Real Legal Tech (Part One)

Post by 
Mark Clark
Published 
October 14, 2020
T

o say this year has been interesting is an understatement, but even prior to the pandemic, questions were being asked by senior partners, general councils, COOs and lawyers in general. ‘Why do we spend so much on new IT systems, tools and applications, yet the benefits are so minimal?’

Having been asked this question by many of my clients and contacts, I decided to provide my point-of-view answer, then attempt to provide an answer to the follow-on question – what’s the alternative?

To be clear, I’d already established an understanding of why so little value was achieved following large investments in practice management systems (PMS), customer relationship management (CRM) packages and many HR solutions:

  • lack of people engagement – new tool used in the same way as the old tool
  • most functionality unused – buy a tool and use only 30% of its potential
  • no continuous improvement mentality – no drive to increase the tools’ value
  • investment in admin staff, not enablers – aimed at reducing costs not driving value

My research only reinforced, if not deepened, my initial understanding/point of view. In the vast majority of cases, too little time and investment had been directed at supporting and enabling the people who would be using the new software, let alone establishing whether or not the change was required at the outset.

Essentially, deploying the new tools had changed little, only the firms’ bank balance!

Following weeks and months of research, discussions with partners, lawyers, general councils, software suppliers and anyone else who wanted to share their opinions, I now believe that there is an alternative – or set of alternatives.

Simple answer: deploy technology that actually helps the lawyer – real legal tech!

Focus on:

  • making the legal process easier – the analysis, paperwork and admin steps
  • gaining more knowledge about your client and colleague relationships
  • getting smarter re. pricing – more on profit, not revenue, and making it simpler to produce
  • making information more accessible – comprehensive and easy to access
  • ensuring that lawyers have the evolving skills and capabilities to do a great job.

I have no issue with PMS, CRM or HR upgrades or deployments. Just establish why you are making the change, define what the outcome needs to be and take ALL the people with you – colleagues and clients.

Months of research and I give you a one sentence answer, with a few bullet point suggestions. Well, no.

Here’s how I came to my conclusion – the what and the why, my journey.

My journey

Having a point of view, a position, is not that difficult; changing one’s opinion can be more difficult. I speak for myself as much as for anyone else.

Having tried to open my mind, I commenced the gathering phase of my research – by talking with, but mainly listening to, people.

Really listening to what people are saying – the kernel of their argument, point or message – is key. Ensure you understand. Don’t assume that they will reinforce the established view or your alternative. Be open-minded and expect to learn and be sent down new paths. Try to develop a null base point: nothing is true, nothing is false, everything needs to be learned.

With this is mind, I ventured out to speak to as many people as possible. Partners, lawyers, GCs, COOs, PSLs and other people within the legal environment were very open once they realised that I was not there to sell them anything and wanted to learn.

Many coffees later, I had filled many legal notepads with various opinions, ideas, challenges, frustrations, fears and wishes. Boiling down all that information into a few key aspirations and needs was going to be a challenge, but less so than I originally thought. There were some definite common threads in all that had been shared.

Gaining access to, and having real conversations with, software suppliers was much less straightforward than talking to legal people. I will not be naming names, but this area of my investigation was a true challenge.

Some suppliers were very open, willing and engaged in discussion with me – happy to share their passion for their solution to the needs of the legal sector. During many video calls lots of suppliers provided demos of their products and services, all of which had their good and not so good points (in my opinion).

Some suppliers were initially really willing, happy to engage and friendly, until they realised that I was not a buyer and my purpose was to establish a point of view on the legal tech marketplace. Then there was radio silence. Their decision, their choice, let’s move on.

I am very grateful to all those legal professionals and suppliers who gave up their time to share their opinions. What they said was extremely helpful and enlightening.

Having completed the gathering phase, I sat down, with yet more coffee, to analyse what had been shared. What were the key messages, needs, aspirations?

An offer to anyone who would like to spend a good hour or ten discussing my findings – just connect and we can start to chat.

For those who’d like to have a focused synopsis of my findings, read on.

What, then, are my key findings? What earth-shattering revelations will I be scribing for you now? Well, sorry to disappoint, but I’d summarise my findings as a big dollop of common sense. We need to make lawyers’ lives better, simpler and cheaper – to steal a common phrase from early years at Tesco.

I’ve summarised my analysis in the following five statements.

