Well, hello 2022: Predictions for another unpredictable year

Well, hello 2022! Start the year with a bang by reading the predictions for the year from around 40 senior legal IT leaders from across the industry, across the globe. Your forecasts include a ramped-up march to the cloud; continued consolidation and platformisation; and delivering on the long term need to work in hybrid way. However, it’s not all about technology, and in the eDiscovery sector, we’re warned about the human cost of hybrid working. 

This article first appeared in the December Orange Rag, out just before Christmas, and now includes some extra names and commentary.

The march to the cloud 

The past year has seen a dramatic uptick in the use of cloud technology within the legal sector, particularly within the UK. Email was on-premises in over 70% of UK top 200 law firms before the pandemic; but next year that figure is forecast by IT decision makers to be less than 15%. In the US that figure isn’t quite as dramatic, but nonetheless, over 50% of firms say they will be on Exchange Online next year. 

UK top 50 law firm Osborne Clarke this year selected Thomson Reuters Elite 3E’s SaaS PMS system, which is a major shift both in the fact that TR has a SaaS system, and that OC has become the first UK-headquartered global firm to adopt it. See the article in Other Top Stories for the latest stats. 

Ensuring that firms can comply with GDPR will inevitably be a priority, and looking to the year ahead, Mark Richman, principal product manager, cloud platform at iManage says: “Compliance with country-specific data privacy laws will make flexible, distributed cloud architecture a default requirement. With the relentless attack by cybercriminals to steal confidential and personal data, individual countries – especially in Europe – are developing their own data protection and privacy laws. To confidently comply with these ever-growing regulations, organisations will demand that their cloud services provider both stores and processes data in the jurisdiction that it is created. This will make a flexible, distributed, security-first cloud architecture a fundamental requirement for organisations, as anything less will greatly limit their operational flexibility.” 

According to the latest data, before the pandemic, over 70% of UK firms’ document management systems were on-premises, with that figure predicted to drop to around 35% next year.  

While the data we have is collected from among the top 200 UK and US law firms, Alvin Tedjamulia, CTO and co-founder of NetDocuments predicts: “Cloud document management technologies which traditionally have been adopted by the Am Law 200 firms will sweep the market in small law in 2022.  This movement gained momentum in 2021 but will be pervasive in 2022 in firms above 20 lawyers.” 

Nathan Hayes, IT director at Osborne Clarke 

What is your priority for 2022? 

The march to the cloud will continue and our main focus next year will be on 3E, but closely followed by moving other platforms to the cloud (DMS and CMI). 

And your forecast for the industry? 

The industry as a whole needs to focus on providing law firms with a single platform, or at least a reduced set, to allow their lawyers to manage all their work in one place rather than having to use a myriad of platforms designed for specific work types that have proliferated to date. 

What’s your flight of fancy tech?! 

Holographic video conferencing 😊 That’s a few more years away though. 

Hybrid working 

With Covid numbers again on the rise, it’s clear – if there was ever any doubt – that hybrid work is here to stay, and the priority (and arguably requirement) for most law firms is to replicate the office experience from home. 

Chris Jeffrey, VP of product marketing for legal tech at Thomson Reuters says: “If 2020 was the year that the legal profession had to adapt to new ways of working out of necessity and 2021 was the year law firms and corporate legal departments looked to normalise these changes, then 2022 will be the year we see greater emphasis on optimising these ways of working.  Expect to see experiments and solutions that were created to solve pain points in one part of the organisation, or for a handful of clients, start to go mainstream.” 

Making the hybrid work model ‘work’ on all levels is a top issue for firms and Neil Araujo, CEO and co-founder at iManage says: “Firms have experienced a large scale move towards greater adoption of digital ways of working in the last two years led by a striking attitudinal shift among legal professionals and organisations. Interestingly, the biggest change we see is not necessarily the technology itself, but the increased appetite for and acceptance of change from end users. This evolution is ushering in a new era in improving productivity, data-driven decision-making, and work/life balance for the fee earner – all of which, ultimately, will lead to better business outcomes for firms and their clients.”   

And there are warning signs for law firms that aren’t providing staff with a flexible environment, as they walk with their feet. Josh Baxter, CEO of NetDocuments observes: “The ‘Great Resignation’ is upon us. According to research from Microsoft more than 40% of workers around the world are considering quitting their job or changing their profession. This could be positive for the legal sector as it could be an opportunity for fresh blood to enter the industry. However, it could also be detrimental to talent retention if firms don’t play their cards right.  

