Next year’s legal tech innovations will focus largely on empowering firms and other users to more easily access technology.

As 2016 demonstrated, expert predictions are liable to be wrong … very wrong. So what’s the use of predictions on the impact of technology in the legal profession in 2017? Are predictions even worth making any more?

Well, yes, if you’re talking about technology and the legal profession, it’s pretty safe to predict that there will be changes and upgrades to move us forward. It’s unlikely that a populist and Luddite revolt will sweep legal to usher in a return to the age of handwritten briefs. It’s equally unlikely that law firms will suddenly and widely adopt cutting-edge technologies, such as AI-powered legal research and machine-learning for e-discovery.

Mostly, things will stay the same, largely because the work that legal technology programmers have put in over the past decade has resulted in a great infrastructure of powerful tools. Still, there are a few trends already underway that will continue—slowly, but surely—to change legal over the coming year (and years). In the short term, these adjustments will be largely focused on empowering firms and other users to more easily access technology to effectively, efficiently and securely implement tools to improve their practices.

In researching and drafting this article, I was fortunate to have the chance to speak to several experts in the field of legal technology, including Sam Glover of The Lawyerist and Mary Reznik of Disrupt Legal. I will share their insights as well as some of my own in this article.

Building on and Improving What We Have

When I approached Sam Glover about this article, he was skeptical about notion of fast-changing trends in legal technology. According to Sam, “There are no trends that will matter in 2017 that weren’t also trends that mattered in 2015. Legal tech evolves slowly, not disruptively.”

The trends on Sam’s radar include the saturation of the market for practice management technology (“nobody needs to launch new practice management software in 2017”) and the continuing need for “nuts-and-bolts technology that empowers small firms to provide better service to more clients.” Sam also suggested that “legal tech companies need to start tackling harder problems”—including “e-discovery that is accessible to firms and clients of all sizes; simple online document assembly; a secure but easy to use messaging service for attorney-client communication.”

Harnessing Greater Opportunity

Mary’s approach differed from Sam’s—she sees more potential for technological innovation in legal over the next year. In particular, she believes that the “blockchain” technology underpinning the rise of bitcoin (a virtual currency) could be applied in legal as a means of securing data. She also views artificial intelligence as a potential means for increasing access to justice by enabling chatbots to assist pro se litigants and ordinary citizens with legal questions. As advice for legal technology providers, Mary cautions against one-size-fits-all solutions and encourages vendors to develop targeted problems that address “niche segments of the legal industry.”

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