A group of attorneys sit around a conference room table, takeout containers in hand, combing through documents in a due diligence investigation. A partner based in New York at a global firm takes the red-eye to meet with colleagues at the London office for a morning meeting. A junior lawyer drives to a storage unit to later sift through boxes of records for a case. These scenarios are increasingly more likely to be seen in a Hollywood movie than in a contemporary law office. This is largely due to the increased use of technology in the legal field.
Now many routine tasks can be completed faster, at a lower cost and, some would argue, with more precision. As technology impacts the delivery of legal services at an unprecedented rate, practitioners — particularly newcomers — must be aware of these changes and be open to learning new tools and approaches.
HOFSTRA LAW REPORT recently spoke with alumni and faculty about how technology has impacted the way they practice, run a business and teach. It in fact permeates almost every department of a law firm. “It’s had a profound effect on the way our clients do business,” says Loren Brown ’92, co-chair of DLA Piper’s global and U.S. litigation practices. “That cascades down to us, responding to those businesses that are more empowered by technology than ever before. This causes us to change the way we do business, including employing our own technology to respond to the needs of our clients.”
On the operations side, for example, firms of various sizes use detailed e-billing and time-management software to offer seamless billing and accounting interaction, have eliminated paper billing, support accounting clearinghouse (ACH) payments, and provide clients greater transparency. “It certainly makes the law firm efficient and responsive to our clients,” says Marc Hamroff ’83, managing partner of Moritt Hock & Hamroff LLP and a special professor of law at Hofstra Law, where he teaches Secured Transactions.
His firm’s IP and litigation departments are the areas that have been impacted the most. Clients have real-time access to testimony from Moritt Hock & Hamroff’s trial and deposition preparation, document production, and databases for use of evidence at trial. The firm’s team can now analyze that same testimony from digital trial and deposition transcripts for their own internal research. Hamroff says, “Our trademark and patent lawyers have real-time access to the USPTO [U.S. Patent and Trademark Office] for speed, effectiveness and efficiency.”
Technology not only allows firms to better serve the needs and budgets of their clients but also can save practitioners time. Janis Meyer ’81, today a partner at Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP and a special professor of law at Hofstra Law, recalls the days when, as a young associate, she would have to travel to a warehouse to examine by hand many years’ worth of files for document review. Today, this task can be completed online with e-discovery software. Similarly, lawyers now don’t have to leave their desks to complete due diligence, whereas they used to have to go to their clients’ offices, where, among other things, “a lot of unhealthy food was consumed,” Meyer says with a laugh.
Greater online access to legal files also inures to the benefit of the public sector. Justice Sallie Manzanet-Daniels ’88 of the Appellate Division, First Department, shares that she no longer has to bring an entire paper record home. “I can simply log on remotely and pull up any case, record, file or transcript and integrate it into whatever I’m writing,” she says. “Before we had this access, I would have to flag my place and stop until I could get to the office to look at the hard copy.”
The speed with which Justice Manzanet-Daniels’ court can now review appeals has increased since more technology has been implemented on the state court level. She explains that prior to the requirement of providing a digitized copy of all submissions and the replacement of old technology and software within the court, the speed with which cases could be processed was affected. As a consequence, there was the potential for the court to not have the opportunity to hear a ready appeal before the summer recess. This past year, however, her court has left no ready appeal unheard, as the judge reminded us of the old adage “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
While technology has accelerated processes within the legal system, it has presented challenges in terms of work-life balance. “Work from home or the road, get online and have access to whatever you have in the office, be able to edit and redline documents off your phone or tablet,” lists Larren Nashelsky ’91, the chair of Morrison & Foerster LLP. “The arguable downside is it makes you more accessible 24/7.”
With greater mobility comes a new set of expectations from clients. “In the past,” Brown says, “while three tasks may have filled your plate in a given day, it’s not uncommon now for that to be 10. One, because business is moving quicker than it ever did. Secondly, the expectations of work productivity and cost are different.”
