***Please enjoy this blog posted on behalf of the author, Bill Bice, CEO, nQ Zebraworks.
I’ve spent my career in legal tech working on practice management tools. I believe we are on the verge of a revolution in this space, driven by advances in automation, integration, and AI.
Automation – No-code and Low-code
Automation doesn’t sound like a new element since it is inherent in why you use these tools. Too often, however, it requires the law firm or specific practice areas to conform to the tool instead of the other way around.
In the past, custom programming would be required to meet those specific needs. And then when the requirements changed, more custom programming. This is where “no-code” and “low-code” get their name, the ability to implement customizations with minimal coding.
No-code and low-code workflow solutions hold the promise of changing this dynamic:
- No-code solutions typically provide a drag-and-drop interface for defining workflows out of task-level steps, usually working from a template as the starting point.
- Low-code then adds additional customization capabilities, for example, building new tasks or integrations with other systems.
Although it isn’t programming, understanding coding concepts and logic are helpful skillsets when using these tools. Well implemented, such tools portend a future where practice support specialists can implement much deeper practice-specific workflows. Support from IT may be required but removing the custom programming barrier opens a lot more opportunity for automation.
Another common challenge with practice management systems is getting access to all the information necessary to effectively work on matters. Although many firms have built Intranets that pull information from various sources, an integrated practice management system puts that information to work.
Doing this well is challenging. Off-the-shelf tools often don’t have all the integrations necessary. Some firms are choosing to build data integration layers that define the definitive source of different kinds of information. Sophisticated integrations enable two-way data syncing, for example, time tracking driven by the practice management system, fed back to time & billing.
AI has become much more common in legal in just the last few years, now integral to many document discovery, contract review and legal research tools. The AI technology powering those solutions can make a big impact on practice management systems.
Part of the answer is more integration. For example, your AI-powered contract review tool is more powerful when integrated into a practice management system that is integrated with your document management system.
But AI can also be put to work directly in practice management tools. Some simple examples:
- Entity extraction can identify key information like parties, addresses and dates to fill out the practice management database
- Workflow solutions can identify the appropriate recipient for a document
- Documents can be classified much more accurately than just choosing the first option on the drop-down list
But that is just the start. Future practice management tools will be embedded with “intelligence” that makes them much more useful:
- Document assembly that is vastly faster to setup and goes beyond the form
- Predicting outcomes
- Leverage existing work product more effectively
- Understanding the steps required in complex matters and creating the starting template for automating the workflow
These technologies will usher in new kinds of practice management tools that are more encompassing and deliver deeper value to attorneys and staff.
Although not uncommon in smaller firms, widely deployed practice management systems covering diverse practice areas are rare in large firms because of the very challenges these technologies are tackling.