Law Firm Innovation, Legal Technology and Measuring Success
It is no secret that the legal space has formed a reputation for being archaic and inherently resistant to change. However, increasing external pressures are forcing firms to bridge the gap between the profession and the use of technology. There is an expectation in the market that lawyers are utilising technology to provide a higher quality service.
In this article we will review what is driving this change, how firms can utilise technology to innovate, and how firms can measure the innovation/implementation of technology to show a return on investment for the business.
The pressure is driven by several factors, including demands from a new millennial workforce which is now more technology aware than ever, and the transformation of other professional services industries. Over the years, buyer behavior across other professional services has changed and these increased expectations are, in turn, also being demanded of law firms.
First is the ever-changing competitive landscape. Legal has always been a competitive field, and it is becoming even more heated. In addition to the competition from neighboring firms, lawyers must now also contend with competition from “non-traditional” legal service providers.
Beyond competing, the real kicker here is that compared to businesses in similarly regulated industries, law firms are seen as inefficient, both in terms of cost and productivity. In most professional service industries, technology has driven change, enabling faster turnaround times and improving client communication. Clients are now putting pressure on firms to deliver the same efficiencies, and as a result, niche solutions are emerging, designed to enhance a lawyers’ workflow.
A second driver of change is coming from a new wave of lawyers; a workforce that demands technology and innovative practices. We are, of course, talking about the millennial workforce which considers technology to be an essential part of their personal and professional working practices. For firms, this is important as they try to recruit the cream-of-the-crop talent, but also as they try to retain the current lawyers.
In a recent poll, Microsoft found that 93% of millennial workers said that working for a company with updated technology, services and solutions was important to them; almost half (48%) said that it was “extremely important”.
However, the silver lining here is that although the millennial workforce is more demanding, the new practitioners are also more open to leveraging technology.
Riding the Wave of Innovation
Although technology and innovation are closely linked, they are not synonymous with each other. One way to innovate is through technology, which firms are starting to embrace to meet their client needs — to automate and quickly deliver certain work at a fraction of the cost. In doing so, they can free up resources which can be better spent on more complex, harder to automate tasks.
Before the firm “innovates”, it is worth thinking about what this really means for your business. As the saying goes: ‘for something to be managed, it must be measured’, and this still holds true now as it did when it was first incepted. Having an ‘agreed upon definition’ across the firm for innovation will allow you to measure what innovation (if any) is happening, and what impact it might be having on the business.
This is, by no means, an easy task and it will likely take your business a few months to create and agree to something. However, once this is set in place, things will be significantly easier — it will allow the innovation team to set goals and allocate resources as well as measure the success of those projects.
In looking at legal technology, there are two key aspects to consider: (1) where to employ technology (what user and/or business problem are you solving); and (2) how to measure its impact.
There are now hundreds of legal technologies on offer, and it can be overwhelming deciding where to begin. Before implementing complex systems, which may seem attractive, there is tremendous value in focusing on getting the basics right.
Lawyers spend a significant amount of their time within Microsoft Office, but how many lawyers are proficient in using Outlook or Word? How many are carrying out manual review or spending too much time on manual tasks which can introduce risk (especially when things go wrong at 2am)?
What tasks can be scaled? Through automation, which could be done better and faster? Answers to these questions should provide a good starting point.
Law firms are facing increased expectations from clients as to how they are leveraging technology to ensure that their lawyers are focused on high-value work.
This power shift towards the client means firms must equip their lawyers with tools which allow them to focus their time, effort and expertise on work which delivers real value to the clients.
With this push towards a more tech-enabled base, those responsible for implementing this change must be ruthlessly specific, both in terms of the functionality these tools will provide and how they will deliver a benefit to their business.
As we’ve mentioned below, before you can decide on what to measure, it is crucial to agree on what you are trying to solve for — is the firm looking to mitigate risk for errors going out, improve efficiency, boost morale or something else?
One of the best questions a firm can ask whilst evaluating a new solution is ”whether, andhow effectively it will enable your lawyers to spend more time on higher value work?”
Two Sides of the Same Coin
When considering how to measure success, firms must look towards both the tangible and intangible benefits a solution can offer.
Below we have listed three metrics which could be considered for your next project:
It is well accepted that the greatest barometer of success in terms of new technology within a firm is adoption. Technology that is left redundant on a lawyer’s workstation, delivers no value to the lawyer, firm nor client and undermines confidence in legal technology.
Firms will want to see a certain level of usage across the products they introduce. The level of usage should be considered with the type of product in mind — for example, a solution that scrubs metadata from emails will be used significantly more than the software which is used to review drafting errors in your transactional documents.
2. Calculating ROI
The measure of adoption can be built upon, and when considered in conjunction with the amount of time ordinarily spent on a certain type of work, and the hourly rate at which a lawyer is able to bill, it provides a useful metric for return on investment.
Clifford Chance, in conjunction with Litera Microsystems, published a case study in which they reviewed the impact of technology used to improve document quality. In their review, they found that this solution was saving one hour per fee earner/week.
At an average billable rate of S$200/hour (a conservative figure!), and assuming 45 working weeks, that’s a return of S$9,000 additional billed hours per user/year. Even if these are not recovered hours, it is still 45 hours per year, per lawyer available for other, more productive activity that can add value to your clients.
This kind of calculation can be used to both establish a business case, and to measure the results, post-purchase, for any solution the firm is looking to deploy.
3. Quality of Work
The firm’s reputation is staked on the quality of work it produces, and though this is significantly harder to quantify, it should be afforded equal weight in a firm’s assessment.
Depending on the purpose of the software, it is possible (and encouraged) to make certain assumptions. For example, if the software allows the automation of document review, it could be assumed that it will flag more potential issues than a human, it will do a more thorough review that can be done manually, and that it will help to improve the quality of the document assuming that the flagged items are actioned.
Additionally, we have listed some intangible benefits which technology offers that often are overlooked. This is provided as food for thought:
- Ensuring consistency across all documents (both in terms of quality and style/brand);
- Improved turnaround time to your clients (being able to deliver a draft on the same days as you receive instructions) – This can serve as a significant competitive advantage;
- Reducing the risk of errors in final form documents;
- Improving morale/increasing retention rate — Reducing time spent on mundane, low-value work, and perhaps allowing the lawyers to leave 10 to 15 minutes earlier each day!
In a market where clients are now demanding more for less, there is increased scrutiny from firms as to the return on investment delivered from the solutions deployed. Being able to show measurable improvements will allow the firm to appease both clients and staff, whilst continuing to thrive.