3 Tech Trends Likely to Still Impact Lawyers in 2022 and Beyond

Legaltech News lists three tech trends that will likely pose a challenge—and opportunity—for lawyers in the years to come.

COVID-19 is still reshaping the legal industry, with many in the profession continuing to leverage technology at higher rates than ever before. But while tech’s prominence is growing, it’s not always embraced by all in work. Remote law school courses and bar exams, for instance, have already largely gone back to traditional, in-person settings. Still, there are signs that the legal industry’s relationship with technology will only deepen next year.

Below, Legaltech News highlights technology trends that will likely play a significant role in the legal industry well into 2022.

Cryptocurrency

As non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and other cryptocurrencies become more popular, lawyers increasingly jump into legal counsel regarding digital assets. While many lawyers aren’t experienced in burgeoning technology, that hasn’t stopped Big Law from launching crypto services. In November, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan partner and SEC enforcement practice co-chair Sarah Heaton Concannon told the American Lawyer the increasing visibility of cryptocurrency makes it ripe for law firms’ securities practices.

“I don’t think anybody thinks that crypto is going away,” said the former SEC senior attorney. “That’s why some of those more established white shoe financial firms are interested in getting into this space. It’s a huge opportunity.”

But while some firms are diving into the cryptocurrency practice area, few will actually accept cryptocurrency payments for their legal services. Still, those that allow clients to pay their legal fees with cryptocurrency noted they quickly convert it to fiat to avoid a depreciating value or possible running afoul of ethical requirements. Some firms also noted the practicality of cashing out cryptocurrency payments.

“The firm decided to convert the cryptocurrency to cash because the firm is set up to handle cash payments from clients,” said Steptoe & Johnson partner Alan Cohn. “So the conversion was a natural step because of course salaries are paid in fiat, expenses are paid in fiat, books are kept in fiat.”

Cloud’s Dominance

To be sure, COVID-19 and the sudden shift out of the office to remote working wasn’t the impetus behind the legal profession’s adoption of cloud-based services. Dating back to 2017, the American Bar Association’s annual tech report found over half of respondents (52%) said they had used cloud computing for work-related tasks. That figure has only grown over the years, climbing to 60% in the ABA’s recent 2021 tech report released in November.

Still, the need to work without being in the office grew significantly in 2020 when lockdown mandates and COVID-19 concerns were rampant. Now, nearly two years later, many lawyers and their professional staffers are finding the transition to the cloud wasn’t as difficult as they assumed. Additionally, given the features and flexibility of cloud-based software, it’s unlikely lawyers’ cloud tools will go back on the shelf after COVID-19 concerns subside.

Along with the benefits gained from leveraging the cloud, law firms are also being pressured by their clients to meet stringent cybersecurity requirements, accelerating cloud adoption. “Their clients are imposing stricter standards,” said Frontline Managed Services chief legal officer Gulam Zade. “By moving to a cloud service … it’s easier to adhere to those security protocols [than] when you’re managing it on your own.”

But while cloud-based services are becoming the norm in most law firms, some are still refusing to adopt the technology for various reasons. From the significant resources needed to implement cloud-based software to client data concerns, law firms and their tech consultants said some lawyers still avoid cloud-based technology.

Remote Document Review

Some once-reluctant corporate clients are warming up to remote review, while others still aren’t believers in the growing practice. For instance, some noted complex matters have proven too complicated for remote reviewers to concentrate on when children, pets, television and other home-based distractions are around.

Document review and e-discovery service providers are also facing internal questions regarding their surveillance of remote reviewers. Some document review service providers, for example, track their remote reviewers’ proficiency by measuring their facial biometrics, gaze and computer activity. While those measures may make clients feel that their data is safe, it’s a risky process as data privacy laws and public discourse grow.

For example, remote document reviewers could say, “‘Hey company, you’re not having a copy of my retinal scan,” noted David Greetham, then-vice president of e-discovery sales and operations at Ricoh Forensics. “[But] it used to be like that with Social Security numbers, and now we give them out because we know we have to. So this is almost the next level of personally identifying somebody.”