Digital Transformation: Key Implications for Law Firm Technology Services and Offerings

In February, I read with a keen interest in a two-part series in Legal Executive Institute on Digital Transformation and Practice Opportunities for Law Firms. It started me thinking about how these trends impact the technology function of the typical law firm. While there are numerous implications, here are a few which caught my eye.

Transforming The Customer Experience

As one might logically assume, and the series repeatedly states, true transformation and improvement of business processes is exceptionally important. Within an application, for example, part of the user experience is the look and feel of the system, no doubt about that. So, reworking systems into the “HTML5/client-side/node.js” universe, so applications are more usable on mobile devices and “look prettier”, is clearly part of the game, and not something to be underappreciated. Some people do judge books by their cover.

But, many will contend that reengineering processes are perhaps an even bigger contributing factor to business success. Taking a shot at streamlining processes with workflow technology, attempting something like the predictive population of data fields or document creation based on prior user activity, better logic-based edit checking and many other strategies are all useful ideas. Why? Because they promote efficiency, data quality and the ability to leverage past work product to develop new. Improved work product at a more competitive price. Clients are looking for more value, and task automation or reduction hits the mark in this area.

And, please remember, transformation does not only relate to the products a law firm technology department provides. Law firm technology groups also provide a vast array of services to their constituencies. Think help desk calls, practice support needs, requests for new applications, requests for advice on which tools to use on a business needs, and even general training needs. In all of these instances, like the trend in the new, modern economy, law firm technologists are providing services, not products. So, reengineering, for example, the process in which you integrate a third party help desk into your environment, developing solid relationships with E-Discovery software companies, and building a network of trusted consultants available to throw on urgent business needs are all part of the transformation of the customer experience process as well.

Regulations

The Digital Transformation series also describes emerging opportunities law firms have to help their firms navigate the perilous waters churned up by the alphabet soup of regulations now blanketing the industry. HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996), Sarbanes-Oxley and GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) are all on the books, and the United States Congress continues to look at other areas such as the management of IoT (Internet Of Things) devices.

I’m not here to suggest to law firms how to build practices to attract business in that space. I’ll leave that to others smarter than myself. But there are numerous implications to law firm technology groups in this area which come to mind.

One obvious topic is that of client data and governance. Law firms hold a plethora of data for clients, everything from trade secrets to financial results to customer information. They unequivocally need to be acutely aware of all salient regulations and be sure they are fully complied with. Clients and employees alike will want to send records to and fro, but lest we all forget, we shan’t be sending no Social Security Numbers, medical information or trade secrets cross organizations via standard email now, should we?  Of course not.

What does this mean? It means you, law firm technology leader, need to demonstrate on a daily basis that you are not an invertebrate and be darn sure concepts like email filters, secure file transfer, full-disk encryption, multi-factor authentication, need-to-know security models, frequent network security scans and many other tools in this space are not viewed as annoyances, but rather an integral part of the process.

Will end users like this?  Some will appreciate your efforts, others will accept and understand it, most will not be too thrilled and a select few will whine incessantly. The job of a technology leader in this theater is to ignore the noise, drivel, and complaining, keep your eye on the ball as it relates to core business issues and client service, and do what needs to be done. It’s what clients demand.

Integration

The series also discussed the topic of integration on a few different planes. To state the obvious, technology is now deeply integrated into virtually all business functions. And technology plays a huge role in integrating business functions, companies like SAP offer enterprise software to seamlessly connect formerly disparate functions such as sales, the supply chain, and finance. So, it is abundantly clear that integration is a leading element of the transformation process.

So how does this apply, more specifically, in the legal service delivery model?  Well, one way is that we typically have various players working together on a legal matter. If you are a corporate defense firm, for example, your typical litigation could involve a diversified number of entities such as national counsel, local or trial counsel, experts, court officials, plaintiffs and of course, most importantly of all, clients.

Integrating this divergent set of people and entities together provides great value. Why? Well, we all want team members to be working from the most recent version of a document, to have visibility to the most recent happenings on a matter, to have access to the current case calendar, and to have tools to quickly enable collaboration on issues of the day.

Most understand there is a slew of technologies to better integrate folks on work teams together these days. Client extranets or deal rooms are and always have been a logical place to start. From a process perspective, if one can develop a model and mindset of consulting a central system for the latest and greatest information, rather than calling or emailing others and waiting for a response or relying on a report generated a few weeks ago, that’s a place you want your working teams to be. Easy-to-use video and audio conferencing systems certainly help too, the emphasis here definitely being on ease-of-use (think of tools like Facetime or Facebook Messenger in our non-professional lives). If it’s hard to use, people won’t use it.

Keep this in mind as well. Integration does not only apply to people and organizations, but also to systems. We live in a world where information and data are vitally important. If a client wants to know why your law firm works more productively than another, or if your law firm expertise develops better results than another, many feel a quantitative response is far superior to a qualitative response.

If we accept this premise, how does integration help? For example, if a law firm can extract data like time entries and selected fields such as initial settlement projects and actual results into a data warehouse type of environment, mathematical conclusions about productivity and superior outcomes can be developed to support one’s contention that they are perhaps “the greatest firm in the land!”

Wrap-Up

Many believe that digital transformation is the new normal in the business world today. Are these the only areas related to change management and the spirit of innovation which is now present that law firm technology experts should consider?  Certainly not, I would say this is more the musings of one person on some areas of note rather than a complete roadmap. But, hopefully, it primes the pump a bit in terms of the thought processes and adaptation of solid practices associated with digital transformation in the legal technology field.

About Kenneth Jones

Kenneth Jones
Kenneth Jones oversees technology at Tanenbaum Keale LLP as Chief Technologist. He leads efforts to support TK’s computing environment and infrastructure, which features a strategy of professionally protecting and processing client data in the Cloud with leading-edge business partners. Additionally, Ken leads the Firm’s SaaS technology subsidiary, Xerdict Group LLC, which offers sophisticated case management and collaboration products on the legal market. He is a frequent contributor to a variety of online and print publications, writing on concepts and issues of legal technology

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