Technology transforming local legal industry

Effective Jan. 1, the DuPage County Circuit Court became the first county in Illinois to implement mandatory electronic filing of civil cases. Gone now are the days when law firms sent their clerks racing to the courthouse door to beat the closing time of 4:30 each afternoon. In the news release announcing this mandatory e-filing requirement, Chief Judge Kathryn Creswell stated, "Electronic filing provides advantages in time, labor and convenience to the court, the clerk and the litigants."

This welcome development is the latest in a series of technological advancements that are transforming how lawyers serve their clients. The most significant changes to the legal industry stemming from these technology trends include:

Dramatically improved efficiency: When this author began practicing law nearly 30 years ago, a new lawyer's typical training ground involved countless hours of pouring over thousands of documents in preparing a case for trial or in due diligence for a business transaction. With the advancements in document management software, these documents are now searched more dependably and in a mere fraction of the time once required.

Globalization. Law firms are now far less restricted by artificial geographical boundaries that once encumbered them. The instant ability to research the laws or pending legal matters in other states and countries has allowed the smallest of boutique law firms to acquire expertise in advising clients on a national and even international basis. As a result, a greater number of lawyers are acquiring licenses to practice in multiple jurisdictions.

Specialization. With the increased online availability of general legal information (not necessarily reliable), lawyers now recognize a greater need to specialize in order for their practices to thrive. The general law practitioner who hangs a shingle and professes to handle any type of legal matter has become increasingly rare. Even Abraham Lincoln and Atticus Finch would acknowledge the need today to develop a niche in the tremendously broad and vast modern legal marketplace.

Cybersecurity. The boundless benefits of the recent cyber explosion have created their own unique challenges for the legal industry. Serving as the guardians of their clients' highly sensitive financial and confidential information, law firms are increasingly targeted by hackers seeking to access information on mergers, intellectual property and business plans. Consequently, secure file-sharing solutions have become a top priority for law firms to ensure the protection of their clients.

Courtroom technology. The use of computers by judges and attorneys in the courtroom is now commonplace. In DuPage County, each judge has a computer on the bench that allows instant access to any document filed in a case and to any governing statute or case.

Social Media. Perhaps a little later than most industries, lawyers have now fully embraced at least some form of social media in marketing their practices.

Although LinkedIn remains the most commonly used social media tool, attorneys have become more creative in the use of other such forums as Facebook, Twitter and blogging sites.

Despite the accompanying inevitable challenges, the rapidly evolving technology in the legal industry makes this a uniquely exciting time to be engaged in the practice of law - particularly in our area where so many innovative changes are occurring every day.

The information in this article is intended for general purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Readers should not act upon the information in this article without individual professional counseling.

• Tim McLean specializes in corporate counseling and commercial litigation at Clingen Callow & McLean LLC, a full-service business law firm of advisers and counselors with offices in Lisle and Geneva.

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