To clear the air from the start, the legal sector is not always best known for its early adoption or widespread deployment of information technology. The sector prefers traditional processes and practices and relies on a lot of paper-based operations such as journals, books and handwritten letters. So, compared to some other sectors, the leap towards digitisation is even bigger.
I find this gradual and unhurried approach to legal technology adoption rather surprising for three main reasons:
Legal professionals are a highly skilled and educated workforce, so adopting new technology shouldn’t be difficult for them.
Due to the volume of paper-based processes, the legal sector is the perfect use case to see the benefits of digitalisation.
The legal sector already exchanges large data and information with many other organisations across many sectors.
No matter how you slice it, the case for legal technology is clear. So, what is inhibiting the adoption of digital technologies in the legal sector and stopping the progress of digital transformation?
One challenge is that the IT function within the legal trade has a very daunting task: the expectation of delivering a ‘white glove’ service for uptime, availability and performance often within a tight budget and time window. Given these constraints, IT departments can find it difficult to innovate and evolve at the pace they desire.
Secondly, a large amount of legal practices run as partner-owned operations, not publicly listed companies. This means they can, understandably, tend to be more risk averse when it comes to adopting bleeding edge technology. Many also often consider the old adage, “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it”.
But change never happens overnight and it is positive to see that many legal firms are recognising the need to adapt to the digital age.
So, what can be done?
Anthony Stables, the CIO at Forsters LLP says it best, “Making a change to the expectation of how that high touch service is delivered is the only way that law firms can bring about far greater efficiency in IT support. Money does most of the talking: the best IT Directors/CIOs will be able to convince the partnership that a change to the method of service delivery can save them money without detriment to the level of service, but this has to be proved and you’ll only get one chance to prove it.”
The solution starts with a reinvention at the core. Instead of trying to implement a digital solution into a primarily paper-based industry, legal firms must look at the whole operation and take a services-centric technology approach.
One gateway to digital technology is for IT teams to introduce an automated self-service portal for IT support, encouraging law professionals to move away from phoning a support engineer and instead helping themselves through self-help articles or tutorials when a machine or device goes down.
Arming legal workers with self-service portals and virtual agents could not only free up IT engineers, but also empower employees to engage more with automation – interacting with new services, building more connected legal workforces, and demonstrate immediate benefits. Seeing the benefits of automation for themselves will help teams to seek out more and instigate further change in the business.
For example, as a next step, legal practitioners could deploy chatbots for client requests out of hours or to automate certain processes. Chatbots would work particularly well in situations where legal professionals are switching to costing work based on project delivery, instead of by the hour, and so require more rigidly quantifiable work processes that are digital and service-based to streamline delivery.
Foundations are key
Taking this type of approach avoids the ‘lift and shift’ approach (not recommended for any firm, or any vertical) and helps to show the benefits of legal technology without disrupting businesses on a large scale.
Even though the legal sector is slower to adopt some of the latest technology trends like chatbots and self-service portals, they can start laying the ground work to develop solid foundations with the use of data and information intelligence. I look forward to observing the progress of digital transformation in the legal sector.