What can young lawyers and law students do to stand out in the rapidly changing field? “If you’re a young lawyer and have knowledge of a wide range of technological applications, that is useful to the legal profession; that knowledge alone is gold,” says Professor Jennifer A. Gundlach, who teaches the capstone course Using Technology to Improve the Delivery of Legal Services, among others.
Not only that, “young lawyers need to understand why they [these technological applications] are efficient and how they can be deployed,” Nashelsky says. He adds that junior lawyers may very well be the employees who supervise projects that utilize new technologies.
Hofstra Law offers numerous courses and opportunities for students to be exposed to the tools and skills necessary for lawyering in the 21st century. In October, for example, the Law School hosted its first one-day Legal Tech Boot Camp, which students could attend for an overview of blockchain, cognitive computing, e-discovery, data security and other topics.
Other opportunities through the Law School demystify technologies like artificial intelligence. Students in these programs soon realize that the AI software that firms use is a far cry from HAL 9000, the sentient computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey. “The common misconception about AI is that it can think on its own,” says Courtney Selby, associate dean for information services, director of the law library and professor of law. “But it takes an extraordinary amount of data and effort to train a computer to model human decision-making.”
Student researchers in the Law, Logic & Technology Research Laboratory, also known as the LLT Lab, led by Professor Emeritus Vern R. Walker, are learning this firsthand. In one of the LLT Lab’s projects, students reviewed decisions from the Board of Veterans Appeals and the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. They identified language that is considered a piece of evidence, the analysis section, and a decision of the board, respectively. They then worked with a team of computer science faculty and students, who gave the LLT Lab computer thousands of examples based on the law students’ marked-up terms to teach it to identify similar language on its own.
In Gundlach’s capstone course, students have another experiential opportunity. One of their projects includes creating web-based forms that ask individuals legal questions. Based on the person’s responses, the software application generates a completed form that would then be filed with the appropriate court. Forms such as these give people, particularly in low-income and underrepresented communities, greater access to the court system and, in turn, to justice.
Students not only learn behind-the-scenes technology but also have the opportunity to experience how technology has transformed today’s courtrooms. Hofstra Law’s Weitz & Luxenberg Trial “Courtroom of the Future” allows students to experience contemporary trial practice. This includes software used in trials, digital presentation and preservation of evidence, and videoconferencing for off-site witnesses and experts.
With the proliferation of tech, alumni and faculty agree that students need to be aware of these tools and trends but shouldn’t be worried that machines will one day take their place. The use of technology in legal environments, many of them surmise, actually makes more time for lawyers to practice what they were first and foremost trained to do: rigorous analysis and intellectual reasoning — skills that machines cannot do without humans. At least not yet.
Q&A With Alumni and Faculty
How does your firm maintain a sense of connectivity with the proliferation of technology?
“When you have over 1,000 lawyers spread over 16 offices around the world, technology allows us to connect better — to connect better in real time, whether it’s in virtual drafting rooms, being on videoconferences with five or six audiences at one time, being on conference calls [where we’re] working on matters together.”
— Larren Nashelsky ’91
“In terms of collaboration and teamwork, there’s no substitute for shaking someone’s hand or sitting around a conference room table and chatting about an issue. … That’s why we bring lawyers together through in-person practice group meetings. And our events committee gets our lawyers together for team-building retreats. Admittedly, this is tougher to do, and generationally it’s different. Millennials have grown up with technology as a way to interact, while baby boomers place a real value on face-to-face contact. One attorney looks for a closing binder and another for a virtual data room. I think each generation [at our firm] is learning something from the other.”
— Marc Hamroff ’83
What do you think we can expect in the future of tech and the legal field?
“I imagine a day where you can push a button — some of these programs are already out there — and you’ll get summary memos, witness memos and other documents based on a machine’s evaluation. It won’t substitute for what a human does in litigation, but it will assist and enhance.”
— Loren Brown ’92
“I think we’re going to increasingly value a broader swath of backgrounds from people’s undergraduate or graduate-level education — those who may not have been considered a traditional law student.”
— Professor Jennifer A. Gundlach
“The law will be expanding. … We have to be mindful as we traverse this new universe to consider all of the implications of what we do and what we implement.”
— Justice Sallie Manzanet-Daniels ’88