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How to define success and measure the impact of digital transformation in law firms

Ross TimmsFor many law firms, digital transformation is now a key business priority that requires immediate resolution; 100% of top 10 law firms and 40% of top 11-25 firms have identified technology as the key challenge to growth in the next 2 years1. And 85% of enterprise decision-makers stated they have a two-year period to make significant inroads into digital transformation or they will fall behind their competitors and suffer financially2.

It's predicted that $1.18 trillion is to be spent globally on digital transformation technology and services in 20193. Beyond replacing core systems, firms have so far focused tech transformation efforts on client collaboration tools, mobile apps, and automated/semi-automated document production. Conversely, robotic process automation, smart contracts and blockchain solutions are the least mature4.

The reality is that transformation is unique to each individual firm, and often fraught with challenges. It’s expensive, time consuming, and changes may need to operate alongside existing legacy systems and BAU governance as they’re being introduced. With less than one in six organisations delivering successful digital transformation programmes5, it’s clear that many companies struggle to get it right. 

Ross Timms, Head of Strategy at Rufus Leonard, shares how firms can overcome the two main barriers to successful digital transformation: definition and impact.

Choosing the right transformation 

To be successful, you need to know why you want to transform, and therefore what kind of transformation your business needs. Following 30 years of helping business leaders transform their organisations – from BT’s first website in 1994 to BBC’s future of voice strategy in 2019 – we typically see three distinct types of transformation, each with their own characteristics: 

1) Change how you do business:

Responding to changing customer expectations, offering the same core business functions but delivering them in new ways, through new processes and new technology.

Example: Reed Smith’s created an internal Client Value Team which is dedicated to improving the delivery of its core services and creating value for clients, mainly through proprietary technology. One of their most successful efforts has been the Quick Pricing Tool; it creates transparent pricing arrangements, making it easier for clients to track and predict costs. Over 80% of the firm’s matters are priced with tool6, increasing their ability to win pitches and contributing to the global firm’s $1.17 billion in revenue7.  

2) Change your business:

Changing your businesses offer to meet changing consumer needs and solve problems in new ways, often with new products or services.

Example: Synch Advokat, a Nordic firm specialising in legal services for modern businesses, created WeSynch, a digital subscription service that gives start-ups affordable access to legal services, legal document automation, how-to guides, and a range of compliance, governance and finance tools. While the target market is start-ups, the suite of tools within WeSynch have been expanded to improve service efficiency for larger clients as well. By investing this and other digital-first services which can reach a wider swath of the business market, Synch has tripled revenues its first five years, from 22 million to 6 million krona8.

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3) Change your market:

Disrupting the fundamentals of a market or creating a new market altogether.

Example: Founded by a trademark lawyer, data scientist and software engineers in 2012, TrademarkNow have been part of disruptive force in intellectual property law – the introduction of automated trademark management software. Gartner estimates the global Intellectual Property Software market will more than double in the next 5 years, reaching $ 5089.6 million by 2024, up from $2499.8 million in 20199. TrademarkNow replaces manual research by providing name and image trademark search, watch and analysis. Its unique AI model can take real world complexities into account, and it covers 180 countries’ trademark registries as well as a slew of common law data sources, providing results in seconds. In 2016, the company almost tripled in size10, and the following year it received series B funding of combined €3 million which has enabled a full suite of integrated trademark lifecycle management tools11. In May 2019, the company launched a self-serve pay-per-search offering that made world-class trademark tools accessible to any anyone in the world, further disrupting the industry12.

The drive to digital transformation needs to balance two things: the practical need and the requirement for a north star. The former is driven by pressure on profit and the need to move at the speed of the customer. The latter is driven by your firm’s mission, purpose or vision. Aligning your brand to your technology gives your platform a purpose, a role beyond the practical and a clear point of focus which drives transformation efforts.

Find your single point of focus  

Defining the purpose of your transformation programme is integral to measuring its impact and success. Once you’ve defined your ‘why?’ you can distil this into a single point of focus that explicitly meets top-line commercial objectives. 

Looking back at our three examples, all of them aligned their digital innovation to a single point of focus. Reed Smith developed proprietary technology dedicated to improving clients’ business outcomes. Synch Advokat delivered on their mission of providing businesses with pragmatic, digital-first legal services by creating tools that would expand access to cash-strapped start-ups. TrademarkNow streamlined the many complex variables of intellectual property within a suite of intuitive and widely accessible tools, part of a wave of disruptive IP software replacing a once manual-industry. A purpose-led approach to innovation helped each of these firms define growth and performance goals and guided how technology and innovation could help meet those goals. 


In turn, this single point of focus acts as a guiding star for how to leverage your brand, how to shape your customer experiences, understand what’s required of the organisation and your technology platforms. Ask yourselves, ‘how might we defend or improve our brand market position/ensure ongoing user relevance/create internal alignment/maximise platform performance?’.

Measuring the impact 

Understanding this creates a clear platform to identify and align KPIs across the firm. Do you need to increase brand value/equity or increase share price? Do you need to create channel shift through self-serve or improve customer satisfaction? Do you need to reduce employee churn or improve workforce utilisation? Or, finally, do you need to increase platform utilisation or ensure security of data and information? 

This approach makes sure that a micro view on performance aligns back to the macro measurement of impact and progress. It gives the firm the levers it needs to keep everyone on course over a multi-year programme of significant change. And, crucially, it provides a clear goal to galvanise everyone in the business. 

In recent years, we’ve helped brands like the Pinsent Masons, Lloyd’s Register and AA tackle large-scale digital projects and transformation. As a result of facing off the challenge of delivering successful transformation, we’ve created the Business Impact Matrix. Built on the principles explored here, the tool establishes a clear point of focus for all business units, aligning growth and performance activities. It ensures that all customer facing and colleague facing activities align to a shared goal and clearly aligned objectives. The tool drives a process of prioritisation, helping to align separate agendas and providing a clear framework to decide what to first, second and so on.

However you chose to define success, bringing both vision and impact into a single tool is the biggest single step any organisation can take to make sure they are part of the 15% of companies that are successful with their transformation ambitions13.  

1 PwC -  Law Firms’ Survey 2018
2 Forbes
3 IDC - Worldwide Semiannual Digital Transformation Spending Guide
4 PwC -  Law Firms’ Survey 2018
5 The Digital Helix
6 Reed Smith – Financial Times awards Reed Smith top ranking for ‘new business & service delivery models’
7 The Lawyer - Law Firms A to Z
8 DocuSign - Law firm Synch pioneers new era of digital legal services
9 Gartner Global Intellectual Property Software Market Growth 2019 - 2024
10 Raconteur - 10 top legal disruptors
11 Cision – TrademarkNow attracts a new funding round of €3 million
12 Cision – TrademarkNow launches trademark clearance tool for the masses
13 The Digital Helix

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