Legal Technology is Changing the Legal Profession. What Does this Mean for You?
On 8 and 9 October 2018, LawSwitch co-founders, Tim and Fiona Kirkman, from Sydney, Australia presented at both the Law Society of Singapore and the Future of Law and Innovation Programme (FLIP).
They shared a little as to their journey as a couple in life and legal technology, presented on the topics: “The new path to innovation: law, technology and collaboration” and “Creating your own legal chatbot in minutes” and showcased their legal technology products LawSwitch and FamilyProperty.
The legal profession is being disrupted and “the rate of change is of a magnitude that could take many by surprise”.1The Future of Law and Innovation in the Profession Report 2017 — Law Society of New South Wales, page 31. As the Legal Technology Vision prepared by the Singapore Academy of Law correctly notes: “Lawyers are standing at a crossroads.”2Legal Technology Vision, Singapore Academy of Law, 2017, page 3. You can resist or ride the tide of disruption in the legal profession and choose whether or not to implement legal technology in your law firm.
Why Should Your Firm Adopt Legal Technology?
We would like to start by highlighting five benefits, supported by research, that suggest why you should innovate and implement legal technology in your day to day practice:
- Technology can make your job “far more effective and efficient”.3The Future of Law and Innovation in the Profession Report 2017 — Law Society of New South Wales, page 31. It can both “improve existing practices” and “rectify existing and ingrained problems”.4Legal Technology Vision, Singapore Academy of Law, 2017, page 4.
- Automation through technology can “remove the repetitive work from traditional roles and allow lawyers greater time to direct towards your client and advisory-focused parts of your jobs”.5Human v Cloud 2017 LexisNexis Roadshow Report, LexisNexis, 2017, page 15.
- Adoption of technology backed legal solutions helps your firm to meet client’s demands. “Clients will expect law firms to adopt AI in some form. And as the market evolves, clients will only be able to notice AI through exceptional use or by its absence….And those that leverage technology to provide for a better, more predictable and affordable solution will be embraced by clients.”6The Legal Institute For Forward Thinking: Legal Trends, Observations And Predictions For 2018, David Parnell in Forbes, 2018.
- The right technology tools can “make your job far more enjoyable”.7The Future of Law and Innovation in the Profession Report 2017 — Law Society of New South Wales, page 31. Automation of repetitive / low end admin work enables you, as lawyers, to focus on the work you love to do (and are trained to do) – providing valuable strategic legal advice.
- Legal technology solutions can give your firm its innovative and competitive advantage. “Law firms able to scale client-facing operations will have a great advantage. The law firms who learn how to deliver a world-class performance uniformly will have a significant advantage.”8The Legal Institute For Forward Thinking: Legal Trends, Observations And Predictions For 2018, David Parnell in Forbes, 2018.
Often law firms need to look for different approaches in their practice and operational management in order to build the right framework within their firm to support the introduction and ongoing adoption of legal technologies, in ways that will result in tangible benefits.
A recommended approach is to adopt a “new way” innovation mindset, as this will provide your firm with a strong methodology to best implement legal technology, while providing your firm with the inherent benefits that being an innovator can bring.
How to Innovate
Where does your firm sit on the innovation scale? Do you want your firm to be innovators and early adopters or the laggards in adopting legal technology? The longer you leave it, the more likely you will become the general majority or the laggard instead of the innovative or early adopter firm. This means that now is your opportunity to gain your innovative advantage by adopting legal technology.
Having made the decision to take action, how can your firm innovate? Before you launch into a business plan with the partners of the firm, stop and consider this. There is a traditional and a new approach to innovation.
- Traditional approach to innovation. The traditional approach to innovation is that some people’s ideas are better than others and that you need a very detailed analysis and plan (which is often time consuming) before you start. You then delegate the implementation of the new idea into your law firm.
- New approach to innovation. The new approach to innovation is that all ideas are equal and can come from within (from all staff) and outside (from entrepreneurs and clients). Then, instead of spending months (if not years) in business planning, you experiment with various legal technologies to find out what works for your law firm. You then measure, re-iterate and collaborate with various stakeholders to adapt the legal technology solution for your law firm.
To become the innovative/early adopter firm, we encourage you to adopt the new approach to innovation.
How to Adopt Legal Technology in Your Firm
There is a broad range of different legal technology products and solutions available today to law firms. A good approach to understanding where technology can bring the most benefit to your law firm is to first gain a clear picture of what your customer’s journey looks like throughout their engagement with your firm. Then you can start identifying where technology can bring the greatest benefit.
A good way to break this down is to draft a customer journey map. A customer journey map is used to define all the key touch points that a typical customer will have with you law firm; from the first time they hear about your firm, all the way through to the point where you may close their file. A point in your map could be a conversation, an activity, task or event. It could be something that your customer does; such as performing a Google search to find your law firm. A customer journey map is drawn out as a line over time, and what you want to do is define each of those touch points on the line; such as the phone calls, research tasks, conferences, drafting of documents, and then evaluate each one based on if you think it’s working well or not.
Then, look for the points in your customer journey map where it could fall into one of the following categories:
- Pain point
- Non-billable time
- Time consuming
- Error prone
- Opportunity to delight (your clients and staff)
- Opportunity to productise (convert a service into a product)
It is the points in your customer journey that fall into one or more of the above categories where a technology-based solution may bring about the most benefit.
