Disruptive technologies – you ain’t seen nothing yet!

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.

But, why stop there? So far all the emphasis on consumerisation has been on gadgets and their associated apps. What about the consumerisation of business applications software?

Facebook is the most widely used software application on the planet – but nobody has to go on a three-day training course to learn how to use it. Compare and contrast this with the Microsoft Office experience. It is the most widely used business software application in law offices yet firms are wracked with worry and doubt when it comes to rolling out an upgrade from one version to another. Why is it such an issue? Why is it so difficult? Why is it so expensive and why does it take so long?

In a world of good quality free software, such as the apps we update and start using again almost without thinking every time we open up our tablets and smartphones, business software – and particularly legal software – is starting to take on a decidedly clunky and 1990s look and feel.

I believe the next big thing in legal software will be its disruption by social media-like innovations.

Take user interfaces, why are they so complicated? The legal IT vendor who devises a practice or case management system with an interface like Facebook will have a game-changer on their hands.

Then there is software training (and this could also extend to legal training, including CPD courses). Once again the traditional approach is dated and distinctly lacking in any “fun” element. But why? Why not use another social media trick, namely “gamification”. If you are unfamiliar with the term, check out the FourSquare social media app. It may seem gimmicky to let users compete to become “the Mayor” of a case management application but it is a more effective carrot than conventional methods. Furthermore, it is already being used in some US law firms to encourage staff to buy-into technologies such as knowledge management.

Finally, and still in the realms of knowledge management, have we reached a point where both law firms and legal publishers should be considering the “iTunesification” of legal content. Remember how you used to buy music? Go to a record store and buy a vinyl album or, later, a CD. Almost inevitably there would be some filler tracks you listen to once and never bother with again. But since the advent of iTunes, you just buy the tracks you want.

Now compare this with legal publishing. You have to buy the complete work, along with all the chapters on stuff you will never refer to because it is outside your area of practice. The same applies to KM, you don’t need a fully comprehensive taxonomy or thesaurus, just focus on the areas of content that matter.

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.

Charles will be talking on The Consumerisation of Legal IT – The Next Stage at April’s LawTech Futures conference in London.

Email news@legaltechnology.com.