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Q&A: Assessing the legal aspects of the digital economy (Includes interview)

Smokeball is a Chicago-based legal productivity software company that has been around for more than a decade, which provides solutions on a range of legal and technology topics. To understand the implications of digital transformation on legal matters, Digital Journal caught up with Josh Taylor, legal expert and content specialist at Smokeball.

Digital Journal: How important is digital transformation for legal services?

Josh Taylor: Digital transformation is essential. It is not an option any longer for law firms to stay the same and avoid technological advancements. The importance lies in many places. Digital transformation is essential to staying competitive, compliant, and even ethical to legal services clients. Bringing a law firm into the digital age in every aspect is crucial to providing top-notch legal services for the fairest price for clients while also alleviating overworked staff (and lawyers). Technology makes things easier, and nowhere else is that felt as strongly as the legal services industry.

DJ: What advantages are there for clients?

Taylor: Clients are almost the exclusive reason that law firms must transform. A great relatable example would be case research: what client in their right mind should pay a firm for research done in books at the law library (the “old” way) when the same research can be performed with a computer and a digital research platform? Indeed, the ABA in 2012 captured how important technological optimization is the law firms by requiring lawyers to stay apprised of tech tools that can make their services more efficient and fairly priced for clients. In all, clients benefit from digitalized legal services through consistent work product (document automation), efficient access to file information (client portals), efficient research and writing, and lower prices for legal services.

DJ: How is digitalization helping the legal profession, in relation to documents?

Taylor: Organization is the key to efficiency and productivity. By organizing documents in easily searched and easily accessed digital formats, law firms are better equipped to save time finding and delivering documents to various parties. A layer above organization is automation. The ability to create documents from file information without searching for old templates and replacing key information has grown the legal profession immensely. More work can be done in less time with more consistent results.

DJ: How is automation assisting with billing?

Taylor: Automation assists billing in many important ways. Because time is the most valuable commodity a lawyer possesses to sell to clients (whether flat fee or time-based), accurate time tracking is essential to sustaining and growing a firm. Automatic time-tracking tools help lawyers and their staff keep track of exactly what they do on each file and for how long. From there, law firms can let automation take over to produce and send invoices, all the while giving the firm final say over what actually goes on the bill and for how much. Firms utilizing this type of billing automation have reported as much as 40% more income. After all, automation in time tracking and billing is much more accurate than the human mind trying to keep track of everything days or weeks after it’s been done.

DJ: What are the main data protection concerns with digital technology?

Taylor: Number one for the legal space is employees. Poor training of employees on protecting their passwords, data, machines, private information is rampant in the legal world. Likely, this comes from lawyers not being experts themselves in keeping data safe. Along those same lines, on-site servers and storing client information on local machines is extremely dangerous. Lawyers are often spooked by the idea of the “cloud” as unsafe, but in fact cloud storage is immensely safer than storing private important data in a room in your office or on a laptop or phone than can be stolen as you’re on the go.

The main concern with a data breach, exclusive of the risks to your clients, is losing trust because of the incident, even if nothing actually happens with the data. You owe your clients an explanation, and they will think twice about trusting you with their most personal information again.

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DJ: What are the risks in relation to cybersecurity?

Taylor: The biggest risks are letting bad actors in to poorly protected systems. As noted above, even if nothing is done with the information, this compromises clients’ trust. Recent examples show what can happen at the highest levels when bad actors access private legal information. A large New York law firm was hacked in 2016 and three individuals used M&A data to trade on the information and make millions.

The individuals were ultimately charged with crimes in the Southern District of New York. Another example is the “Panama Papers” incident, in which a large off-shore law firm, Mossack Fonseca, had to shut down after is schemes to help high-worth individuals and companies avoid tax payments were exposed in a data leak.

DJ: How can cyber risks be reduced?

Taylor: Train your law firm staff. Store your information in a trusted cloud provider. Protect and change your passwords often. With people, passwords, and storage providers all up to snuff, cyber incidents are reduced exponentially. The worst thing to be if you are the target of a cyber incident is predictable. Unfortunately, many law firms, their ownership, and their employees are just that.

DJ: What services does Smokeball provide?

Taylor: Smokeball is legal productivity software that provides advanced matter management, including unlimited cloud storage with Amazon Web Services, smart document automation due to a seamless integration with Microsoft Word, automatic time and activity tracking, and much more. Smokeball boasts a full suite of productivity features that ensure its small law firm clients are safe, productive, and profitable. A full suite of billing and timekeeping services also provides insight into productivity and firm growth. With Smokeball, law firms do more than just ‘manage’, they productively thrive.

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