There’s been plenty of discussion about digital transformation in the legal industry. But what was often lacking was a sense of urgency to turn talk into adoption and a view that there was just not enough time available to make it happen. Then 2020 arrived and shocked the industry with a tech ultimatum. Suddenly NOT adopting legal technology posed a direct and significant threat to a law firm’s margin, recoverability and ability to win work.
As a result, tech-tardiness was suddenly unveiled as a significant risk to profitability. And this triggered a sharp acceleration in the adoption of digital tools. Karen and Ben talk to us about a mindset that embraces the concept ‘thrive not survive’ when it comes to digital adoption and the business benefits it delivers.
Increased momentum for ongoing digital transformation in the legal industry is driven it seems by two key factors: how does technology enable law firms to achieve higher margins and how does it improve the experience of clients and lawyers as part of everyday working life?
There’s no hiding the fact that some law firms have a reputation for clinging on to more traditional ways of working. However is this in part, due to the traditional legal business model stifling innovation? Or have law firms evolved?
“On the face of it, law seems like a sector that's more reluctant to change than others,” Ben tells us, directly addressing the less than progressive reputation lawyers have for embracing technology. “But in my experience, if the benefits are articulated in ways that lawyers can relate to, they’re generally receptive. The challenge is convincing lawyers of how something is really going to help them – how it's going to add value to the way they work and to their clients.”
In 2020, circumstances unexpectedly delivered what was probably the most persuasive case for the adoption of technology we’ve ever seen. Law firms were forced to abruptly shift from a largely in-person way of operating, to a universal ‘work from home’ set-up. All against the backdrop of an unpredictable and, in some cases, very active market environment. As a result, almost overnight, cloud-based platforms and collaborative applications that were previously side-lined as a ‘nice to have’, suddenly gained a more obvious ROI.
The result of this whole experience is lawyer engagement in innovation that is now considerably better than it was in pre-pandemic times.
“I think if people didn't understand the benefits of what technology had to offer before the pandemic, they do now, and we can now use this as a platform to take things to the next level,” says Karen. “What is important now is to make sure that we continue to use tech to add value to the client experience, and not just go back to how things were.”
If you accept that the sector has to change, the new dilemma could be introducing too much technology, too fast.
Since we launched Clarilis at the end of 2015, many firms have told us that document automation has failed for them previously. One of the main reasons for this is trying to automate everything straight away in piecemeal. It is not the best approach to blanket automate everything from day one.
Karen recommends a gradual and considered approach to introducing new technology.
“I would always say start small,” she agrees. “There's no reason why you would necessarily need to automate all precedents to show that it can be done. What we’ve found really helpful is to start with one document or a particular type of transaction documents and demonstrate that it works for clients. And then look to build it out.”
It’s not all about impressing your clients with your new digitally-enhanced processes. After all, to be successful, LegalTech must be readily adopted. And this means you need to secure the support of internal advocates from within your legal teams. On this point, Ben strongly advocates inviting lawyers to contribute what they need and expect from systems during the implementation process.
“Rather than simply saying you will use this technology from now on, we involve lawyers in the process,” Ben explains. “It's a bit of a cliche, but by taking people on the journey, it’s easier for them to see the advantage to them and their clients.”
And this is an approach your LegalTech provider can support too. For example, at Clarilis we have a collaborative approach where our professional support lawyers work with our clients to identify and advise which automation projects deliver the greatest value, then work with your lawyers to carry out a detailed review of the precedents before designing, building and testing the automation.
“Being able to talk to people [at a supplier] who speak the language of tech, but also speak the language of law and know the context in which we're operating is so important,” says Karen. “To make sure lawyers really buy into a tech solution, we have to make sure they trust it. The Clarilis approach, using their platform to underpin their professional support lawyers and managed service has been invaluable in making automation a successful and transformational part of our business.”
The benefits of risk-mitigated delegation must also be recognised. Many Clarilis customers have used technology to augment the training of more junior members of their teams and to facilitate junior lawyers handling the work, without risk. When the technology can produce in ten minutes what a lawyer takes several hours to accomplish, why not use what technology produces to accelerate understanding, learning and development?
Let’s not forget that lawyers deserve work/life balance too and new talent joining law firms (the future of law) will have expectations when it comes to the nature of the work they do and where they can best spend their time. Karen frames this beautifully!
“Nobody really wants to be that lawyer sitting there at 2 am looking for ‘seller’ rather than ‘sellers’ in the document! There is another way!”