Examining Legal Tech Adoption, Part III

The third in a five-part series on legal tech adoption. Read part one and part two.

After attending several legal tech events, I’m firmly convinced that it’s way more about change and much less about the actual technology or integration. We can toil away at technology implementation, apply lean and six sigma principles, and use key performance indicators to measure firm success, but it is fundamental change management that will push wholesale adoption over the line. That takes us back to the first article in this five-part series.

Before we discuss sales challenges and solution integration, let’s examine why change management is so difficult, especially in legal tech. Some argue that the unauthorized practice of law (UPL) is a major reason to steer clear of technology. I had the pleasure of debating this reason with Carolyn Elefant in her article on MyShingle.

The comments on that post highlighted the need for techies to build technology—not lawyers. In my last installment in this series, I tackle that issue. Some investors find that lawyers are not innovative enough to disrupt an industry, so lawyers then seek out tech disrupters with legal industry knowledge (a hard find) to solve their problems. But then no prospective customer wants to be the first to buy the product. It’s a bit of a daunting situation, one that I believe calls for a refocus and collaboration between legal tech entrepreneurs and attorneys to met the collective clients’ needs.

All software development is the same: you try to delight your customers, whether that is the lawyer’s client, the lawyer, or both. And the best way to do that (Steve Blank shout-out) is to get out of the building or away from the computer. Saying legal tech sucks is not going to solve anything, so let’s instead collaborate in the real world to solve real problems.

At the recent Above the Law’s (ATL) Academy for Private Practice, I picked up some great tips from the speakers, including a panel on sales. Although the conference was for lawyers, the advice is universal, so I’ve adapted it here for legal technology companies. Some of these concepts echo an article I wrote called Sales is Not a Dirty Word.

  1. Get out and about. Similar to customer development, sales should be done by meeting potential clients, writing, and speaking. Time is finite, so pick a targeted list and focus on those rather than mass marketing.
  1. Knowledge is power. Metrics and information for your clients will help you win the sale. Explaining the return on investment in your technology is compelling.
  1. Be enthusiastic, and be an evangelist for all things legal technology, including your product. Change is hard, but be professionally persistent.
  1. Be a thought leader. Go deep into your area of expertise. Led with education for your clients.
  1. Provide exceptional client service. It costs at least six times as much to acquire new clients as upselling to existing customers.

Of course, not all sales pursuits are created equal. One of my theories in the original article was that legal tech companies have more challenges with medium and large firms because of their more cumbersome decision-making processes. Jonathan Perle  of Privileged Communications outlined the following common scenario.

“Simply understanding who is required to sign off on the adoption of a new technology is an immense challenge, much less making contact with them and educating them regarding the technology. Often, you are able to brief one or two people within the firm, but they represent only a fraction of the total decision makers. The rest receive information about your technology second-hand or through a document that has to be short enough to be read in a couple of minutes. The result is that the initiative can be killed by an unknown person for unknown reasons. Often, word will come back that someone objected for a reason the entrepreneur has considered, and for which the entrepreneur has a solution, but by then it is too late.”

Given that lawyers define their buying process in a similar fashion to other industries, it’s puzzling why the sales cycle is so long. For example, Meaghan Petetti Londegan of Freeman Mathis & Gary discussed the rationale to use Hire an Esquire for contract legal staffing, “The decision to adopt any technology is driven by the user’s needs, the technology’s ease of use and its price.” And Avvo’s Director of Industry Relations, Dan Lear, said “our research indicates that (still, remarkably) awareness is a huge problem. Lawyers just don’t know who we are and what we do. Beyond that, lawyers don’t want to/don’t understand the need to market their practices, particularly online. We struggle to convince them that (a) they have to get their name out there and (b) that they can do it without being Saul Goodman.”

Also, too many solutions or legal tech products (not necessarily companies) can create inefficiencies—unless there is seamless integration. Attorneys want simple solutions, which means not having to log into multiple systems. Something like Clio’s fifty integrations with add-on technology can provide simplicity. Building technology without the capability to integrate with other systems is not wise for new legal technology founders.

Former practicing attorney Michael Sander the founder of Docket Alarm shared his perspective: “I empathize with many attorney’s aversion to being early adopters. When I was a Big Law associate and was shown some useful tech but with a horrible interface, I would inwardly groan because I knew it would take time to learn – time I could not bill. A challenge for us in legal tech is that we provide relatively advanced services, but must do so with an interface that requires little to no training.”

In the ATL keynote, Ed Walters of Fastcase coined the phrase, “think like a lawyer, but not only a lawyer.” I think that applies to legal tech entrepreneurs and attorneys alike: take your clients’ and customers’ place to solve their issues.

I’m always happy to chat about this topic online. Tweet me at @maryjuetten. Next time I’ll look at the in-house counsel leadership role in legal tech adoption and discuss competitors and change management.



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