Is the legal sector still in the cocoon period, about to break free and transform in to a disruptive, innovative butterfly? Maybe, but it’s not technology that’s going to get the wings of change beating. In my view, technology can certainly enable change but isn’t best placed to drive it. As my colleague Mark Smith said (at the recent LexisNexis thought leadership event Technology: the secret to effective law firm transformation?) changes that have occurred in the legal sector such as off-shoring, streamlining and employing armies of paralegals don’t amount to transformation, and certainly not innovation. The sector is awaiting real change, and for that to happen we will need something more than tinkering with running costs.
Lawyers are a resistant bunch generally. The transition from using books to online libraries was a slow process despite needlessly high print spends. Why? Perhaps because online libraries didn’t offer a good enough solution fast enough, but some of the lack of take up should be attributed to the fact that lawyers were not on board and driving usage from the very beginning. We saw some very clued up and innovative librarians convinced about change far ahead of some of those the technology should have been benefiting. Another example - document automation software has existed for years, and is now more effective than ever, but still isn’t as widely used as it could be. Again, it’s a product which is commonly bought by IT and not, for instance, by the partner in charge of commercial law. Ultimately, change to fundamental processes must come from lawyers.
As someone who works very closely with legal technology, you might be surprised that I don’t think it’s the route to effective law firm transformation. It would probably be the “on message” thing for me to say. But if a product, however innovative, never sees the outside of the IT department it’s delivering no more value than any other unused piece of shelf ware. Technology depends on lawyers for adoption in much the same way that lawyers come to depend on it if implemented correctly.
For example, I know of a recent example where a large law firm committed to a new piece of proofreading and citation checking technology and took implementation very seriously. Determined that they would see all the benefits realized at their firm, the senior partners ran in house product adoption events at which they presented how they were personally using the product in their everyday work life. High profile partners spoke openly about the benefits of the technology in achieving their goals. They can now identify in their process management where time and costs are saved, and allow their lawyers to get out there and do the kind of legal work they love.
To truly change the legal industry, a massive shift in organizational culture needs to take place in firms. Lawyers at a senior level must seek out and drive new technology that helps the firm achieve transformation goals – instead of being dragged along halfheartedly, or looking to the IT team for a quick fix. This change in business culture will be the beginning of true disruption in the sector and will transform the way legal services are delivered to clients.
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