Technology is one of the main areas where law firms have been particularly slow to adapt. Seen as a tool rather than its own division of business, technology is woefully under-utilized when we consider the leaps and bounds that it has developed over the past 20 years. This combined with a typical law firm’s reluctance to embrace change has created a perfect storm of an industry ripe for disruption.
As with financial services before it, we have seen an explosion of legal tech service providers looking to disrupt the traditional legal services commercial model and provide faster and more reliable commoditised legal services. This provides a challenge for IT organisations within law firms who have typically not had a seat at the partner table.
The growth in legal tech capabilities combined with the rise in artificial intelligence (in particular machine learning) has seen a steady increase in shadow IT particularly within practice groups. As shadow IT becomes the norm and services can be selected and purchased in the cloud with ease, the relevance of the traditional IT organisation has come into question.
This should not however be seen as a threat but an opportunity. IT departments should have the skills necessary to enact law firm digital business transformation. They should understand technology, how to procure, deliver and operate it. They should have the ability to interpret business strategy and desired outcomes and work collaboratively with practice groups to guide and advise on how to select and use legal tech services that support a strategic as opposed to a tactical goal.
We see generally three areas that law firm IT organisations can drive effective digital change
Law Firm Culture and Ways of Working
IT departments can help drive practices in innovation by advising on market trends, building small focused teams, providing a platform for rapid learning and aggressively measuring value. They can also use their years of delivery experience both in programme delivery and agile delivery to ready their organisations for change – the development of requirements, backlogs, architecture blueprints, commercial awareness, all these areas should be in the DNA of technology professionals.
Use of data and derivation of knowledge
Data can be incredibly challenging to utilise effectively, especially for law firms who can be too busy providing for their clients to manage their business data. There are three main focus areas that IT can help with to help their firms use data to improve their business:
- Business Intelligence & Analytics – Better data about your business operations and insights from collected data
- Machine Learning – Utilising Machine Learning to augment my lawyers’ efforts and identify patterns in volumes of data
- Data management solutions – leveraging better integration capabilities, focusing on data ownership, quality and shared platforms of data.
Better data can provide law firms with unparalleled benefits including an increase in profitability, improved business service operations and improved client relationships
Automation and Efficiency
Business automation solutions can be used to support better customer experience through frictionless interactions, allowing employees to rid themselves of mundane and low value repeatable tasks, whilst providing operational consistency and quality. Automated solutions can even provide the ability to engage with partners or regulators improving relationships and compliance performance. IT are best placed, with their tradition of strong business analysis skills, to help firms take advantage of technology to support automation efforts (an example being the advent of MS 365 Power platform, which most firms have access to but would need IT’s help exploit them).
At its core, automation is about identifying parts of a process that can be routinely repeated with minimal human intervention and with more predictable, consistent results. Some of the obvious candidates for process automation in law firms could include debt collection, Conflict clearance, Matter referral processes or Trademark and IP submissions. Automation works best where margins are low, and volumes of transactions are high.
In terms of the benefits of automation in the legal sector, there are opportunities in every practice area to make processes more efficient. As an example, where profit margins are below average for a particular type of work such as Real Estate departments – where it would make more sense to use paralegals – changing processes so that lawyers only undertake the supervision and more complex work will reduce transactional costs.
In all businesses, processes evolve over time as requirements change, technology improves and the demands on productivity and profitability increase. Unfortunately, as requirements change, the usual approach is to add only what is necessary rather than assessing the overall fitness for purpose of working practices. Taking a holistic approach, with regular reviews of processes, offers huge potential for cost reduction and increased profitability.
Peru Consulting offers IT consulting services and has a track record in helping law firm IT organisations improve their relationship with practice and business services groups, enact lasting change through an improvement in operating models and ways of working and using data and automation technology to support digital business transformation. Book a meeting with us today to talk though how we can help