“The global pandemic has given lawyers a taste of hybrid working and a better work/life balance. Now the genie is out the bottle, law firms will need to ensure that they can continue to offer the same level of flexible working. To do this, they need to invest in the right collaboration tools. Cloud technology will play a vital role in ensuring that lawyers can work productively and with ease, from any location. If they don’t equip lawyers with the right tools, they will soon watch talent walking out the door.”  

Mabel Harvey, IT director, Fieldfisher 

What’s your forecast for 2022?

My predictions for 2022 are that hybrid working will become the norm and ensuring that we have structures and the mindset to enable to continue to work seamlessly this way is going to be important, we need to make it easier and more inclusive with the support of good tech.  

Ensuring that all our applications integrate and share data effectively and streamline workloads with intuitive automation is essential and whilst there has been a lot going on in this space, it’s important to ensure its relevant for the organisation and doesn’t necessarily involve bolting on more tools.  

Data management, I believe will also move further up the agenda for the Management of law firms driven by cloud adoption amongst other things. 

Better collaboration 

A key priority for better collaboration will be in unifying disparate applications, and surfacing data where you work, which will require better collaboration between legal technology vendors.  

Rick McFarland, chief data officer at LexisNexis says: “It’s all about converting virtual collaborations to “virtual work” in 2022. As we return to the “new normal,” businesses are looking for new ways of working. Legal teams will be leveraging virtual environments even more than before. Finding a way to integrate data and legal processes into their workflow will be a major focus for providers like LexisNexis Legal & Professional. This will involve creating connections between data and AI technologies in new and creative ways. It will also require some creative partnerships between content providers and collaboration tool providers in order to create more seamless access the tools and data lawyers need to be productive.” 

Kriti Sharma, who has just joined Thomson Reuters as chief product officer for legal tech, responsible for product development for 3E, HighQ, eBillingHub and TR’s drafting tools, says: “There will be greater emphasis from consumers of legal tech as well as technology providers on tools being more open and connected. This will result in more collaborative solutions for legal.” 

Steve Presley, product manager for security and governance solutions at NetDocuments agrees, commenting: “Law firms and corporate legal teams will be focused on maximizing the return of their investment in their core technology platforms and move away from managing individual point solutions. That means using more of the capabilities of the platform, building apps and integrations that extend it further, and ultimately creating a seamless experience for their users to do work.” 

Competition to become the platform where lawyers collaborate is fierce, and most legal technology vendors are keen to show that they are themselves collaborating – not competing – with Microsoft Teams, which will continue to be a top focus for law firms next year. Firms are still in many cases using just a fraction of Teams’ full functionality. Christopher Young, head of the NBI and risk management team at Pinnacle, responding on LinkedIn to our request for predictions for 2022, said that a focus for firms next year will be “making things simpler – making Teams really work.”  

He said: “Firms have had to rush to get on to new technologies to accommodate working remotely. Our disparate applications are disconnected from a UX perspective, and this makes them harder to use. In the office we could transfer knowledge about how to get things done in small bite sized chunks by simply asking the person at the next-door desk to remind one how to complete an expenses form or where to go to request holidays.”

The priority will be “surfacing data and applications in a unified application (Teams?) to make it simpler to reduce the knowledge that needs to be transferred, to being the knowledge that firms can capitalise on.” 

Digitising knowledge 

Many argue that the shift to working from home on a permanent basis means that it is imperative that firms now bring all of their knowledge together online.  

Responding on LinkedIn to Legal IT Insider’s request for predictions for 2022, Alex Smith, global RAVN product lead, said: The fact we’re probably never coming back to the physical “office” (whatever that means now) in my working life (I’ve made my peace with that and have Miro and huge screen at home) means we’re finally facing having to be digital. This is more than ‘chat’ and DM-ing.

