Firms in nearly every sector are turning to technology and automation to help them do more with less. In terms of dollars allocated to legal tech investment, 2019 was a banner year. Roughly $1.1 billion flowed into the space, compared with the $100 million invested in legal startups and technology in 2018. But this spending increase hasn’t necessarily translated into increased productivity.
Unfortunately, the array of new tools (which tended to do similar things) overwhelmed some legal departments. Rather than helping professionals maximize their work, the new technologies complicated their jobs, leading to more stress and less effectiveness. To truly deliver on its promise to transform the legal industry, technology must first overcome this massive barrier to adoption.
Today’s professionals are asked to do more than ever, and judging by the legal technology trends of 2019, most simply don’t have the capacity to learn new tools that don’t fit seamlessly into their existing workflows. This fact has left technology providers pondering a difficult question: How do you help someone work more efficiently without dramatically changing the way they work?
It’s Not About the Tools
Digital innovation is rarely about making something new — it’s about making things easier. To ensure that firms and individual users can truly capitalize on the benefits of legal tech, providers must first ensure that they understand the users and the obstacles they regularly face.
Legal technology that introduces complexity rather than eliminating it isn’t useful. To reduce friction and encourage adoption, technology providers can’t prioritize technology. Instead, they need to focus on people throughout every phase of business, from product development to sales to implementation.
Developing and selling truly transformative legal technology is an exercise in empathy. Tech providers must consider the perspectives of a multitude of stakeholders: IT departments that want secure, maintainable, and integrated technology; buyers who want to know that pricing and features are aligned and in line with the rest of the market; managing partners who want to understand the bottom-line impact of a legal tech investment; and above all, end users who want technology to make their lives easier.
Regardless of their feature sets or primary functions, the best legal tech tools have one thing in common: They were created with people in mind. Here are four principles guiding the future of successful legal technology:
1. Find the obstacles that hamper innovation.
Success in the legal profession requires creativity and resourcefulness as well as the ability to focus on complex ideas. Any task— large or small — that hampers creativity or exhausts mental bandwidth is a candidate for automation. However, the solution and its implementation must remove the obstacle, not replace it.
2. Focus relentlessly on the core issues.
Legal technology that isn’t conceived and built for a very specific use case is unlikely to find many adopters. Legal departments aren’t in a rush to adopt technology for its own sake. They want solutions to real problems that they regularly face, and they don’t want to disrupt existing processes to implement those solutions. Providers that can demonstrate how their tools address core issues plaguing current workflows — and how their tools fit into those workflows — have a much better shot of being heard than those that have built a tool to “fix everything.”
3. Think of solutions in terms of people.
Managing partners approving their purchases are thinking about technology investments in terms of their benefits to firm output and overall productivity. During the sales cycle, providers must show how their offerings relate to return on investment. However, during development, the focus must be on the end user. Productivity starts when people can easily do what they need to do. Empower the end user with intuitive, accessible technology, and the rest will take care of itself.
4. Move technology to meet people, not the other way around.
A constant influx of new consumer technologies, devices, and apps and the recent shift to mass remote work in response to COVID-19 have made it harder to distinguish between corporate and personal productivity tools. Modern legal professionals are now creating their own customized workflows involving combinations of their own hardware and software (personal laptops, phones, tablets, etc.) and company-issued technology. For new tools to be truly useful, they must be able to integrate into customized workflows at scale without compromising security. That’s a tall order in an industry that places a premium on keeping employee and client information confidential.
These four steps are easy enough to grasp, but they’re hard to put into practice. That’s OK. The future of legal technology lies in providing real value to real people, and that kind of digital innovation takes time.