Legal tech helps law firms deliver more value

In the interesting webinar “New Thinking in Legal Services” held by Jon Busby, Sally Holdway and Michael Scutt, the myth “Why Do Lawyers Hate Technology?” was discussed; are lawyers more resistant to technology than any other profession and if so, can they really survive in today’s legal market with such an approach?

With the current changing market conditions with new competitors and in-house counsel’s decreased legal spend there are a number of pressures on law firms, ranging from a need to reduce costs, increase revenues and grow the business, to a rising demand for fixed fees. Much of the strategy talk around law firms today relates either to how they are going to grow their businesses, or how they can make the processes by which they do legal work more efficient. Regardless of strategy to meet these pressures – becoming high-end specialists, focusing on providing efficient and affordable high-volume low-value legal work or providing new pro-active client services – making good use of technology is a vital part of devising a winning strategy to gain a competitive edge. And as Michael Scutt points out:

“This might sound daunting to smaller practices but new products are coming onto the market that would allow even smaller firms to provide a 24/7 service and allow the client to access legal services themselves without necessarily seeing a solicitor. That doesn’t have to be the preserve of large firms these days. Workflow systems can be purchased off the shelf, or tailored to each firms’ needs, assisting document creation by the fee earner, topping and tailing letters to clients and quick completion of standard documents. More interestingly, another option is to provide legal services online that allow the client to do the data inputting and create the documents themselves, bringing the Web 2.0 experience directly to the client: the client does all the data input and the software does the rest.”

Up until now, technology has in most parts only played a supporting role in the legal profession – merely allowing existing processes to happen more swiftly. But the current changes on the legal market will require another approach towards technology. The previous perceptions that onlineservices will devalue the brand or that the use of automation tools are risky and that there is more quality to work done manually are about to lose the predominant position and there is an increased interest in applications that make legal process more efficient, like document drafting and automated document generation tools.

The recession has actually served as a highly disruptive force. Law firms are now refining their business strategies and applying new dynamics to old business practices, choosing to focus on long-term planning supported by strategic investments that will ensure return on investment. Law firms will need to ensure that they have the technology that helps them grow, manage and protect the business. Firms that focus on ways to improve their processes and invest in technology are more likely to be well positioned to capture the potential for growth that the changes in the legal market offers.

One of the reasons why law firms do not make more use of technology today is the lack of time, resource and sometimes lack of technology competence, to plan a long term IT strategy alined with the overall business strategy. A technology strategy has to encompass back office functions, workflow-based process support for fee earners, support for compliance and risk management and a strategy for increased engagement with the clients and enhanced customer services. Or to use the wording by Mike Scutt, “it will become more important how you deploy those legal skills than simply the fact you have them that counts. It will be imperative to keep your processes as straightforward and cost effective as possible.”

The use of technology can help law firms to deliver on strategic goals and give more value to clients, thereby giving them the competitive edge to be a market winner in the long run. “Law firms are faced with new demands from all fronts, but they also have at their doorstep the opportunities that change offer. Technology is the business transformation enabler that can help practice to innovate rapidly and achieve their business aspriation.”