- Robert Stines
GAFA - The four companies changing the practice of law
Nichole Black at mycase.com wrote a blog on 10 Technologies That Changed the Practice of Law. Among the 10 were (in no particular order), Typewriters, Copiers, Facsimile, Desktop Computers, and the Internet.
In my opinion, four companies in particular have changed the modern practice of law: Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon (GAFA).
"Just google it" - is a common phrase in every day use. The Internet has changed legal research methods from spending hours in a library drowning in stacks of books to sitting behind a computer screen.
New lawyers are so familiar with Google's natural language search that fee-based online research platforms such as Westlaw and Lexis now use both natural language and boolean language search methods.
Google also provides free products that make it easier for solo practitioners to compete with larger enterprise-based law firms. Products such as gmail, Calendar, Docs, Sheets, are easy, mobile, cloud-based, collaboration-friendly tools. Gone are the days when a law firm had to sink hundreds, maybe thousands, of dollars to use Microsoft Word, Excel, and Outlook.
The ultimate game changer will be Google's advancements in artificial intelligence. According to Google,
AI is making it easier for people to do things every day, whether it’s searching for photos of loved ones, breaking down language barriers in Google Translate, typing emails on the go, or getting things done with the Google Assistant.
It is within the realm of possibility for Google's AI to search documents, investigate individuals through the Internet, draft a complaint, research the law in all 50 states, and determine the likely success of an argument with a particular judge. Tasks that would take vast amounts of human time and effort, will be reduced to a fraction of the time with AI.
The iPhone and iPad have changed the concept of "working remotely." Smartphones and tablets made a truly mobile office possible, allowing lawyers to access case-related information from anywhere at anytime.
Yes, other companies make laptops, smartphones, and tablets. And, yes, the Blackberry is probably the forerunner for the smartphone industry. But, Apple did what it always does best - takes an existing product, and makes it better. Before the iPhone, lawyers were not using apps to perform work remotely. Lawyers were still tethered to laptops and sketchy wifi connections.
Lawyers now conduct depositions and attend hearings without lugging around reams of paper or a heavy laptop that takes forever to load. An iPhone and iPad will do just fine.
Few may know this, but Amazon revolutionized Cloud Computing. Amazon launched EC2 in 2006. According to Amazon:
Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) provides scalable computing capacity in the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud. Using Amazon EC2 eliminates your need to invest in hardware up front, so you can develop and deploy applications faster. You can use Amazon EC2 to launch as many or as few virtual servers as you need, configure security and networking, and manage storage. Amazon EC2 enables you to scale up or down to handle changes in requirements or spikes in popularity, reducing your need to forecast traffic.
The Cloud increased computing power while reducing computing costs, making the mobile revolution possible and leveling the playing field. Cloud computing allowed solo and small law firms to compete with larger firms in ways never before seen.
Clients now realize that smaller firms, that do not have expensive overhead, can provide more efficient, cost effective legal services. This has forced larger firms to reconsider the traditional method of providing legal services to clients.
Before you stop reading because you think this is ridiculous, just think - Facebook is the big daddy, god father, top dog, in the social media industry. All other platforms (Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn) are playing second fiddle. To the extent it is considered the professional version of Facebook, one may include LinkedIn instead of Facebook. There is little doubt, however, that LinkedIn is small potatoes compared to Facebook.
Social media has changed they way law firms market themselves. Some of the more traditional firms may resist marketing on social media, but the overwhelming majority of law firms have a social media presence. Individual attorneys must also have a social media presence to compete, market and network.
Like it or not, Facebook changed the game for marketing in the legal industry.
True, this really is a no-brainer -- GAFA represents the four most influential companies on the planet. They are bound to have some impact on the legal profession. Similar to how typewriters, copy and fax machines, and electronic mail changed the practice, so too would modern technology influence the modern practice of law.
Few anticipated such a major change, in such a short time. And . . . it's about to change even more.