Can legal technology support the whole firm?
Littering the collective memory of every law firm are the ghosts of failed technology deployments. You can almost hear the eyes roll as another “innovation” is announced. New systems are always approached with the best intentions – improving efficiency, simplifying legal work, increasing collaboration, or enhancing analytics. But the result is often more complicated. A matter management platform may make life easier for associates and partners, but they can create additional complexity for finance and technology teams who need to figure out a way to connect existing systems to the new program.
Setting aside practical technological barriers, many firms encounter simple deployment and adoption barriers. While leaders are often sold on the promise of new technology, the reality for end users can be much different. New technology will always impact productivity. But technology that prioritizes data collection, comprehensiveness or integrations at the expense of user experience is doomed to fail. Truly supporting all the firm’s stakeholders can be incredibly challenging, but an effective solution can foster empowered, efficient and more productive employees.
Most legal technology is developed with fee-earners in mind. Marquee product launches are frequently centered around helping lawyers. Even as buzzwords like AI and machine learning creep into technology conversations, and a new legal tech startup emerges every day, the lawyer remains the object of their efforts. But new technology can become burdensome, adding complexity or new potential points of failure. More dangerously, large firms may implement systems that end up benefiting leadership at the expense of the legal teams performing the work. It’s critical to ensure that new solutions support legal teams in their actual work, not only in principle.
Operations and finance
For those firm members focused on the business of law, the challenges of technology are centered on access to data. Discrete systems such as matter management, legal project management, and financial systems have become very sophisticated. But they lack visibility into real-time data and changes across the firm. Native integrations between these business systems and those used by legal teams can enable new business intelligence. Operations leaders gain greater visibility into processes which can increase consistency in strategic implementation. These improvements translate directly to increased profitability with better realization rates and reduced write-offs. With improved visibility, finance teams can monitor and report more quickly to keep the firm on track toward its goals.
Training and development
The ever-increasing pace of technological innovation can make training and development difficult. Alongside the already Herculean task of training lawyers on firm precedent and the evolution of law, experienced attorneys must also master each new piece of technology adopted by the firm. Simple, intuitive technology can help these groups deliver better support and more effective professional development. In some cases this may mean investment in technology that is familiar to the lawyers you attract and employ. But getting lawyers ramped and operating at full capacity is only half the battle. Truly supportive technology will function like the best smartphones and computers – it will feel like an extension of the user. Empowered lawyers are effective lawyers. And effective lawyers move on to become partners.
As members of a thinking person’s profession, lawyers have no shortage of knowledge. Across a firm, the accumulation of expertise, precedent, and legal know-how are among the firm’s greatest assets. And there are several excellent knowledge management (KM) tools on the market to help capture that information. The key challenge continues to be deployment of these collected resources. Even the most comprehensive, well-organized and best-managed KM tools are at the mercy of the sheer quantity and speed of change in firm data. Lawyers focused on delivering high-quality work need guidance delivered contextually within their normal workflow. Integrating KM tools with legal workflow technology offers a way for KM professionals to deploy relevant legal guidance at the point of need. With established matter plans and robust matter tracking, new KM tools can intelligently serve up resources based on the facts of the matter and the task assigned.
Firm technology professionals will likely raise an eyebrow at the idea that a single piece of technology could truly support the entire firm. They, more than any other group, have felt the pain of trying to stitch together disparate products to support work across the firm. And while it’s true that a single product cannot adequately meet the needs of the various stakeholders in the firm, a unified solution could offer a way forward. A collection of technologies from a single provider, developed specifically to integrate natively, can simplify work for firm professionals while reducing the burden of support for technology teams.
Too good to be true?
All legal technology providers believe their products are effective. But few take a holistic approach to law firms’ challenges. Indeed, few providers have the expertise and understanding to tackle problems outside of their specific skillset. Nevertheless, law firms are complex operations requiring collaboration between multiple groups. Firm leaders, presented with fragmented products designed to address individual problems, are forced to make do. Though the prospect of a holistic firm technology solution will likely elicit even more pronounced eye rolls than ever before, the truth is that this solution exists – Thomson Reuters Panoramic.