In reviewing many of the topics of discussion in any major business publication during 2015 and early 2016 it is easy to see that ‘digital disruption’ is posing significant threats and opportunities to almost every industry. The World Economic Forum has described the current period as a ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ which will see widespread innovation and greater adoption of technology in almost every profession.
The legal services industry is already being re-shaped by technology in a variety of formats that extend beyond document automation and practice management software. The role of the lawyer is being transformed; both routine and more complex analytical tasks can now be performed by artificial intelligence technologies such as IBM’s ROSS and Lex Machina. ROSS is capable of reading and analysing over one billion legal documents per second to produce plain English answers to complex legal questions that include relevant citation, while Lex Machina uses databases and modelling software to accurately estimate the odds of winning a patent suit.
The focal point of the advances in legal technology is the client, who is poised to benefit greatly as they are empowered by a wealth of information to demand legal services of higher quality delivered at a greater speed and lower cost. Services such as the Google funded Rocket Lawyer, Legal Zoom and donotpay.co.uk take client agency even further by enabling clients to create their own legal documents and appeal parking fees online.
Although the widespread use of advanced technology such as ROSS is still far on the horizon, many firms are currently using technology to enhance their practices. Adopting technology is an essential move in creating a firm that is able to adapt to changing market conditions.
As technology is a considerable investment for a small law firm there are a number of things that should be considered before choosing which systems to implement. Legal technology that is not properly leveraged can cause disruptions, security concerns and hinder firm performance. By taking the approach used by leading legal technology start-ups and keeping the ultimate goal of delivering greater client value in mind when evaluating practice management technology, it becomes easier to ensure that a firm achieves maximum return on investment.
In the traditional model of the legal profession, the lawyer is characterised as an educated professional who sell’s their expertise and time to clients in six-minute increments. However, many experts have observed that this model does not deal with client experience.
In an article for Lawyers Weekly John Chisholm argues that a client is actually buying intellectual capital from a lawyer: a client is seeking outcomes, solutions and peace of mind.
Legal expertise is assumed and a lawyer that is able to build a relationship with their client and take an active role in managing their client’s concerns and financial constraints is much more likely to have their services used again and be recommended to friends and family.
Using technology to enhance value for clients
Here are four main considerations for small law firms looking to get the most out of legal technology and enhance the ability of their practice to serve clients.
A practice management system that is accompanied by a strong smartphone app which allows you to access critical client information at any time in any location is essential for delivering a high level of service quality to clients. A lawyers who is able to answer client questions and concerns and act on urgent issues at any time or place will most likely be perceived by clients as accessible and motivated.
Efficiency and user interface
The primary aim of all practice management software is to improve firm efficiency however if only a select number of staff members in a firm can actually use the software then the firm will inevitably experience bottlenecks in workflow. Usability and intuitiveness are key to ensuring that all staff members time and skills are properly deployed.
Content is an important area that is often lacking in many legal practice management systems however it can be a key way to deliver excellent service to clients. Quality content allows small firms to expand into areas of practice that would have previously been avoided, minimising the number of clients lost to outside referrals. High quality content can also be used as a way to enhance a firms existing precedents.
A system that is supported properly can save many wasted hours waiting for a call back from tech support. Proper support and resources can also assist firms in getting the most out of their software system.
Content support is just as important as tech support and is often overlooked in practice management systems. Being able to access a network of experienced practitioners providing guidance in difficult legal matters can save a firm hours of research time and ensure lawyers can be confident that they are providing their clients with the best possible solutions and outcomes.
Diving in head first – Stephanie Garber– Blog post 06 October 2015 – Lawyers weekly
Robot invasion – Story by Felicity Nelson and Stephanie Garber – 19 January 2016 – Lawyers Weekly
Robot doctors, online lawyers and automated architects: the future of the professions? – Tom Meltzer – 16 June 2014- The Guardian Technology
Senior Copy Editor, By Lawyers
21 January 2016