“So, for me this is about digitising knowledge in organisations that run off human expertise, human problem solving and shared knowledge – ie law orgs, consultancies, accounting orgs, compliance etc. We’re finally at the moment of how to bring together tacit and explicit knowledge … and it’s a “content” and “adoption” game. So, here’s the knowledge management, data gurus, and metadata divas who create, manage and make knowledge findable at point of need. It’s all about tapping the right people, to motivate them to ‘share’ and then connect that knowledge together to make it drive outcomes. Time to pull together all those seemingly unconnected initiatives and people across data, process, knowledge management, curious lawyers, pricing to make knowledge work at point of need.” 

Global firms now need centralised, multi-lingual repositories, according to Javier Magaña García, chief technical officer at Lexsoft Systems, who says: “The KM function undoubtedly delivered significant benefits to firms during the pandemic. At the same time, it brought to light the function’s limitations, mainly due to configuration and structures as country-specific repositories. The sudden switch to remote working and now the new hybrid work environment, has created a business need for firms to expand their KM systems so that they serve as centralised global, yet multi-lingual-enabled knowledge repositories, working as effectively and intuitively in each of the identified languages.  

“In 2022, multi-jurisdictional firms will focus on revisiting the taxonomies and document classifications in their KM systems so that searches for knowledge deliver results equally and effectively, regardless of the language in which the search is conducted. For example, if a document is classified or labelled as ‘tax’, the same document must surface if it is searched for in Spanish as ‘impuestos’ or in Italian as ‘le tasse.’”  

Unifying knowledge across both internal and external repositories will be key to saving time for lawyers, who routinely search both. Magaña García says: “In 2022, firms that have reached a reasonable level of maturity in their KM functions, will actively work with technology solutions providers to attempt to create enterprise-wide knowledge portals to facilitate holistic searches across all repositories and resources.” 

Enterprise-wide portals will mean firms can expand beyond maintaining the technology and software to actively leveraging reporting and analytics. Dave Wilson, founder and managing director of Tiger Eye says: “The ability to investigate data and extract sentiment from mounting data sources will be essential for law firms in 2022. Businesses of all types are storing more data than ever before, and managing this data is increasingly becoming an issue not just from a compliance perspective, but a storage perspective, with bloating data stores leading to increased storage costs. The analysis, examination and exploration of legal data will continue to be a key trend in 2022 as firms explore ways to not just manage their data, but make sense of what they are storing. It seems that the rise in consolidations, mergers and acquisitions will continue into the new year and beyond, and with firms brought together into ever larger units, data analysis will be even more crucial so that firms can effectively manage legacy data and client communications.” 

Francesc Muñoz, CIO, Cuatrecasas 

What are your strategic priorities for 2022? 

The strategic priorities are from one side to follow with the deployment of our three-year IT strategic plan divided into 8 strategic areas (cybersecurity, data, AI & automation, agile, knowledge, digital workplace, digital dexterity & open innovation). Additionally, to deploy, learn and improve in our new hybrid working scenario. 

Security and Risk  

2021 was a record-breaking year for data breaches. According to Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) research, the total number of data breaches through September 30, 2021, already exceeded the total number in 2020 by 17%. 

Not surprising, then, that security is always top of the agenda, but according to Aaron Rangel, director of product management at iManage, it’s time to make better sense of what that means in the legal sector. “It’s time for a ‘risk scorecard’ that allows an organisation to benchmark risk and compliance by looking at several key areas across the organisation,” Rangel says. “This encompasses not just need-to-know security or the ability to actively monitor threats in real time, but also the ability to effectively address systemic risk. Are documents being declared as records? Is content being purged on a regular basis? Are all departments within the organisation using the proper collaboration tools, or only some? This type of systemic risk is one of the easiest threats to overlook, which also makes it one of the most insidious.” 

The importance of user adoption is usually spoken of in terms of increased productivity, but Rangel says it should equally be understood in terms of security. “If you found out that only 50% of your organisation was using the enterprise document management system, where’s all the other content being stored? Is it on someone’s hard drive? Is it in the “Sent” folder of someone’s email, or in some consumer file sharing service that isn’t sanctioned for use by the firm? What happens if that information is compromised in any way, and how will you be able to tell? Ultimately, a low level of user adoption is a big driver of risk – and firms only benefit in the technologies they’ve invested in if those technologies are being used consistently. In 2022, organisations will pay attention to adoption from a security standpoint,” Rangel says. 

