Digital technology has revolutionized the practice of law. Yet there’s also evidence that suggests that it isn’t always making it easier, which may sound surprising. Isn’t that what legal tech is supposed to do?
In the past decade, law firms have incorporated more and more technology into their processes. But during that same time, lawyer productivity has actually declined. Data cited in Thomson Reuters’ 2020 State of the Legal Market report shows the decline in productivity from 2011 through 2019 has cost law firms more than $10.5 million per year on average.
In other words, for all of its practical benefits, legal tech could do more to make attorneys more productive. How to get there? That’s the subject of a new white paper from Thomson Reuters, Start at the end: Why legal tech needs an end-user focus.
Tools without a toolbox?
Legal tech solutions have proliferated over recent years. Online legal research, for instance, has long been a familiar tool in practices of all sizes. Then, there are newer technologies that many firms have adopted, including automated contract drafting, document analysis, and data analytics.
But for all that legal tech can do, there’s one crucial thing that it doesn’t do particularly well. It’s called interoperability. Very simply, it’s the ability of technology systems to connect and work together. This lack of interconnectedness is where attorney productivity often bogs down.
Why? Legal tech developers have been designing tools for just a single function or narrow set of tasks, such as legal research or document management. These are powerful capabilities. But people move between tasks and platforms innumerable times during their workdays. Attorneys often need to shift between a firm’s internal IT systems and third-party applications to complete a single task. They also need to share information and data with clients and colleagues, a time-consuming process when there are different platforms to navigate. What’s more, those different platforms have varying degrees of security, which could result in a firm putting sensitive client information at risk.
Law firms know that this lack of connectivity is a problem. According to a recent Thomson Reuters survey of law firm leaders, 62% of respondents saw interoperability as “extremely valuable” or “very valuable.” In general, those surveyed believed they have the right digital tools, or at least most of them.
What they don’t have is a seamless way to get them working together. This lack of interoperability prevents legal tech from providing the levels of productivity that attorneys need. This suggests that a major pain point for firms is getting their various applications, whatever they may be, to share data securely and work together more smoothly.
Since 80% of the larger firms surveyed have their own IT development resources, it’s not surprising that 52% of respondents reported having “workarounds” to achieve some level of interoperability. But the point remains that these firms have had to create those workarounds themselves. They aren’t built into the existing technologies. Law firms have to spend their own time and money to create these workarounds, and they’ll never be as useful as built-in integration.
How interoperability could make firms more productive
So what might interoperable legal tech look like? One scenario: A platform that serves as a single interface for everyone at the firm, regardless of which systems they need to access. This approach would emulate the seamless interactions found in modern consumer tech.
Consider smartphones. Most attorneys wouldn’t dream of not having one. Smartphones have become essential business tools, allowing lawyers to make calls, check email, get directions, and even access legal information, wherever they are. And they can do all this on a single platform. Legal tech could use this as a model going forward.
In addition to boosting productivity, interoperability could also help law firms better manage another major issue. In the Leader Perceptions survey, 65% of respondents said that data security is a major challenge for their firm, and 52% termed it a challenge requiring a solution within the next 12 months. (And with the recent increase in remote work, it’s likely those numbers have gone up.) Secure platforms connecting disparate legal tech tools could provide a way to address this problem.
In addition, 61% of respondents said that onboarding new tech into their firms was a major challenge. The tools their attorneys now use require a lot of time to master. Having to learn something new, even if it makes their work easier in the long run, doesn’t have much appeal for lawyers (or most people). Interconnected platforms could provide relief for that pain point.
Thriving in a changing market
It’s not only the interconnection of digital tools that lawyers require. There’s also what might be called the interoperability of attorneys and non-lawyer professionals inside the firm. That’s something we’ll explore in our next post. In many respects, these two kinds of collaboration also need to connect in order for firms to thrive in an evolving legal market.
To learn more about the future of legal tech and how law firms can help bring it to light, download the white paper, Start at the end: why legal tech needs an end-user focus.