How Do Lawyers Implement Legal Tech?

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The COVID-19 pandemic became a turning point in the use of legal technology. Law firms and legal departments have looked to address the challenges of remote work and changes in professional procedures as a result of the pandemic. The ‘new normal’ has demanded lawyers to change what they  require of their apps and procedures, but has also forced them to address long-standing problems in their implementation of legal tech.

46% of Technology Leaders were very prepared to support clients remotely when the pandemic began, compared to just 20% of Transitioning and 8% of Trailing organizations.

As summarized by the The 2021 Wolters Kluwer Future Ready Lawyer Survey, there are many different ways to implement tech solutions for lawyers, including developing their own legal technology solutions in-house, hiring a technology specialist or team, or partnering with a legal technology setup. Overall, 88% of legal organizations have undertaken at least one technology advancement initiatives and business services firms are the most likely to have done so. 

Through digital transformation, corporate legal leaders seek to achieve higher value work and increased efficiency by:

  • lessening time spent on lower-value tasks, allowing teams to focus on high-value-added missions;
  • streamlining organic productivity of an increasingly remote workforce;
  • driving organizational efficiency and productivity; and
  • enabling better risk assessment and mitigation through IT/data analytics.

In-house legal departments are far more focused on collaboration and the technology tools that facilitate collaboration than their outside counsel counterparts. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a 305% surge in demand for in-house counsel, compared to a 43% increase for outside counsel. In a buyers’ market, client expectations cannot be ignored. LPM practitioners will be well served to incorporate the digital transformation goals of the corporate clients they seek to serve in order to maximize their value in the legal services ecosystem.

Challenges to technology use and possible solutions

Lawyers may require assistance in comprehending how technology could be used in the legal profession. In legal work, there is a lot of creativity, intuition, and serendipity that cannot be automated, and lawyers are trained to undertake customized work. However, in the ‘new normal’, all lawyers need technology to be as efficient as the market demands.

Part of the process of adopting technology involves identifying possible challenges. We asked legal tech experts to identify the main problems:

Change management remains a challenge.

Tech firms and their legal departments are well aware that good software is frequently overlooked if it adds extra steps to consumers’ workflows. However, according to Microsoft assistant general counsel of legal, business, operations, and strategy, Jason Barnwell, some legal tech developers have not changed their capabilities to make change management easier.

“With a legal practice within companies or law firms, most attorneys are scrambling on the delivery for the latest time-critical project.  So, it actually takes some planning to decide which processes are important to improve the overall function of the legal practice. Incorporating new technology always requires some upfront planning.

Zerega Consulting

From the legal tech perspective, this naturally inhibits the implementation of legal tech. As vendors, we need to investigate methods to increase tech adoption. The goal is to go from the point of zero adoption to a point where you have an educated user that understands the value of your solution and trained on how to best use it productively.”

Jim Chiang, CEO and Founder at My Legal Einstein

Looking for integration through APIs.

Clients and vendors in the legal technology industry have remarked that the industry is still behind in the ability to deliver application programming interfaces (APIs) that connect different platforms. This basic issue slows down software uptake, especially among those who are already hesitant to change.

“You need to consider future interoperability for the legal tech you implement. A legal department may be short sighted if they bring in a technology that solves one issue but may ignore how it fits and communicates with tools they already have. Automating how tools speak to each other through API’s or other means can be very effective and efficient across fragmented departments and systems.”

Rian Kennedy, Legal Technology Specialist at Congruity360

Locating advanced artificial intelligence.

While legal tech marketing frequently uses terms like “artificial intelligence” and other buzzwords, advanced AI is unlikely to have powered much of the legal tech advancements in recent years, according to Connie Brenton, NetApp’s chief of staff and senior director of legal operations. However, she asserts that cutting-edge AI has finally made its way into the legal field.

Brenton stated, “AI has been around longer than it has operated in the legal space.” She has observed, however, that automatic redlining in contract management software and other AI-powered features had improved dramatically over the last year.

“It becomes a very distinct competitive advantage to be able to demonstrate the latest technology. AI, by itself, is a technology, just like cloud computing. 

Legal tech vendors who can successfully demonstrate the application of AI technology to positively offer productivity gains to legal functions have a competitive advantage. With law firms constantly under pressure to provide more value per billable hour, using applications enabled with AI is a natural next step, effectively enabling them to provide higher quality services, at the same or improved revenue model as before.”

Jim Chiang, CEO and Founder at My Legal Einstein

Customization is required, yet difficult to accomplish.

Customization is an option when legal technology is unable to fulfill company-specific requirements. It is, however, difficult to manage, according to Maureen Harms, associate general counsel at 3M, a scientific and technology firm.

In Harms’ experience, legal tech claims can fall short and fail to match the individual demands of various legal departments, necessitating extensive modification. 