AI  

If there is one bit of tech that everyone is doubling down on in 2022, it should be AI, according to Anurag Malik, chief technology officer at ContractPodAi. He’s not alone when he says: “The technology that everyone should double down on and leverage is artificial intelligence and machine learning. They simply make contracts far more consumable, easy to understand — and, most importantly, actionable. They help legal and other teams handle just about any process — beyond contract management — with efficiency and effectiveness.” 

Maddy Martin, VP of marketing at AI receptionist service Smith.ai (perhaps unsurprisingly) agrees. When asked if there is one technology that the industry ought to double down on, she says: “Yes, and that’s AI/ML. These technologies are radically changing firm efficiency and client service. A neural network can now generate speech-to-text in under 200 milliseconds with over 90% accuracy. We can distinguish parties by their voices, extract sentiment and meaning from speech, and discern actions taken (e.g., a booked meeting) with far less human intervention. This will improve work processes and outcomes, as well as client experiences by better anticipating all parties’ desires and needs.” 

AI can also play a part in helping law firms to preserve their margins and Hugo Seymour, COO of AI contract review solution Della AI says: “The arms race over junior lawyers’ pay will continue, so firms will need to build or buy scalable technology that can augment or automate many of the tasks those teams took on, in an effort to preserve their margins. AI and automation for routine contract work, including reviewing, reporting and drafting are obvious candidates.”

But instead of law firms and corporates worrying (yet again) if they have enough AI in their life, Nick Thomson, general manager of AI at iManage, says that AI will quietly become incorporated into the products that you are using. “AI will continue its disappearing act, instead being plugged into the back of applications,” Thomson says. “When AI is productised like this, customers don’t have to worry about how to use it or how to wire all the different pieces together – the AI simply becomes part of a product that they can easily take advantage of. Because of this productisation trend, you’ll start to see increasing consolidation among AI vendors for the simple reason that it doesn’t make a lot of sense for tech vendors to each build their own AI engine for their application to sit on top of.” 

This will, however, mean there’s a need for greater explainability with AI and Thomson adds: “Users need to be able to say how and why the AI arrived at a particular decision rather than just writing off AI as a ‘black box’ whose thought process is totally opaque. Because AI is being used to assist with both process automation (extracting clauses from mountains of contracts, for example) as well as decision-making (applying rules and logic to the information that’s been extracted), there needs to be more explainability at that decision-making level. Making sure that the rules and the logic behind a decision are not just fully explainable to a human being but also defensible are key to ensuring that AI isn’t inadvertently making bad decisions based on poorly trained models, unintentional bias, or other faulty logic.” 

There is also likely to be greater sophistication in the way that new technology is acquired, with a greater need for and ability to demonstrate ROI. Craig Conte, lead partner for contracts legal management consulting at Deloitte Legal says: “We are seeing a renewed focus with AI and machine learning advancements driving demand in smart or ‘touchless’ contracting as well as self-service and alternative sourcing. However, CFOs and COOs understandably want to be able to have a good grasp of what the return on investment would be before they entertain the idea of implementing a new technology or solution. And quite frankly, a generic ‘better’ just won’t do. 

“Modelling data, predictive technology and the maturity and sheer number of use-cases, have all reached a level of sophistication where it is now more possible than ever to illustrate the return on investment that an organisation can realise in one, three or five years after a particular technology and/or transformation has been landed. In 2022, C-suite decision-makers will continue to demand fact-based business cases for change and more ‘try-before-you-buy’ approaches that will require not just proof-of-concepts, but also proofs-of-value approaches across services and technology in this space. This goes double for CLM as this is something that touches the whole organisation and that level of change and investment requires a higher standard than platitudes or straplines,” Conte says. 

Stephen Allen, vice president, get sh*t done, Elevate (responding on LinkedIn)

What are your forecasts for 2022?

  • Covid will still be with us, and we will just be “living with it”.

  • Masses of market consolidation (legal tech) at an even greater pace. Scale, cross sell and stickiness all being key for growth.

  • Microsoft will continue to win out as O365 functionality improves to provide competitive “just enough” tools against standalone products. Everyone will be doubling down on this.

  • The industry NEEDS to focus on data. Our machine learning tools need data and lots of it to improve their effectiveness and we need our regulators to be clear on what is permitted (which is more than people think) and provide a framework for this to happen. Without it – the tools really won’t achieve their potential.

