Solving the Last Mile Problem for the Utilisation of Legal Technology
The last mile is a concept that specifically focuses on the movement of goods or services from the distribution centre to the destination – this final aspect of the supply chain is often the most difficult and expensive than any other part of the supply chain.
This article considers the last mile problem framed as the utilisation of technology at law firms, and how solving it could provide significant business benefits.
The Multi-faceted Approach of Considering the Last Mile Problem
The idea of the last mile was originally conceptualised around the delivery of telecommunications and electricity; since then it has been extended to many other verticals, and is commonly referenced with regards to logistics and transportation.
The question we consider here is what is the last mile affecting the legal profession, and how should we start to solve it?
The last mile is partly a matter of perspective – when considering the legal eco-system the problem to be solved depends on which part of the legal supply chain is considered – the delivery of legal service, the utilisation of technology, or one of the many other end points.
The Promise of Significant Business Gains
Regardless of which part of the value chain is considered from the perspective of a legal technology leader, the mandate should be to help the lawyer (the end user) finish their work quickly and with a high degree of competency.
In this article we will demonstrate the value of solving the challenge of the last mile problem by focusing primarily on the utilisation of technology at law firms. My hope is that in working through this a mental framework can be constructed which can also be applied to other forums.
Below we will define the problem, consider the benefits, and review some considerations for IT leaders and knowledge professionals.
Delivery and Utilisation of Legal Technology
There has been a boom in the number of technologies being offered to and implemented within law firms. This is particularly the case in large legal markets such as the USA and the UK. The same observation can be made of emerging legal tech markets such as Singapore, where initiatives promoted by the government and other agencies are ensuring a healthy appetite for law firms to obtain legal technology.
Law firms are complex businesses with many moving parts, but they all want the same thing: to realise the full potential of their investment. For this to be accomplished there must be a smooth delivery from end-to-end. This is done by maximising the bandwidth so that workflows can be created that put the right tools in the user’s hands at the right time, and in the right way.
Often the last mile is the least efficient part of the delivery process. When implementing technology this is often translated as complexities with implementation itself, troubleshooting and training to maximise adoption.
Most firms have a fragmented eco-system of legal technology. The annual publication by Litera Microsystems – The Changing Lawyer – reported that almost half of firms are working with over 10 legal technology suppliers, and 68 per cent of firms say that their tech tools overlap in functionality.
The problem with this approach is that the users are perpetually confused by which technology to use, and there is a dizzying array of training that must be attended and remembered each time a simple task needs to be accomplished. In solving these issues, we must work towards a simplified system which encompasses a large workflow that is frequently followed by lawyers.
Before considering how to solve the problem, let’s consider the benefits of doing so.
If we return to our earlier example of transportation, it is easy to see the business paybacks to be gained by solving the problem.
In the last five years, within the transportation vertical, companies such as Bird, and Lime have become some of the fastest growing – Bird became the fastest Unicorn in the US (company valued at over one billion USD) – by focusing on solving the last mile problem through the use of scooters. In doing so, the company considers what is the easiest and the most cost effective way of getting an individual across that last mile: from the hub (eg a train station) to their home.
Solving for the last mile with regards to delivery of technology means saving time and effort. For lawyers the result is to have more time available to think and, to provide greater value to their clients. This has the secondary benefit of minimising the mundane, inevitably increasing morale and job satisfaction.
For a business, the benefits include reducing errors in delivery of the work product, having the ability to service more clients, and generally increasing revenue.
What must be considered is that most customers expect quick delivery but are not willing to pay the high premiums. Therefore, to accomplish the task productivity tools for a lawyer that improve workflow, efficiency is needed.
Better Technology and More Integration
When thinking about how to achieve said benefits, it may be tempting to opt for even more technology. However, I would argue that this is not the right approach – as it further fragments an already fragmented eco-system. Instead firms should aim for better technology, more conversations, elegant delivery mechanisms, and more integration.
Systems that are put in place should provide an integrated approach to the workflow – this means integrating with relevant systems (for example, a Document Management System (DMS)) so that as many of the necessary actions can be accomplished from within the application where the lawyer spends most of their time (such as Microsoft Word).
Is Your System Being Used as Intended?
If we consider this from the perspective of an IT leader or the business unit, it is important to pay attention during the implementation stage to ensure that the delivery being received is as intended.
Are your users able to go through workflows (eg creating, checking, and collaborating on a document) in a cohesive manner without significant cognitive burden?
Companies like Litera Microsystems have formed around this specific narrative and as a result their suite – the Litera Desktop – can be delivered as a single, lawyer focused ribbon. The advantage of this is that it provides all the necessary tools for the entire workflow which all look and feel the same, allowing the lawyer to focus on the task at hand instead of jumping from tab-to-tab and ribbon-to-ribbon.
Integrating – In and Out
As you consider the workflow, where possible, ensure that there are multiple points of integration. Beyond those that are essential, like a DMS for instance, it is worth considering whether the systems are able to integrate with each other ie, is your content library able to draw results from an AI driven document review tool? Do your tools offer APIs to allow the technical professionals to design their own workflows?
Efficiency Across the Entire Business
As the head of a firm, or practice, the focus should be on understanding how the technology is being used across the firm, and/or practice. The return on investment (ROI) can be increased by identifying where technology can be better leveraged to provide greater value to your clients.
This could well be accomplished using simple technologies such as those that help with reviewing documents for drafting issues. Having consistency around this process could mean more efficiency, and ensuring that every document finalised meets a minimum quality threshold across the firm, thereby resulting in fewer mistakes being picked up by clients.
Ultimately, there is no silver bullet. Firms and individuals can start seeing real effect by considering simple items which may be overlooked as being too obvious.
As a starting point, it is suggested that you consider if implementation of simple systems such as automating your drafting review process which are quick to value, can provide efficiencies freeing up lawyers and IT professionals to consider a broader strategy and to focus on what really matters.
Whatever your approach, aim to simplify the offering and ensure that there are real user and business benefits. Understand how multiple actions that affect one overarching workflow can be tied together to create better results to truly change the game.