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Legal services 'monitored by apps?'

Posted by: Laurence Simons 11/03/13

When in 50 years the last few humans survey the ruins of great cities like Paris and New York, reduced to rubble by 47 years of chaos, and look wistfully at the pollution-scarred skies above them, they might look back on certain key points in human history and think - that was where we started to go wrong.

Although I'm not suggesting that the use of apps to help keep track of in-house and private practice lawyers will be one of those landmarks, the future destruction of civilisation by a race of super-intelligent computers may be something to keep in mind when considering this story.

According to the Wall Street Journal, apps - having muscled in on shopping, dating, and banking - are now making their mark on the legal world by allowing companies to monitor the performance of their general counsel, as well as offering services to individuals keen to find suitable lawyers or keep track of their bills.

This is made easier by the fact that attorneys in the US are becoming more engaged with technology, using smartphones and tablets to conduct some of their work.

While relatively few options previously existed for those on the other side of the table, general counsel pioneered the use of technology that allows people to keep track of what their legal representation is up to, and it is now beginning to emerge in a commercial setting.

Despite the obvious possibility that such measures will merely ease the transition to an imminent robot apocalypse, the majority of legal professionals appear to be fairly sanguine about the change in how people follow their progress.

Legal consultant Susan Hackett told the newspaper that the advent of these kind of apps is merely one part of an ongoing trend towards clients wanting to take more control of how their lawyers spend their time - and money.

She noted that some large companies have already invested in software programs that let clients track the progress of legal matters or monitor law firm bills from their desktop computers.

"These technologies may scare people," Ms. Hackett said. "But they are all productive parts of the march towards clients and lawyers having conversations in real time."

Many lawyers will recognise that increased levels of transparency are a good thing, that will help them develop a positive public image and dismiss any lingering doubts about the legal sector's willingness to provide an efficient service.

Whether or not they will recognise this as another step towards being replaced by machines is yet to be seen.