  1. Make the legal process easier In addition to the deployment of legal project managers (across small, medium and large matters), we need to review how we manage each type of matter. We need to use technology to enable and support our ways of working – ensuring simplification, enhanced quality and generally becoming more effective than we are now.
  2. Gain more knowledge about client and colleague relationships We know more about the world in general (via the internet) than we do about our clients and colleagues’ interactions with each other. That being said, we do NOT want to spend hours, if not days, entering vast amounts of data about every meeting or correspondence we have with clients, potential clients or with colleagues about clients.
  3. Get smarter re. pricing Partners or senior managers spending too much of their unbillable time gathering together old pricing schedules, bills, case summaries and Excel pricing spreadsheets can’t be right. It’s time-consuming, inefficient and open to error and inaccuracies. There has to be a better, simpler more accurate way.
  4. Make information more accessible Huge strides have been made with the deployment of knowledge management functions, but more is needed. Technology must be able to make information more accessible – reading old matters, case files, law books and so on is time-consuming, costly and prone to errors. To quote a partner.  ‘Ask a question and get it answered – so I can use my legal expertise to add value.’
  5. Ensure that lawyers have the evolving skills and capabilities to do a great job Let’s think ahead – what are the skills and capabilities future lawyers will need? Once we understand this, we next need to put in place the training, coaching and mentoring to make these skills available when we need them. Stop being so reactive to need; be proactive.

As stated, nothing earth-shattering, so why are these still concerns, challenges, requests from partners, lawyers and GCs alike?

Is it that the tools, applications and solutions do not exist? Is it that we spend too much time focusing on the big-ticket software solutions as the panacea for all our woes? Is it that law firms and corporates do not want to invest in ‘new technology’ until someone else has proven its value? Do partners not believe that technology can solve the problem? Is it a combination of all these factors?

I’ll leave these questions with you. I imagine you probably know what I think.

By the way, I don’t want you to think that the five statements above cover all the pages of notes and analysis, but they do cover the key findings and shared needs.

I’ve now explained how I gathered and analysed my information. What next? In simple terms, are there tools/applications out there to help?

In my opinion, yes.

If anything, there are too many of them. With the aim of helping you, the reader, progress your thinking, I’m now going to share my view on the types of solutions that are required for each of the five statements above, together with an example that I’d suggest is worth further investigation.

Aside: This article is not being funded by any suppliers and I am not receiving any reward, direct or indirect, for offering my opinions. There may be products available that could provide what you need, but either because I was not allowed access to them or I did not value them above those I suggest, I have not made reference to them.

Back to my journey . . .

Analysis complete – well, it’s never complete as we are always learning – next, I moved on to asking what’s out there? What can help to meet the needs outlined?

At this stage, I translated the needs into IT legal tech language. Here goes . . .

  1. Make the legal process easier = deploy LPMs and use artificial intelligence (AI) tools.
  2. Gain more knowledge about client and colleague relationships = use pre-CRM tools.
  3. Get smarter re. pricing = smarter pricing tools.
  4. Make information more accessible = knowledge management tools.
  5. Ensure that lawyers have the evolving skills and capabilities to do a great job = learning management system (LMS) tools.

For those who would like to know more about the final two points (knowledge management and learning management systems), I’m afraid that you’ll have to wait for Part 2 of this article (or connect with me) – I have further investigations to complete.

1. Make the legal process easier

I’ll always recommend the deployment of LPMs to help partners, lawyers and GCs manage and deliver their matters in a more proactive, planned, efficient and valued way but, in addition, I’d point them to the newish tools under the AI banner.

Any tool that proports to make life easier must:

  • demonstrate that it is accurate – every time
  • do the work more quickly than a lawyer would
  • be able to receive instructions – search criteria in a simple and effective manner
  • be cheaper to operate than a group of graduates, junior lawyers
  • not pretend that it can truly interpret the law – leave that to the lawyer!

One such tool is provided by Luminance (https://luminance.com) – it analyses documents (data) very quickly and very accurately.

Lawyers don’t enjoy wading through pages of dry text; machines love it. Machines are more accurate than lawyers, as long as they are provided with the right rules and information to manage their algorithms. Machines are also quicker than lawyers – much quicker.

So, essentially, as long as a lawyer provides quality search criteria and is able to analyse the results, the machine will provide the benefits of speed and accuracy (at a lower cost than a lawyer).

For those of you who have not yet invested in AI, book a demo with Luminance or any other AI product (though I don’t think there are many high-quality AI tools on the market).

2. Gain more knowledge about client and colleague relationships

Knowing more about your clients, how they think and their ambitions, as well as the existing relationships their employees have with your colleagues and associates, is key when developing a basis on which to deliver more of what they need. A law firm, or GC, that is proactive in its thinking is likely to develop long-standing, deep-rooted relationships with its clients or colleagues.

Partners will always tell you that work is won because of their relationships with their key clients, plus the recommendations they then make to new clients. You can’t argue with these statements, but how can we add to them?