  • Organisations will need to actively work on balance and downtime for those who work (full or part time) from home to safeguard mental health *and* to retain teams in the midst of a raging war on talent.

Blockchain 

While blockchain is currently wallowing in the trough of disillusionment in Gartner’s hype cycle, UK regulators recently gave smart contracts the green lights and according to Richman at iManage, 2022 is the year that blockchain will disrupt traditional security approaches.  

Richman says: “Following its success in other industries, especially finance and identity management, blockchain technology is persistently gaining traction across industries, and in 2022 it will reach critical mass to play a disruptive role in defining Web 3.0. Fundamentally, blockchain is predicated on things like maintaining a secure and immutable record of transactions of any kind. The rise of blockchain-based ‘smart contracts’ will, over time, fundamentally change the way many of us interact with digital content. The cryptographic underpinnings of this technology will provide enhanced visibility and transparency in the event of attempts from cyber threat actors to tamper with data or corrupt the blockchain system. Technology vendors will actively utilise this technology within their systems and solutions to bolster the integrity of the solutions they deliver.” 

‘Innovation’ shake-up 

Where many firms have in the past few years created innovation teams, 2022 may see a shakeup in how they are structured. Keith Hardie, previously director of innovation marketing and business development at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, now a partner in MD Communications says: “A number of firms I am talking to are grappling with the way they have structured their innovation teams. As a result, in 2022 I expect we will see a number shaking up the way they brand and organise the various areas of the firm that are involved in driving change and new ways of working.  

“In particular, firms are trying to come to terms with dilemmas that include creating a separate, specialist ‘innovation’ department while ensuring innovation happens across all areas of the firm, and delivering bespoke solutions to match individual clients needs while scaling up good ideas across multiple clients in an efficient way. Another issue is how to allocate business services that are often internally seen as ‘free issue’ while managing the fact that you are really testing client demand in the early stages, so may not be sure how much support will be needed going forward.”  

John Craske, head of innovation and legal operations at CMS (on LinkedIn) 

What are your forecasts for 2022? 

  • Data: We will all get serious about data. Not just structured data. Not just mapping, connecting and looking after data (which is key), but using all of the data we have to generate insights. This is going to be tricky to navigate as organisations restrict what their suppliers can do with ‘their’ data. It’s also going to need some different thinking and imaginative question asking…  
  • Collaboration: We will get past [some of] the challenges of competitive collaboration. We will see more, cool cross-industry collaborations that are not just flag waving. Well, at least I hope so!  
  • Product Management: We all have so much great tech. But we also know that it’s not as well used / adopted as it could be. So, we will all get serious about delivering value from our tools by having proper product management, solution design and other key skills.  
  • Task specific tech: A lot of tools are a “Swiss army knife”. That’s going to change as we get better at breaking work down into the component tasks. We are already seeing tech that supports specific tasks and narrow use cases and that is going to grow. In the future every practice group will have its own additional tech stack. 

 

Investment  

Investment in legal tech companies exceeded $1 billion in venture capital investments by September this year, according to Crunchbase, and that trend looks set to continue into 2022. 

At NetDocuments – which itself received investment from VC Warburg Pincus in May this year – chief product officer Dan Hauck predicts: “Investment in legal tech from private and public institutional investors will continue as the industry races to consolidate fragmented vendors and modernize law firms’ technology stacks.” 

Corporate legal evolution 

Where corporate legal departments have long been tasked with doing ‘more for less’, the hope is that going forward, more sophisticated technology will enable them to take a more nuanced approach.  

Nicholas d’Adhemar , founder and CEO of Apperio says: “Workload, headcount and legal costs will all continue to grow as they have done every year for some time. However, businesses have a greater appreciation for their legal departments in the wake of the pandemic. In 2022, legal departments will focus on controlling costs rather than seeking an absolute reduction in costs. This means in-house counsel and legal operations teams will focus on leveraging data they have to uncover insights and improve their strategic decision-making.”  

That strategic decision-making will extend to suppliers and providers, and Laura Bygrave, head of commercial for legal managed services at Deloitte Legal, observes: “Organisations often have a multitude of providers and suppliers but with this can also come exposure, lack of control, or transparency and this is a growing concern amongst inhouse legal teams. Some businesses can have hundreds, or even thousands, of third-party suppliers handling sensitive data, sometime operating across many jurisdictions. 