The next step is to research the different legal technology products that offer to address each of those points. They may offer to supplement and complement what you do in your daily work, or they may offer an automated approach. Below are some technology areas you may want to consider:
- Document automation. There are many legal technology vendors that offer document automation solutions, from pre-built legal templates through to building your own customised and unique solution. Automation brings many inherent benefits. Research tasks can happen directly at the source (system to system instead of a human figuring out how to do a lookup on a system). Preparation of documents and emails happen instantly and are right every time. Automation can scale. Process and generate one document or millions of documents simultaneously 24/7.
- Legal chatbots. These solutions can assist your firm in a variety of ways. From initial client engagement and intake processes, document assembly, through to providing situational assessments. Legal chatbots engage with your client conversationally, exchanging key information and thereby improving efficiencies. Instead of using forms, which have always felt clinical and impersonal (not to mention confusing!) legal chatbots provide conversational experiences that are more natural, fluid and ultimately more engaging, replicating and automating typical legal conversations and bringing them online.
- Online booking systems. If coordinating meetings, conferences and phone calls are an identified issue, then online booking systems could be especially helpful, as they can automate and save time involved in making calendar-based bookings.
- Artificial intelligence (AI). AI includes technologies such as voice recognition, natural language processing, machine learning and neural networks. There is a broad (and growing!) range of ways that AI is being put to work in the legal context. This includes contract analysis and review, predictive outcomes, document drafting, research and summarisation functions.
- Secure portals. Increasingly your customers are expecting to engage with your firm online, from being able to book meetings, access their files and documents, through to getting updates on their matter and even paying their bills. Secure portals offer the ability to bring parts of your client engagement online and accessible 24/7.
- Expert systems. These are applications that provide guidance, support and can generate intelligent results in a very focused area of law, effectively empowering the work you do (think faster, cheaper, better). They do this through implementing decision trees (“if this, then do that”), logic functions, automation, and AI to create a structured tool that is easy to use yet can produce intelligent results for you. Expert systems are usually designed by experts in a particular field, imparting their knowledge into that application.
- Blockchain and smart contracts. Blockchains are distributed peer-to-peer networks that store a distributed ledger of data linked and secured using cryptography. Using a blockchain, smart contracts can either generate trackable, transparent and secure records of an agreement, or can represent the contract itself; by defining, implementing and executing the terms and parameters of that agreement from the blockchain.
Once you have selected some vendors or solutions, it is time to implement!
Five Questions to Ask a Technology Vendor
You may wish to consider finding a technology partner, advisor, or employ someone who can come alongside your law firm and provide strategic guidance as well as practical assistance with building up your firm’s digital approach. This needs to be an ongoing relationship, not a single project-based engagement, as they need to understand your firm’s objectives and direction, and work with you to enable technology to play a key role in those goals and outcomes.
When considering a technology vendor, product, or solution, there are many aspects that need to be considered and understood, however below are five critical questions that can start the conversation:
- Data. Ask “where is my data stored?” and “how is my data protected?”. It is important to have a clear understanding around your data; where it is, and how it is processed and protected.
- Scalability and reliability. Ask “Can this grow with my firm and scale with its needs?”. Even though a product or solution may be a good fit for an immediate use case, you need to be sure that it will continue to deliver as your firm grows.
- Support and maintenance. Ask “How will you support me?” Consider contact people and support hours. Is support provided locally or overseas? What type of service level agreement (SLA) should you expect?
- Box or build. Ask “How much is out of the box functionality versus custom developed for me?” A product may deliver what you need out of the box, ie, the functionality you need is included, however what you are after may require custom development. This is not a bad thing, however you do need to understand the cost involved, both in time and financial investment. On the flip side, you’ll probably end up with a unique solution that may contribute to building your firm’s innovative advantage.
- Metrics. Ask “How can we measure success?”. Just like your human resources, you need to measure performance of your technology resources. Understand what success (and failure) of a particular technology product/solution looks like and how to measure and evaluate that.
Our top three tips to getting started:
- Consider your customer journey and firm’s journey as this will provide a strong framework for understanding where legal technology can bring the most benefit to your law firm.
- Explore legal tech solutions that will work for your firm, and ask the right questions of vendors.
- Just start and adopt the new approach to innovation. Do not get too tied up in deliberating and weighing up the details. Instead just start evaluating, experimenting and measuring with selected products and solutions. Be flexible to adapt what you have implemented based on what your metrics are telling you.
Endnotes [ + ]
|1.||↑||The Future of Law and Innovation in the Profession Report 2017 — Law Society of New South Wales, page 31.|
|2.||↑||Legal Technology Vision, Singapore Academy of Law, 2017, page 3.|
|3.||↑||The Future of Law and Innovation in the Profession Report 2017 — Law Society of New South Wales, page 31.|
|4.||↑||Legal Technology Vision, Singapore Academy of Law, 2017, page 4.|
|5.||↑||Human v Cloud 2017 LexisNexis Roadshow Report, LexisNexis, 2017, page 15.|
|6.||↑||The Legal Institute For Forward Thinking: Legal Trends, Observations And Predictions For 2018, David Parnell in Forbes, 2018.|
|7.||↑||The Future of Law and Innovation in the Profession Report 2017 — Law Society of New South Wales, page 31.|
|8.||↑||The Legal Institute For Forward Thinking: Legal Trends, Observations And Predictions For 2018, David Parnell in Forbes, 2018.|