Legal tech was no match for 2020. Everyone’s least favorite year wreaked havoc on almost every aspect of the industry, from data privacy upheavals to a complete change in the way employees work and collaborate with data.

With the shift to a remote work environment by most organizations in the early spring of 2020, we saw an acceleration of the already growing trend of cloud-based collaboration and video-conferencing tools in workplaces. This in turn, means we are seeing an increase in ediscovery and compliance challenges related to data generated from those tools – challenges, for example, like collecting and preserving modern attachments and chats that generate from tools like Microsoft Teams, as well compliance challenges around regulating employee use of those types of tools.

However, while collaboration tools can pose challenges for legal and compliance teams, the use of these types of tools certainly did help employees continue to work and communicate during the pandemic – perhaps even better, in some cases, than when everyone was working from traditional offices. Collaboration tools were extremely helpful, for example, in facilitating communication between legal and IT teams in a remote work environment, which proved increasingly important as the year went on. The irony here is that with all the data challenges these types of tools pose for legal and IT teams, they are increasingly necessary to keep those two departments working together at the same virtual table in a remote environment. 

With all these new sources and ways to transfer data, no recap of 2020 would be complete without mentioning the drastic changes to data privacy regulations that happened throughout the year. From the passing of new California data privacy laws to the invalidation of the EU-US privacy shield by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) this past summer, companies and law firms are grappling with an ever-increasing tangle of regional-specific data privacy laws that all come with their own set of severe monetary penalties if violated.  

How to Prepare for 2021

The key-takeaway here, sadly, seems to be that 2020 problems won’t be going away in 2021. The industry is going to continue to rapidly evolve, and organizations will need to be prepared for that.

  • Organizations will need to continue to stay on top of data privacy regulations, as well as understand how their own data (or their client’s data) is stored, transferred, used, and disposed of.
  • Remote working isn’t going to disappear. In fact, most organizations appear to be heading to a “hybrid” model, where employees split time working from home, from the office, and from cafes or other locations. Organizations should prepare for the challenges that may pose within compliance and ediscovery spaces.
  • Remote working will bring about a change in employee recruiting within the legal tech industry, as employers realize they don’t have to focus talent searches within individual locations. Organizations should balance the flexibility of being able to expand their search for the best talent vs. their need to have employees in the same place at the same time.
  • Prepare for an increase in litigation and a surge in ediscovery workload as courts open back up and COVID-related litigation makes its way to discovery phases over the next few months.
  • AI and advanced analytics will become increasingly important as data continues to explode. Watch for new advances that can make document review more manageable.
  • With continuing proliferation of data, organizations should focus on their information governance programs to keep data (and costs) in check.
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