“Provider consolidation is therefore likely to be a key trend in 2022. Not only will this happen organically, with procurement teams increasingly opting for ‘one-stop-shop’ providers to mitigate the risk of having a raft of different suppliers, but it is likely you will also see some organisations outsource entire portfolios of external providers as part of a single managed service. This means that inhouse legal teams will have greater clarity and transparency when it comes to risk management, through having a single, holistic view of their organisation’s risk exposure across a global footprint.” 

The upheaval is an opportunity to rethink where external legal providers fit, and Matt Goff, head of digital services at Ashurst, says: “The internal disruption within in-house teams has provided an open door to explore change together, which is already having a significant impact and is an opportunity to think about where law firms’ value-add fits in in a broader sense. Whether that’s a complete agile workflow solution/service on a discrete matter or forming part of a process run and managed in-house – becoming an extension of our clients’ businesses. This period of rapid change has provided a fantastic opportunity to transform the way law firms work with clients.” 

The hope is also that legal teams will also become more sophisticated in the way they interact with the rest of the business, with some senior leaders pointing towards more legal ‘front doors’. Bruce Braude, chief technology officer at Deloitte Legal says: “2022 will see a continuation of trends that we’re already seeing in the self-service space. More GCs and Legal COOs will turn their attention to improving their ‘legal front door’ in order to make it easier for a business to access its own legal department. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing technologies have improved enormously in recent years, meaning that self-service portals are now much more intuitive for users, going far beyond simply responding to requests.  

“Not only does this significantly enhance the service experience that a business receives from its legal department, but it also enables the legal department to become more insight-led within the business, delivering material improvements in service levels and efficiency. All this means that inhouse lawyers will be freed up from having to respond to routine queries, allowing them to focus instead on tackling more complex issues.” 

It is likely that we will continue to see the lines blur between legal technology and enterprise technology, and Jack Diggle, global lead partner for legal management consulting at Deloitte Legal says: “Something that is already happening, and will be even more prominent in 2022, is the convergence of inhouse legal technology transformation with the business’s existing enterprise technology programmes, tools and platforms.  

“Business leaders recognise that investment in digital transformation is necessary, but it can also be expensive. As a result, inhouse legal departments are being encouraged to make use of the solutions that may be available with their organisation’s existing enterprise technology to meet their legal transformation goals. This means that the efficiency and productivity gains can be achieved more quickly and, crucially, legal requests are streamlined and can work seamlessly with other functions across the business.” 

Convergence is also important from a risk perspective. Bobby Balachandran, CEO of Exterro says: “Organizations need to better orchestrate legal department tasks that overlap with other departments like compliance, data privacy/security, and IT. Poorly managed practices, including insufficient data retention policies, weak data breach response compliance, and/or failure to execute effectively on Data Subject Access Requests could all result in costly litigation for the department and business as a whole.”  

Again, there is optimism that understanding of how AI can deliver ROI will increase and Anne McNulty, senior director of AI success at Agiloft says: “CLM-Lite solution vendors will struggle to survive in the medium term, and verbatim extraction of basic, line level data from contracts using AI will become table stakes for most types of contract-related systems.”

Derek Southall, chairman of LITIG, founder of Hyperscale Group 

What will the top 10 trends of 2022 be? 

  • Aggregation with dominant legaltech vendors emerging and PE houses combining investments and continued M&A activity. 
  • Addressing the missing middle and platform enhancement. Tools outside PMS and DMS which really tackle productivity addressing multiple use cases. 
  • The continued growth of no and low code tools. 
  • Smarter collaboration with more innovative collaboration tools (and MS Teams) and marketTech platforms really gaining traction in the market. 
  • The continued growth and dominance of MS365/the reskilling of IT teams (obviously!) 
  • Firms developing and executing really thought through data strategies. 
  • A renewed focus on KM and e learning given the need to support people when hybrid working and educate people operating in a digital world. 
  • Increased partnering, alliances and “as a service” offerings as firms realise they can’t do everything. 
  • Cost increases with inflation, increased R&D/integration costs and the challenges from vendor management forcing firms to review their tech stack and to really test “value”. 
  • An increase in data exchange in areas like real estate and cross organisational working. 

