Law firm technology should benefit clients and employees, providing a positive experience for all

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The article below also appeared here on the business news website, Daily Business.

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Advancements in technology have had a huge impact on the way in which a wide variety of industries now work.  My sector, Legal Services, one historically considered very traditional, has almost overnight had to adapt to providing different and more flexible options and styles of working, for the benefit of clients and employees alike.  

In the Spring of 2020 Microsoft talked of having witnessed two years of digital transformation in two months, and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the pandemic achieved for the law profession in a matter of weeks, what otherwise might have taken years to accomplish by way of technology adoption.

Following the immediate impact of the pandemic we enter the next new phase. Lawyers will need to continue using technology to both catch up and provide the best future options in a competitive market; and there are numerous technologies available to choose from, which small and mid-sized firms particularly, will be tempted to view mostly in terms of what competitive edge these technology solutions might deliver.  As always, at the forefront of our thoughts must be what is in the best interest of our clients.

In the area of Document Management,  Data Rooms now cut down on paper exhibits and allow remote uploading so clients can easily share documents with their lawyers without the drawn-out process of reviewing, copying and presenting.  In Document Automation template documents reduce drafting time, especially in areas such as property, and Process Automation allows simple processes (such as the archiving of files) to be done in the background, reducing errors and letting lawyers focus on more complex matters for the benefit of their clients.

But without doubt, the “shiniest” and most impressive of these technologies is AI (Artificial Intelligence), which will influence hugely the future of the legal industry in technology terms.  Not in the way of “robots are coming to take our jobs”,  but in the way of providing solutions to repetitive processes and procedures which can be done at a lower cost to the client and give lawyers the space and time to focus on the complex and high value issues.  AI can integrate with the core systems of a legal business benefitting not only the company but also the client experience. 

One of the key areas that AI can help to improve is legal research –  something undertaken by all law firms to varying degrees .  By handling the task of reviewing contracts and generating reports on large volumes of data, AI can pick out common themes or differences and provide pattern recognition across the dataset. 

As long as five years ago there were instances of AI being able to predict the outcome of trials at the European Court of Human Rights to an accuracy of 79% and since then there have been further developments.  While AI may still seem a little futuristic and not a system which can yet be fully relied upon, it provides evidence that it can act as a second, valuable pair of eyes, and provide a first pass over a data set that can be crossed checked in less time and at much reduced cost of expensive professionals.  

When it comes to implementing technological improvements, there are serious considerations to bear in mind.  Not only is the software and hardware itself key, but also the way in which it will fit in to the needs of your business.  Technology works best when used in conjunction with pre-existing systems which themselves are used to their maximum effect. For the law firm it can be tempting to purchase and bolt-on various software in a bid to appear to be moving forward with technology but, in order to create the best experience for clients and employees, forward due diligence is essential.

There are some key factors which could make a difference to the kind of technology that a law firm implements and provide useful insight into what outcomes are important. At the very least, consider what the right approach is for your firm, whether the technology will improve client experience, and if you really have the right strategy for engaging your staff. 

In terms of approach it sometimes makes more sense to re-engage with and better utilise programmes you have already, rather than buying something new.

Nothing beats direct engagement with clients, particularly if any kind of client portal build is under consideration. How much information do clients want to be provided with, and how would they like this displayed?  

Finally, employees are critical to the delivery of any technology vision because if they are reluctant to engage with new systems, reject new processes or find work arounds, that is the worst of impacts as it will yield no benefits to the firm or their clients.

Legal technology is bringing huge improvements to the industry and helping to modernise processes that are pushing us all forward.  However, it is important to ensure that the technology a law firm has benefits clients and employees alike, providing a positive experience for all.  Sometimes that might simply involve reviewing how you use the software already available to you, rather than buying the newest, shiniest product.  

As the saying goes, Al is no substitute for NS – Natural Stupidity – so beware, think carefully and plan ahead.