Trends to Watch in 2018

Based on an informal running poll I’ve taken among friends and colleagues, people seem to be pretty evenly divided between enjoying or despising the raft of articles that show up this time of year predicting (some might suggest “pontificating”) what’s ahead in the coming months. I’m on the side of “enjoying,” as I like to see if what I perceive to be going on in a particular market is shared by others. Either my observations are confirmed, or I am challenged to look at things in a different light. In either case, I usually find something that helps me plan for the new year.

Below are some of the trends I see in e-discovery and legal process management for 2018.

Substantial innovation centered on machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI).

Personally, I think this is going to be fascinating to watch as it plays out. Based on the advancements being made in the AI space, I don’t think many would argue with the main premise. AI is going to power all kinds of applications in the legal field, including areas like contextual analysis during the review stage, predicting legal outcomes, proactive analysis of data that leads to litigation prevention, contract and legal document analysis and more.

But what will be interesting is the rate of adoption among legal departments and law firms. Despite the obvious benefits of Technology Assisted Review and court acceptance of it, TAR today still is not widely used (just 64% of respondents reported using it in Norton Rose Fulbright’s 2017 Litigation Trends Annual Survey). Furthermore, in the 10th Annual Law Department Operations Survey, published by the Blickstein Group, 66% of law departments say they do not use AI at all and only about 50% expect to be using it anytime in the next three years.

I think these numbers are going to be much higher much sooner than current surveys suggest. The legal profession isn’t known for being early adopters, and thus predictions about new technology adoption in the legal space tend to be more conservative. For example, I remember just four years ago many in the legal space considered cloud storage and applications far too risky for wide adoption, and yet today, those reservations have almost entirely disappeared. I think the same will hold true for AI.

Move away from best-of-breed e-discovery approach to unified platforms.

Gartner, in its most recent Market Guide for E-Discovery Solutions, stated that best-of-breed solutions still dominate within corporate legal departments. While that may be true today, this will not continue going forward. The value of a unified platform approach in terms of efficiency, productivity, and cost and risk reduction has been validated time and time again in just about every other software category. (Who else remembers using Lotus 123, WordPerfect, and Aldus Persuasion?) In addition, with the consolidation the industry has seen in 2017 and the broadening of platform offerings from leading vendors, this trend is easy to predict.

The rise of formal legal operations within corporations.

This is a continuation of a trend that has slowly built over the past few years but is primed to accelerate in 2018. The focus from the C-Suite on reducing costs while maintaining or improving outcomes requires a shift in thinking and execution. Legal processes need to be considered business processes. They need to be standardized across the organization so that they can be managed, measured, and optimized. And technology—specifically legal project management software—needs to be applied to assist those empowered with improving results.

There will be a couple of very visible violations of GDPR.

Hopefully, everyone reading this knows that the General Data Protection Regulation becomes enforceable May 25, 2018. Put simply, the GDPR is intended to strengthen and unify data protection for all individuals within the European Union. Violations of the GDPR can result in extremely significant penalties. The regulation was actually adopted in April of 2016, but organizations were given a two-year transition period. Yet despite this period, it is not at all apparent that companies have modified their practices and can safely say they are fully compliant. There will be a lot of scrambling during the first half of next year as organizations try to get there, but I predict many will be deficient come June. Furthermore, I think the EU is going to make a couple of very high-profile examples of companies out of compliance as a way to hasten the efforts of other laggards.

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