How does your law firm identify, purchase, and incorporate new legal technology programs or services? Do you have a defined process, or does it sometimes just happen—or not happen, despite your requests? Does your IT department always purchase systems, and if so, do they listen to attorneys and support staff about what they struggle with? Is your purchasing process as efficient as it could be, both in time spent and in dollars invested? Or do you find that your firm is buying software and systems that aren’t fully adopted or that are a solution looking for a problem?
Every year at ILTACON, the International Legal Technology Association’s conference, we at Litera Microsystems and others run surveys to assess what’s happening on the ground in legal technology. Last year, David Curle summarized the results of the 2016 ILTA/InsideLegal survey about purchasing technology for the Legal Executive Institute, asking, “In the day-to-day running of a law firm, is there enough multidisciplinary engagement between the various professions who are running today’s law firms? Is there a focus on delivering the service in new ways to better serve clients, or is the focus instead on the smooth running of existing practices and business models?”
We think those are terrific questions. While legal tech companies are building software and services that will help law firms provide innovative, excellent legal representation, the way that firms analyze their own needs and choose what to purchase plays an integral role in achieving that change. Today’s legal technology has the ability to transform the way you and your firm interact with clients, answer their questions, and tackle their legal challenges—if you approach it with that goal.
As Mary E. Juetten wrote in her article, “Technology Implementation: Process Before Purchase and Data Before Decision” for Above the Law, “If you don’t want to change, don’t bother purchasing technology.” If, however, you are ready for change—not just for process improvements and increased efficiency but for a whole new way of practicing law—then read on. By creating a feedback cycle between IT and your attorneys, diving deep into how you provide vital services for your clients, gathering and analyzing real-world data to match your true needs with a technology solution’s proven capabilities, and investing in adequate training, you can revolutionize not only the way you purchase technology but also the way your firm works.
Create a feedback cycle by opening a channel of communication between IT, attorneys, and staff.
Who decides what legal technology to purchase at your firm? Our 2017 ILTACON survey revealed that for 80% of respondents—who mainly work at mid-sized to large U.S. law firms—purchasing decisions are made by IT staff rather than lawyers. Those decisions influenced by attorneys, of course; the 2016 ILTA/InsideLegal survey reported that 72% of purchase requests come from attorneys, so attorneys probably still start the ball rolling on technology purchases. However, our research shows that attorneys rarely make the final call, even when technology services will primarily be used by those attorneys.
Should it be this way? If you’re looking to genuinely transform your legal practice, you probably need your firm’s senior leadership to drive that systemic change. Yes, IT, support staff, and junior attorneys all need to be on board, but a complete re-examination of the way you purchase technology—and therefore the way you practice—should start from the top. Nearly three-quarters of our survey respondents agreed that change is most effectively implemented from the top down. Getting your senior attorneys to lead the charge and establishing lines of communication across everyone at your firm will set you off on the right foot.
Your IT teams are best situated to research and assess potential technology purchases, but they must be working with thorough and meaningful input from the end users of those services. By setting up a feedback loop and an easy-to-access communication channel between IT, attorneys, and support staff, you can enable that ongoing conversation. The decisions need to be endorsed and the consequences owned by those supporting and those using the technology.
Encourage attorneys and staff to flag issues when they repeatedly have a problem or encounter an inefficiency. Have IT report back with potential products and services that could solve or avoid that problem, describing the pros and cons of each. Ensure that communication and bi-directional feedback continue throughout the purchasing and training process. Schedule regular group meetings and judgment-free brainstorming sessions to encourage holistic and lateral thinking that challenges the status quo and transforms the way work is done at the firm beyond fixing the specific issues raised. Communicate the changes and get people excited about what technology can do for them.
Budget the time to truly think about what your clients need from you.
Now that you have everyone talking, make sure you’re talking about the right things. We’re all used to asking how we can work faster, better, or smarter, and we’re all accustomed to thinking about how new automation and artificial intelligence capabilities can save us time and energy. But it’s time to go beyond those standard inquiries, stripping down what you really do and questioning everything about how you do it.
What do your clients need from you as their lawyer? How are you meeting those needs? Is there a better way? Could technology help you communicate faster or more accurately about a case’s status or a client’s legal responsibilities? Could it help you stay ahead of current developments instead of reacting as they happen? Could it help you draft more individualized documents as quickly and easily as you can fill in forms? Don’t count on IT alone to think through these questions for you; their job is to manage your technology. You need to work as a team to redesign how you provide legal services.
This paradigm shifting is hard work, and it’s even harder to find the time for it. Few people at a successful law firm are sitting around twiddling their thumbs or wondering what else they could add to their plates. You’re probably busy to the point of overload already, and everything else has an external due date in your calendar. That’s why you’ll have to actively budget for this time and prioritize this work. Otherwise, it will consistently fall to the end of your “must do” list—and nothing will change.
Gather and analyze real-world data to identify and address your true pain points.
As you’re innovating about how to change your provision of services, look for ways that you could run test prototypes and collect data about how well those new methods work. You may be able to do these tests using software and services that you already have, or you may need to work with your IT department to find potential solutions and arrange for demonstrations or trials of the top contenders.
Assess how long you’re spending on your current process first. After allowing for some time to get up to speed on a new method, see how much time or effort you actually save or how satisfied your clients are with your new approach. What other programs or services do you need to integrate to optimize this process? Will those systems work together seamlessly, or do they cause more problems than they solve? Do they make it easy for people to do the right thing and create space for value-adding activities?
This is the time to take advantage of your new firm-wide communication structure. Ideally, you can sit down with everyone involved in a particular process—lawyers, staff, and IT—to fully understand how things work now and how you could better achieve those same ends. Figure out who’s doing what and look for ways that you could use technology to restructure your approach, avoiding duplicate steps, unnecessary delays, and other inefficiencies. Make sure that everyone involved in the process understands the new structure and has a way to report back about roadblocks or hurdles to implementation.
All too often, law firms purchase software or arrange for vendor services without a full understanding of the problem they’re trying to solve. Be clear on what you need to improve for your clients and your particular legal practice and make sure you stay focused on those personalized goals rather than allowing yourself to become distracted by the shiniest new technology that “everyone else” is using. You want to identify vendors with a proven track record of providing excellent products and services—but remember that the best technology in the world is worthless to your firm if it doesn’t solve your unique problems.
Train, train, train—buying software is just the beginning of your new process, not the end.
Think you’re finished once you’ve decided to pull the trigger on a new software service or product? Unfortunately, many firms seem to hold this belief, getting stuck after the actual purchase and failing to follow through on adoption. Your ultimate goal is to use technology every day to improve your practice—not just to complete a purchase.
So, don’t take your foot off the gas after you’ve bought a product or service. Keep using your open lines of communication to advise everyone about when and how the new software will be up and running. Survey your staff to determine what training methods will best meet their needs. Think of ways of creating excitement, not dread, about the change. Should you have a supplier representative on-site for a period to answer questions during the initial launch? Can you work with online support services? How can you make training and advice accessible and relevant to everyone? Does it need to be personalized? All the way down to the individual?
Whatever combination of training services you use, commit to the new system and stay positive and patient both with yourself and with your colleagues. If you’ve done everything right up to this point, it’s only a matter of time before you start seeing measurable benefits from your new system.
It’s time for a change.
Is your firm ready to make a real change? Start by revamping the way you purchase legal technology. In the process, you may discover a whole new way of doing business. When your IT department, attorneys, and support staff can communicate freely and think creatively about how technology can help you exceed your clients’ expectations in fresh and innovative ways, based on real-world data and backed by complete system training, you can revolutionize the way your firm practices.