.