Carolyn Elefant has her finger on the pulse of small law legal practice. Aside from authoring the popular blog for solo and small firm lawyers MyShingle, she is herself a solo practitioner. Carolyn has always been a step ahead when it comes to legal practice — she hand-coded her own law firm website in 1995, and became one of the first “lawyer-bloggers” in 2002.
In the 15+ years she’s been running her blog, Carolyn has seen a number of major changes impact the way solo and small firm attorneys run their practices. For example, she says, “I remember one of my first blog posts was an article about how GE was outsourcing legal work to India. Now, we’re past outsourcing — we’re up to artificial intelligence to do document review.”
Outside of artificial intelligence, there are a number of technologies that Carolyn has seen impact legal practice over the last few years. Carolyn points to adoption and acceptance of cloud-based law practice management systems, which are still gaining popularity, as one example. On top of that, new technologies are changing everything from the way attorneys bill their clients (via online payment systems), the way they schedule time (allowing clients to self-schedule appointments online), and the way they do their research (through low-cost, high-quality alternatives to legacy platforms).
Looking to the future, Carolyn foresees a few shifts in the way attorneys work with their clients, several of them the results of an increased reliance on technology. She predicts a shift in attorney/client relationships: “I think in many instances, they’ll be more like a partnership than legal advice being dispensed from on high,” she says. She explains, “Because of technology and because of the vast amount of information that is available, we start to see some clients who are much more educated and who expect lawyers to be able to respond to their questions instead of telling them, ‘We’ve got this taken care of.’”
On top of that, attorneys and clients are becoming more comfortable conducting business online, something she believes will only become more common. She points out that this is not a new trend — she herself has a number of clients she’s never met in person — but, she says, “Surprisingly, there are still a lot of firms that are very old-school, where the only way the lawyer will talk to you is if you come into their office.” Over time, she expects to see an increased expectation from clients that they will be able to work with attorneys online.