Clients have their own pressures. GCs will tell you; leadership teams want more of their time but want/need to spend less on it. In other words, they demand greater value from their legal department (in-house or law firms). Any software that can save time and money by providing greater insight into who knows what about whom and who has the best connection/relationship with whom, will offer huge value to a GC, partner or senior lawyer.

Don’t wait for the work to come to you, go out and win it before it even exists!

It would be very easy to state that the answer is to deploy a full-on CRM system, with all that such systems offer. I will not argue that a fully operational CRM system can be gold, but – and it’s a huge but - partners, senior lawyers, GCs and so on will not spend hours capturing information about who spoke to whom, when these conversations happened and what was discussed. They do not want to trawl through documents, web pages, clients’ websites and other sources of information to enhance the value of their CRM solution. They want and need the outcome of doing all that but not the journey needed to get there.

Many CRM tools are making the above work easier and offer huge benefits when fully operational, but is that enough for the legal sector?

One product I’ve seen deliver 80+% of the benefits of CRM packages is Introhive (https://introhive.com). They would probably argue that it does more than that.

This product works as a precursor to CRM solutions, but I think that it works very well on its own. It’s another tool that makes use of AI technology (machine learning) to save time, provide greater accuracy and analysis, all of which enables a more proactive relationship to be established.

I’ll let you read more on Introhive’s website, but I feel that the automated nature of scouring existing materials, mail-servers, websites and so on provides a big step forward for partners and lawyers in understanding what relationships already exist with their clients and within their organisations about the clients.

Gathering data and increasing information enables more informed decisions to be made.

I’ve been very impressed with Introhive and what it offers – really worth a demo.

3. Get smarter re. pricing

Very close to every partner’s heart, and, to be fair, GC’s and clients’ hearts, is the price they can charge for any piece of work.

I could wax lyrical about the need to focus on profit, not revenue. The need to understand that partners are often the least profitable members of a legal team. The need to delegate to a person at the lowest level who is able to do the work, to stretch and develop your people and gain greater value. The need to work more closely with your clients, be transparent and work as a team. But, instead, let’s focus on pricing legal work in a smarter, more intelligent manner.

What is smarter pricing? For me, it’s the ability to look at pricing with an holistic lens, at the price, the value, the outcome and the clients’ collaboration. Draw on pricing knowledge (T&M, fixed, risk and reward) to develop a shared approach that benefits all.

Law firms need to understand that global pressures, competition, use of technology and alternative solutions will only serve to focus clients’ attention more on the price and, more importantly, the value of the legal advice that they receive. Smarter pricing must help your firm to get ahead of that conversation.

Unsurprisingly, there are numerous offerings on the market, but many of these are smarter spreadsheets (with flashing lights and dashboards). What I think partners and GCs need is a tool that simply takes them through the pricing journey – step by step, asking the right questions at the right times. It challenges our thinking, utilising knowledge (pricing on previous matters and so on) and balances the outcome with value and ongoing client relationships. The tool needs simply to present the truth and offer us the opportunity to make informed (‘What if . . .  ’) decisions.

The product I’m going to recommend is by Virtual Pricing Director (https://virtualpricingdirector.com), a legal pricing software spin-off of Validatum (https://validatum.com). To be honest, I was introduced to this solution because of a link with Validatum’s Richard Burcher, who has to be many people’s guru/go-to person for all things legal pricing. Besides being incredibly knowledgeable, he’s a great person.

The pricing platform is relatively new, but the demo I received highlighted Validatum’s understanding of the legal sector, the needs of lawyers and how partners like to think and operate, which is what you might expect as Richard was formerly a managing partner at a law firm. The platform’s simplicity is a strength and hides the powerful engine beneath the waterline. The demo was easy to follow, and each step seemed intuitive and added to the previous one. Obviously, the quality of the outcome is based on quality inputs, whether from partners or extracted from previous matters, but for me it confirmed my view of a pricing journey.

Validatum’s VPD concept is a total end-to-end, offering everything pricing, including pricing masterclasses, procurement, bids and pitches as well as the pricing platform itself.

If you are still using spreadsheets or overly complex commercial tools, organise a demo and get to know Richard and his team.

Before I go on, I’d like to mention BigHand (https://bighand.com/en-gb).

I’m usually not a fan of a toolset – a product set that tries to solve many of your needs – but BigHand has some best of breed elements, such as workflow and document management. It also has a pricing and profitability tool that is worth taking a look at.

Conclusion?

Having gathered information, undertaken some analysis and reflected on the outcomes I can state that, in my opinion, there are tools out there to help and enable lawyers to deliver more for their clients and colleagues. More simplicity, requiring less effort and time, while offering improvements in accuracy and value. I do not feel that they take away from the skills, qualities and experience of partners, lawyers or GCs. Rather, they add to and enhance what they can offer. Surely that is what we want and need from real legal technology.

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