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The role of LawTech: Past, Present and Future

Karen JacksThe LawTech landscape is currently at its most buoyant - with tech start-ups developing some of the most innovative and ground-breaking solutions as well as acquisitions from larger organisations taking place across the sector. There’s been a significant amount of investment in this space by providers and venture capitalists alike, and nothing to indicate it slowing down.

Despite the fact that law firms have been using technology to provide legal services for many years, the term LawTech (or LegalTech) has only really surfaced in the last seven years. It’s now widely used across the legal sector, with the term now aimed at emerging technologies in today’s legal landscape. It’s also energised more mature LegalTech providers into looking at their future roadmaps to stay competitive. For example, how they will get their products to market and make smaller, innovative changes to solutions. 

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This does, however, present law firms as well as buyers and consumers with opportunities, and (as with most opportunities), some challenges. There is currently a vast choice of solutions - from niche products addressing a particular pain point to more transformational solutions to how we work and deliver legal services. As a result, both buyers and consumers are faced with a plethora of solutions that have overlapping functionality. In giving more choice to users, the market is quickly growing out of control in terms of the technology stack. 

Typically, smaller, less mature suppliers can be more agile and therefore bring a product to market at speed. This is refreshing in comparison to the long term roadmaps from a lot of organisations which,  in this fast-moving space, may well be out of date before they have been fully developed.

Many businesses are taking the more consumer approach - the ability to find the product, take a look, buy, download and off you go. However, technology continues to be increasingly complex when it comes to embedding it into a highly regulated market whilst maintaining a good risk and regulatory posture. Providers in this space need to recognise this - endless hours can be spent on the simplest contractual terms before the user can even try the product.  This makes the IT or risk team the blocker, when they should be the enablers. It’s interesting to see additional providers offering sandbox or similar access to these solutions and it’s likely these platforms will become more popular as a way of researching and trying before buying.   

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Having found the product, trialled it, negotiated and bought it, we face the next steps of user adoption and change management. There is always the initial appetite, but the momentum can slow down with time poor lawyers. The emergence of no code/low code solutions are aimed at this audience and sold as needing no IT help but that relies on lawyers having both the time and head space to properly engage. Providers of these types of solutions may need to rethink both the internal messaging and how they can help with the adoption phase.  

There is a general assumption that law firms are resistant to change. Nevertheless, law firms are aware of this, and providers need to consider how they can tackle this barrier, because simply deploying technology and expecting it to be fully embraced from the outset is not the way forward. Both suppliers and IT teams together need to consider how to achieve good user adoption and there are a number of strategies that can help with this process. Firstly, by using the “rinse and repeat” method which involves regular, targeted and fresh communications with a focus on the benefits. So, the messaging is less about ‘here is a new IT tool’ but ‘here is an IT tool enabling you to provide a better service to your clients’ or removing a pain point.   

As for the more traditional LegalTech products, such as those in use for document/matter management or time recording, these should be approached quite differently in terms of adoption compared to emerging technologies that may not be deemed essential in the portfolio of technology we offer users, but are new and innovative. A few strategies for change and improved adoption can include targeting the real evangelists and innovators in the firm, in hope that others will follow and not getting too concerned about any pockets of disinterest.  

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So what does digital transformation in the legal sector look like going forward?    

Most firms are already digitally there – there will always be areas for improvement and opportunities to improve whether that’s with the better use of existing technology, making a process change or addressing an inefficiency.   

Clients are often very clear, outside of the obvious expectation of excellent legal minds, and that messaging is: greater transparency on matters in terms of resources, pricing and costs; an unwillingness to pay for perceived inefficiencies; a real desire to look at how technology (be it traditional, existing or emerging) can be used to address their pain points. This is where digital transformation can be achieved, and this presents a number of opportunities for firms.   It is not necessarily the latest piece of technology, it is applying the right technology to address the latest challenge and/or opportunity.  

Karen Jacks is the Chief Technology Officer at international law firm Bird & Bird, providing strategic planning, delivery and support of IT solutions, information security and telecommunications to the firm’s 31 offices. Karen has over 30 years of experience in IT, including manufacturing, consultancy and video games. She decided to switch to the legal industry in 2000, when she started her role as the Head of IT at Bird & Bird, and was later appointed as the firm’s CTO in 2019.
 

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