We were all blindsided as 2020 unfolded, yet the momentum of technological change and innovation assured a steady stream of new products. I have identified five trends, which I have divided into three categories: unforeseeable, continuing and surprising.

The trends I believe are worth noting — Unforeseeable: COVID-19 impacts; Predicable: state court analytics and innovative workflow tools; Surprising: legal news re-emerges as a competitive focus among major legal publishers and tech marketplaces emerge.

Unforeseeable: COVID-Related Trends

COVID alone triggered four subtrends:

  • The emergence of local law and ephemeral publications. Major legal vendors were no more prepared to track county level health department issuances and Governors’ executive orders than the average law firm. To make things worse these “documents” were issued in a myriad of social media formats, texts, tweets, Facebook pages … . What’s a law firm to do?
  • Librarians and KM professionals stepped into the vacuum and established protocols for locating and harnessing the untidy universe of COVID-19 ephemera.
  • Law firms became publishers of original COVID-19 resources (leveraging the local documents harnessed by librarians).
  • Legal publishers turned out an unprecedented number of free legal resources covering COVID-19 issues. I covered this trend in an earlier ATL post.

Continuing Trends: State Court Analytics And Workflow Tools

Workflow Tools

  • Brief Analysis toolsCasetext launched a groundbreaking AI-enabled motion-drafting tool, Compose, at the ALM Legal Tech conference in January. Compose uses AI to identify legal arguments and standards tailored to a jurisdiction and legal issue. Parallel search turbocharges the location of relevant precedent to support arguments.
  • Casetext had invented a new class of brief checking tool with the launch of CARA in 2016.  It has taken a few years for all of the larger tech companies to catch up. LexisNexis and Bloomberg Law launched their brief analyzer tools in 2020. Westlaw launched their brief analyzer tool Quick Check in 2019. That product was leveraged in 2020 to build Quick Check Judicial, which was created for judges and can analyze up to six documents and produce comparative reports.
  • Among the other workflow tools launched in 2020: Wolters Kluwer added a Practical Content dashboard and Thomson Reuters HiQ 5.4 AI contract analysis with integration to  Contract Express.

Is the Lexis News Monopoly In Jeopardy? If you look at 2020 trends — the answer is “yes.” Lexis has owned a virtual monopoly on legal news for the past decade. They not only bought Law360 in 2012, but over the years have locked up exclusive deals with the Wall Street Journal and American Lawyer Media. In 2014 they bought the news aggregation platform Newsdesk. I have repeatedly wondered aloud why Thomson Reuters and Bloomberg — both media companies — have failed to compete directly with Law360.

In January, Fastcase and American lawyer Media both announced the launch of legal news products.

  • Fastcase launched their first Law Street Media newsletter which provides not only news but weaves analytics from their Docket Alarm analytics product into the news.
  • ALM announced an innovative news feed Legal Radar now branded as Law.com Radar. It offers a “breaking” newsfeed directed at younger lawyers who consume news on their phones. News items are referred to as “blips.” After originally focusing on Litigation news, they added “breaking deal” news for transactional lawyers in November.
  • Thomson Reuters Back in March 2020 I met with Tony Kinnear, the new President of Thomson Reuters Legal Professions. My message to Kinnear – Thomson Reuters needs to compete with Law360. It may be a coincidence, but in October 2020 Thomson Reuters launched a legal news product Westlaw Today.
  • Bloomberg Law solidified their place in legal news with the acquisition of the Bureau of National Affairs in 2011. I once described BNA as the nerd “A+ student in a bow tie” of legal publishing. Since his appointment in 2018, Bloomberg Law President Joe Breda has been focused on transforming the company’s historically dense, regulatory news offerings into more modern stream-able, clickable and contextualized legal news products. This past year they added embedded interactive visualizations including law firm rankings. In July they recruited  Lisa Helem, formerly Editor in Chief at the National Law Journal,  as Executive Editor Strategic Initiatives.

Tech Marketplaces

First of all it needs to be stated that marketplaces are basically curated directories.  Some also offer cloud environments where new products can be tested. I didn’t see this coming at all and yet, I have a visceral understanding of why Marketplaces are needed. A Google search for something like “legal practice management tools” can deliver 8 million useless results in a second. You are better off emailing your colleagues for product recommendations. What is a lawyer/technologist/librarian to do? Enter the Tech Marketplace.

  • Reynen Court created by a consortium of law firms is a type of legal app store launched in January with a mission:  “to make it easier for law firms and legal departments to adopt and manage modern cloud-based software applications without having to trust firm or client content to the rapidly growing universe of vertically integrated SaaS providers.”
  • Thomson Reuters announced  two initiatives. Thomson Reuters Marketplace (beta version), is an online marketplace where lawyers, technologists and knowledge professional can research, trial and purchase a wide range of Thomson Reuters solutions. Thomson Reuters Legal Home  is described as an “integrated digital launchpad” where subscribers can access their Thomson Reuters products as well as information about external products which can be integrated with or linked to Thomson Reuters products.
  • The law firm Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe launched The Observatory, “an interactive platform offering data on 600+ legal technologies in the market today. Created by Orrick’s Innovation Team, The Observatory plainly describes what each technology does and includes data on management diversity to help legal departments enhance focus on vendor equity.”
  • LegaltechHub This past fall, husband and wife tech team Chris Ford and Nikki Shaver launched an important new technology resource:. Legaltechhub (LTH) is a curated database of legal technology tools, which is enhanced with extensive and careful tagging and taxonomy of more than 600 legal technology products.

2020 Trends in Context. Competition drives innovation. The ongoing expansion of state court judicial analytics products is important not only for the practice of law but for the impact such data can have on access to justice. Workflow tools free lawyers to focus on higher level analysis and provide quality assurance checks. Competition in the Legal news space is long overdue.  Tech marketplaces offer a win-win for vendors and law firm customers. Products can more easily be located and tested. Technology and knowledge processionals can more easily identify and assess available technology solutions — which in turn speeds the “build or buy” decision.

Will the emergence of ephemeral law law during COVID result in a long term change in legal publishing? I don’t see any signs of that so far. No major publisher has announced a commitment to the ongoing and systematic collection of local materials. So the long term COVID impact on legal publishing may be the emergence of law firm knowledge management teams as the permanent aggregators and publishers of local law updates and databases to support their clients needs.

An earlier version of this article appeared on Above the Law on December 22, 2020