As the COVID-19 pandemic began shuttering courthouses and law offices across the country, two attorneys who use the litigation management platform Litify told its chief revenue officer, Terry Dohrmann, that the company could become the legal industry’s Zoom—in reference to the videoconferencing app that has become wildly popular as people across the globe practice social distancing.
The comments, Dohrmann said, got the company leaders thinking, “If we really are [the legal industry’s Zoom], then let’s act like it,” he said. And with that, the company began to develop its enhanced videoconferencing program called Uplink, which launched recently.
The program is one of several litigation support applications and services that have been developed, tweaked or repackaged by litigation support companies in an effort to meet the growing and evolving demands of trial attorneys, as the coronavirus has forced the industry into a new normal.
On the firm side of things, Philadelphia attorney Kevin Marciano of Marciano & MacAvoy said that, as a personal injury lawyer, he rarely had to focus before on thoroughly tracking time, but, with his staff now working from home, he has begun asking employees to start filling out regular time sheets. And to make sure they stay focused on work-related tasks he also asked his workers to download software that keeps track of what they are doing online.
“It gives you some control,” Marciano said. “I actually think I’m going to use it when things get back to normal. You can’t be with someone all the time, but this gives them the ability to work independently.”
The stories illustrate a trend that attorneys and legal tech industry insiders are beginning to see, as the coronavirus is leading trial lawyers to experiment with new technologies and has fueled a wave of innovation from the litigation support industry. According to court watchers, these new trends will likely lead to lasting changes for the legal world once the pandemic subsides.
Along with a need for new technologies aimed at pushing cases forward in a virtual environment, the new environment has driven a need for technology that helps attorneys tackle the challenges of managing their workforce remotely.
Along with Marciano, several trial attorneys who spoke with The Legal said they have turned to management programs, such as ActivTrak, that allow firm leaders to closely monitor their employees’ online activity.
For Marciano, the technology has been a ”game-changer.”
According to Marciano, the program can tell how long a computer’s been idle, it can take screenshots of an employee’s computer every few minutes, and it can print out a pie chart of all the websites the staff has been on in a given day.
The program not only allowed his firm to keep an eye on their workers, but it also helped the employees adapt their work schedules to what made the most sense, given their family situation, he said.
“You have to be flexible,” Marciano said. “It’s hard, but people are adjusting.”
Philadelphia attorney Jon Ostroff of Ostroff Law said he has also been exploring ways to monitor his employees remotely, and has been using a Voice Over Internet Phone system as a way to keep his workers connected remotely. The system, which he said is more secure than Zoom, can allow staff to set up chatrooms for the various internal groups that need to stay in constant contact, such as pre-litigation paralegals. It has also helped the staff hold regular office-wide meetings, which he said is a big part of maintaining firm culture.
“We don’t want people to be isolated. Part of what works in our office is our culture,” he said.
Echoing sentiments expressed by others, Ostroff said he is exploring ways to allow his staff to continue working remotely, even after the pandemic has passed. Specifically, he said he was considering the idea of having work stations, which attorneys could use on the rotating basis, only coming into the office two or three days each week.
“We are so pleased with the way working remotely has gone, we’re not going to stop with this. We’re absolutely going to set up ourselves to be a virtual firm,” Ostroff said.
‘Something’s Going to Stick’
Magna Legal Services recently launched JuryConfirm 2020, which expands the company’s online capabilities for handling focus groups and mock trials, allowing for multiday online sessions.
The program, which revamps the company’s existing JuryConfirm platform, was already in the works before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but according to Hecht, the program dovetails perfectly into the shifting needs of the trial bar.
Along with the JuryConfirm 2020 program, he said, the company is working to marry existing services with the trial bar’s emerging needs. For instance, he said the company has started offering expanded virtual deposition services, which include a jury consulting technician who can handle all the exhibits.
Several attorneys who spoke with The Legal said that one of the downsides of virtual depositions is that, with big files having to be sent beforehand, attorneys often lose the element of surprise. According to Hecht, the company’s newer services are aimed at addressing those concerns, among others, and with the programs becoming more like the live thing, attorneys are going to increasingly rely on these devices, growing the demand even further.
“I think the online deposition platforms are going to be here to stay. So many people are just naturally going to say, I want to do this one remotely,” Hecht said. “They’re going to have done this hundreds of times. It’s going to become natural.”
Dohrmann said his company has been almost busier than it was before COVID-19 hit.
Along with launching Uplink, the company also launched in recent weeks a condensed version of its cloud-based platform, called LitifyGo, which allows attorneys to access the system from anywhere, including a tablet or phone.
Attorneys, he said, are increasingly interested in finding easier ways to share documents, and to more seamlessly communicate with clients, so his company is finding new ways to use portals for document sharing and adding communication features so lawyers can do things like text directly from the Litify platform.
With so many court systems partially shut down and offering varying degrees of services, attorneys have also been struggling for weeks to stay on top of the ever-changing patchwork of delayed deadlines and filing procedures, and firm leaders, who used to get a feel for the firm’s caseload and progress by walking the halls, have also been looking for ways to keep a virtual eye on what’s coming in and what work is ending. Dohrmann said attorneys have been increasingly looking to online dashboards to help them tackle those problems as well.
“They’re looking for better ways to stay as close as they have been in the past, so it’s leveraging technology to do so,” he said. “Embracing technology, rethinking client communication, those are all definitely what we’re seeing.”
Since the shutdowns, the legal industry has faced unprecedented challenges, and there has been a lot of confusion. However, according to litigation tech insiders, one things is certain: the time is ripe for innovation.
“People are going to pop things out there,” Hecht said. “And something’s going to stick.”
This piece originally appeared on The Legal Intelligencer on May 6, 2020.