How Innovation Is Becoming as Important as Good Lawyering

For ages, being a superstar lawyer has been a guaranteed way to land and retain business. If you were the best of the best, clients would recognize and remember you for your legal prowess and keep coming back with more work because of it.

That’s not necessarily the case anymore in today’s legal market. While strong legal skills are certainly still important, they’re no longer the only thing clients look for in their counsel. In today’s digital world, clients are demanding more from law firms, namely in the area of innovation. Gone are the days when lawyers could resist technological advancements and rely solely on legal expertise. Falling behind technologically now means being surpassed by your competition.

Companies are increasingly relying on technology and innovation to streamline their own workflows and determine what work they’re outsourcing to firms. In turn, they’re expecting to see the same commitment to innovation in their outside counsel. They want new avenues of attorney-client interaction that lead to increased efficiency and provide the advice and reporting they need in real time.

For many clients, waiting for an attorney to manually generate a report or have an available opening to discuss the status of a case is no longer acceptable. This traditional engagement model for attorneys and clients is incomplete, and is rapidly becoming obsolete. Digital transformation is the new normal, and law firms need to get on board if they want to remain competitive.

What Clients Want to See

The innovations you can offer your clients are limited only by the constraints of your IT department and your understanding of the new tools available to lawyers. In today’s competitive market, the more innovation you can offer, the better. Client engagement apps, interactive portals, and real-time dashboards are the future of attorney-client communication. Take, for example, a typical patent matter. At its core, a patent is a black box that moves through a series of stages in the application process. Traditionally, lawyers sent manual reports to their clients to update them on the status of the patent. Today, clients want to be able to access that information in real time on their own, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t. With a dashboard that displays the status of the application, clients can find the answer to their questions whenever they want simply by logging on without having to schedule unnecessary meetings with counsel.

Similar interfaces can be created to give clients instantaneous access to information about the status and potential outcomes of nearly any kind of litigation matter or transaction. Even with something as large as a complex litigation matter, from a client’s perspective it’s still a black box that moves through various stages. Rather than relying on back-and-forth documents and phone calls for updates, you can establish an interactive portal that provides a real-time visual representation of where the case stands—for example, in the hypothetical litigation matter, the pleadings stage is concluded and the case has moved into the discovery phase, which is currently 25% complete. Based on the client’s expected spend, the matter can be shown as on budget, or needing investment. Digital transformation is about employing AI and innovation to open these black boxes for your clients and give them a timely perspective on the knowledge work that’s being done by their lawyers.

While the information being presented by lawyers is not new, the way it’s being presented is. With the digital transformation, you’re taking the traditional reports that clients would receive—typically after a delay, because it takes time to manually prepare them—and turning that same information into graphs, charts, and other digital representations that give real-time data on matter stages and outcomes that clients can understand at a glance.

Going Forward

While these kinds of innovations might once have been viewed as a luxury, they’re becoming a necessity in the modern practice of law. In-house legal departments are increasingly filling up with younger generations of lawyers accustomed to receiving and processing information digitally. The result is that your clients are demanding innovation, and there is a huge divide forming between the firms that offer it and the firms that don’t.

One of the biggest mistakes law firms make is trying to undertake digital transformation on their own. Providing the kinds of innovation clients want requires a cross-disciplinary team that understands AI, computer science and data and works with the lawyers, who remain the subject matter experts on the legal front. Only by partnering with tech-savvy specialists and cultivating an ecosystem of vendors dedicated to legal innovation can firms truly hope to succeed in providing the levels of innovation necessary to remain competitive in today’s digital world.

Figuring out how to digitally transform a traditional legal matter into a display that’s easy for clients to understand is an art. Mastering that art is the key to repeat business and client longevity when legal clients are adopting new ways of demanding information and services.

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