Technology can be a boon for lawyers and law firms seeking to win new business. According to the Altman Weil 2016 Law Firms in Transition Survey, “Market demand for legal services has failed to return to pre-recession levels in a majority of US law firms.” Nevertheless, resistance to change within law firms has been increasing. The perplexing approach of “don’t rock the boat” is often attributed to law firms’ reliance on billable hours. But what good are billable hours if you have fewer clients or can’t realize the full value of your hours because clients refuse to pay?
Too often, technology decisions are seen as a defensive move. A necessary evil imposed by clients. However, the best law firms are embracing technology and using it proactively to show clients how they are best positioned to handle legal matters. The results are more business and more truly billable–realizable–hours.
Here are five practical ways to position technology as a competitive advantage at your firm:
This one is a no brainer. Clients want to hear that you will handle their matter efficiently. However, that does not mean they want you cutting corners. At a recent panel on litigation technology, Chip Nierlich, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, explained that, “clients keep telling us they want us to do more with less.” No client wants you to accomplish “less with less.”
Imagine you’re a carpenter telling a prospective client how you will use a power drill to build a house faster and more accurately while all of your competitors are using screwdrivers. Lawyers can send the same message when they apply technology to their practice. Prove to your clients that you can do more with less by explaining, “We use X technology [as a firm / on your matter], to ensure that our lawyer and paralegal time is focused on achieving your goals.”
There is nothing more damaging to a client relationship – or a lawyer’s reputation – than appearing unprepared or failing to accomplish a client’s goals. Above the Law has a tag specifically titled “Screw-Ups,” chronicling just the tip-of-the-iceberg instances where stories of lawyers dropping the ball become public.
Given the ever-increasing amount of information, it is impossible to always have an answer at your fingertips. Clients know this, but no client wants to ask, “how will you make sure you can do your job?” Technology is designed to make you the best lawyer you can be. So, use it. And tell your clients, “We use X technology to ensure that we have the upper-hand in any situation.” If you don’t, someone else will.
Gone are the days of sharing your client’s concerns about security by expressing vague reservations about the cloud. When even the best law firms in the world get hacked, saying, “I don’t know about cloud data security” is like saying, “I don’t know about law firm data security.” Both are broad generalizations.
Show clients you are thinking about security as a practical matter. For example, consider everyone who may need access to confidential materials, from experts to co-counsel to third parties, and then decide on a secure solution in advance. Explain to clients that, “We use X technology to facilitate secure collaboration and access to materials.” Such proactive thinking can catch the attention of in-house counsel, like Seth Schreiberg at Uber, who has noted this practical security concern of “oversharing” documents.
It’s always helpful to remind prospective clients, “No one wins if we send you a surprisingly high bill that you can’t pay.” However, to give it weight, you need to address how you will avoid surprises.
Great technology is built around mechanisms that ensure predictable processes. For example, at our company, Allegory Law, we measured the time to complete common litigation tasks – ranging from creating binders to finding a document to reviewing a deposition – using our litigation management tool. Technology enables you to pinpoint what everyday non-lawyerly aspects of a matter will cost, and assure your client that overruns, if any, will be due to true legal work, not because it took a day for someone to find a document.
In this age of cell phones and Google, nothing makes a lawyer seems disorganized like slow response time to a simple question. The client then has to ask :
- Why doesn’t my lawyer have this information handy.
- How much am I paying my lawyer to find this information that should be at their fingertips?
These moments provide a chance for your team to shine, and you can differentiate your firm at the outset by confidently stating, “You will see how X technology makes us more efficient and responsive when you reach out to us for information.”
There are, of course, endless ways that technology can put your firm over the top. These tips are just a few ways in which we have seen law firms and lawyers leverage technology to win new business.