For example, Memme Odonuewe of Evisort shared his experience:

“During the implementation of a new CLM tool, the biggest first issue is the fact that, basically, to have a successful implementation, you want your new contract management tool to have all your contracts, and all the data about your contracts. And those two things are the two hardest things. The first thing is centralizing all your contracts, making sure that all the different silos where your different teams store your contracts are in one spot. You want this new system to have all your contracts so you can have full visibility into your contracting and have it drive your business and answer questions with certainty. This will ensure that you’re understanding everything and nothing is being left out.”

There are three considerations when deciding how to implement new technology:

  • the organization’s actual total cost (including opportunity cost),
  • the desirable organizational objectives (not only for the legal department), and
  • the risk tolerance of adoption, including timing, uncertainty, and the ability to mitigate risk.

Rian Kennedy, legal technology evangelist, says that one of the biggest advancements is collaborating with other departments:

“If you’re implementing a legal tech tool, you of course have to have IT involved in your processes. And so it is important to provision those resources and understand their schedule. We were working with one client who was pretty close to going IPO. Their IT department didn’t have time to try and implement a new tool. They were just being tasked with so many other priorities during that time. 

We had sold it to the legal department, but they didn’t have the allotted IT resources they needed to implement it. It really wasn’t much, we needed five hours… and they said we don’t have time right now, we’re in the middle of other things. So it is important to make sure that you provision IT resources for implementing a legal tech tool.”

When deciding which in-house legal solutions could benefit from technology assistance, legal teams should consider which types of work they currently do and which parts of the underlying processes are most suitable for technology enhancement or automation or where to experiment with alternative technology-assisted support models.

“Implementation costs themselves may not be straightforward, as any technology is likely to impact people and processes directly within Legal and potentially have a ripple effect on other functions.”

Deloitte’s Report “What’s your problem? Legal Technology. Legal Management Consulting”

Legal tech evangelist and Managing Partner of DASH.law Larry Bridgesmith shared his view on the most common challenges during the implementation of tech solutions and their possible solutions:

“A. The greatest obstacle to lawyer adoption of technology is the software application itself. Lawyers are, by nature and training, extremely urgent in demeanor and personality. Taking the time to understand how to use new technology is extremely low on a lawyer’s list of priorities. Before purchasing a legal technology and expecting lawyers to use it, be certain that they will want to do so. This means that legaltech first needs to be demoed, tested, and evaluated by lawyers in view of the cost vs. benefit of adoption. Unless the benefits to be derived exceed the burdens of learning and changing processes for the lawyer, the best technology will be ignored.

B. This also means that the need for new technology must be explored before the search for the right software begins. Managing change in a lawyer’s behavior is a challenging task. Exploring needs must precede finding solutions. Process changes in a lawyer’s professional routine will be best accomplished when the lawyer understands the “what’s in it for me” equation. If existing systems and procedures are not working well for the firm or its clients, lawyers may be unaware, or ma welcome a change in their practice methods. Managing change requires exploring, listening, and educating lawyers (and anyone) on the reasons why change is needed and how it will benefit all involved.”

The need for tool integration 

We live in an instant access and on-demand world of information sharing. The global pandemic in 2020 accelerated the necessity of remote working and remote team collaboration. Work teams have begun to explore and utilise remote work platforms in place of daily meetings common in the agile workplace. 

A key feature of useful technology is its ability to “work well with others.” This is a primary reason business tools like Microsoft’s Office Suite and Google Drive are so popular with users. The “interoperability” with which they exchange data and work with and through each other to serve related purposes is a time saver and an assurance of quality control. A platform approach to tech delivery centralizes access to multiple tools and creates a dashboard from which a user can easily access files, documents, presentations, or spreadsheets in a similar format that can then be shared with others and serve as a collaboration tool. 

“Legal technology will become more useful if it promotes data exchange and file access from a single sign on. The functionality of DASH.law has been designed to achieve these goals for the legal industry.”

Larry Bridgesmith, Managing Partner of DASH.law and co-founder of the Program on Law & Innovation at Vanderbilt Law School in Nashville

There are also companies that try to build everything, and have everything under one user experience. Rian Kennedy discussed this approach:

“And that’s great if you can, but a lot of times, what you find is that maybe they’re really good at one area. Maybe they’re really good at the contract, or legal management. But they’re not great with the discovery side of things, So what I find is that it may be best to have the best of breed technology, for the most part, but with hooks into how they fit together in your whole ecosystem. If there are two parts of the system that are from one company, that’s probably better if they’re some of the best products out there. But don’t feel like you have to get all of their modules or products if they have other ones, that may not be up to par with what you already have… and then they may not be able to communicate with each other.”

As the face-to-face, on-site world of work transformed into one of remote working, virtual meetings and advanced data analytics became a daily requirement, and legal project management teams were forced to quickly adopt the tools and techniques of online data sharing and virtual collaboration. However, there are still many problems on legal tech implementation that must be addressed in the near future.

This article is an extract of the free ebook Lawyer’s Work and Productivity in a New Normal.

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