  

eDiscovery and litigation 

Last but not least, in litigation and eDiscovery, which has long been highly tech-led and process driven, experts are interestingly flagging the softer, people-centric changes that lie ahead.  

Glenn Barden, managing director at FTI Technology (U.K.) says: “Despite the e-discovery industry’s ongoing focus on technology advancement and the perpetual roundabout of new solution development, I do not believe the biggest changes ahead will be technology based. The reality is that the primary driver behind legal matters and document discovery continues to be people, and the majority of the turmoil of the pandemic and remote work has fallen on people. Retention has become more difficult, leaders are grappling with how to maintain a strong culture of connection and new practitioners are struggling to develop their skills while removed from collaborative environments surrounded by managers and peers. 

“Even before the disruption of the last two years, maintaining a strong talent pool in e-discovery required significant energy and attention—particularly in providing mentoring and training to empower practitioners to make the right decisions in a matter. This is a critical factor in ensuring successful e-discovery outcomes, and has become even more difficult for teams to learn by osmosis from experts. In 2022, I expect we’ll see momentum towards more people-focused initiatives in e-discovery that nurture well-rounded, healthy teams and the continued growth of people across all levels of experience. This will likely include hybrid training approaches that improve the onboarding experience for individuals and the work product overall.”  

Ironically, hybrid working is also making eDiscovery tougher from a data proliferation perspective, which has been accelerated by the pandemic. Scott McVeigh, industry principal at Onna said: “More data will make eDiscovery tougher before it gets easier. The majority of companies have been working from home in the last year, the number of workplace apps used during that period and the amount of data created has exploded exponentially. As workplace apps proliferate, they create separate and siloed stores of data. And the more that data is fragmented across different apps, the more time and effort is required for eDiscovery.”

McVeigh adds: “This is an issue for 2022, because we’ll likely see a rise in pandemic-related litigation cases and legal teams will be under the pressure of an increasing load of disputes, including contractual (e.g. failure to perform contractual obligations, force majeure clauses, etc.), employment (e.g. compulsory vaccinations, flexible working rights, etc.), health- and safety-related disputes issues, and more.

“The most successful legal teams will be those who can operate proactively and efficiently. eDiscovery teams need to be able to extract relevant data at the touch of a button – this will mean embracing automation and other technology that allows them to self-serve. There shouldn’t be a reliance on IT to fulfill discovery requests, and self-service is the key to giving legal users the autonomy to deliver defensible eDiscovery at speed.”

The eDiscovery sector has long been subject to consolidation and that looks set to continue, but Kelly Griswold, COO at Onna also highlights the importance of “partnerships and more legal service providers investing in their own tech stacks by bringing in third-party tools to create their own white-labeled solutions.”

“I think we’ll see many of these partnerships and integrations particularly in eDiscovery,” says Griswold. “After all, eDiscovery is not a single problem to solve, but rather a multi-stage workflow that requires targeted technology to address. We’ve seen that companies are looking for a leading experience across the entire EDRM, and often find that end-to-end technology from a single solution provider fails to deliver on its promise of a comprehensive experience. This usually forces them to find additional solutions. Integrations and partnerships can offer the full benefits of best-of-breed technology ecosystems, but they must be driven by the vendors – not left up to the customer to stitch together their different solutions. The partnerships that take this approach in the year ahead will see the greatest success.” 

In a further nod to AI and analytics, Evie Mackay, managing director at FTI Technology (U.K.) says: “As the incidence of data breaches continues to rise, we expect to see eDiscovery experts focusing on the advancement of AI and analytics tools with an eye to improving risk analysis and developing efficiencies in data analysis. Managed document review leaders will be working in parallel to customise review workflows and platform templates to expedite review and provide swift insights into breached data.” 

And legal research is expected to continue to be a focus for firms looking for a competitive edge in litigation. At Trellis, which is bringing state trial court data together online, director of marketing Michael Swarz says: “As more and more US state trial court data becomes publicly available 2022 will see heightened demand nationwide by litigators to access and leverage it for a competitive advantage in their cases.  Legal teams will increasingly discover they can now ‘Google’ search state trial court records across the country to uncover key intelligence & analytics on judges, verdicts, opposing counsel, motions, rulings, dockets and other legal issues.”

To give us your forecasts for the year ahead contact editor Caroline Hill on caroline@legaltechnology.com

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