Kudos to the new and improved Law Technology News (LTN). I just wish I could say that practice technology were also ‘new and improved.’ 

Monica Bay and her LTN and ALM colleagues (including Aric Press, David Snow, and Sean Doherty) deserve praise for the newly designed and re-launched magazine. With vendor squibs and short updates migrating to the web, the print magazine now has even more and better content, namely in-depth feature articles. And like many readers, I am pleased LTN has adopted the standard magazine physical format. The page size is smaller yet feels cleaner and much less cluttered, so it is also visually more appealing.

Most features in the re-launched LTN focus on e-discovery and law firm IT infrastructure. If this represents the state of legal technology, then the meta message is loud and clear – that’s where legal IT management is spending its time. Did I miss a new-and-improved practice technology?

The economic crisis has yielded a diminished new normal for BigLaw. I had hoped this would spur practice technology innovation. Yet I struggle to name more than a handful of recent innovations (e.g., KIIAC for contract analysis, Bloomberg Law as competition for Wexis, Reed Smith’s matter and budgeting SharePoint portal, and Wilson Sonsini’s online term generator and client CLE offering).

Maybe I’ve missed the boat. I fear, however, that one aspect of BigLaw has not changed: structural impediments to building or even buying innovative practice support technology. On the practice side, partners focus on making raining or serving clients. On the technology side, CIOs focus on the need to maintain and upgrade infrastructure. So neither key stakeholder has time or perhaps even motivation to push for practice technology innovation.

Yet much has changed. The market is abuzz with alternative fees, legal project management (LPM), and legal process outsourcing (LPO). Lawyers are abuzz about their iPhones and iPads. And some firms are making big moves, for example, Foley to Net Documents and Baker McKenzie to SAP.

Over at Twitter, I’ve speculated that we may have moved to an era where legal and practice technology is now ‘horizontal’, that is, firms deploy broad market platforms with a bit of legal overlay. Less important in this world is legal vertical market software (even platforms such as document management).

If my assessment here is right – limited new practice technologies and a new focus on horizontal platforms – then perhaps we need to look for innovation woven into other systems.

So I finish, not sure if I should end up gloomy or wildly optimistic.