Best Practices For Legal Technology Adoption

By Dan Broderick and Daryl Shetterly
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Law360 (November 18, 2020, 4:49 PM EST) --
Dan Broderick
Dan Broderick
Daryl Shetterly
Daryl Shetterly
Over the years, the legal industry has been setting the stage for digital transformation, while often not fully committing to it. But a global pandemic has forced organizations and firms into motion as they have had to find new ways to move their business forward. In fact, 53.6% of law firms said they are replacing human resources with technology, according to the 2020 Altman Weil Inc. "Law Firms in Transition" survey.[1]

Technology has shaped how legal services are delivered and COVID-19 has accelerated the need for change. However, digital transformation of the legal services industry comes with a particular set of challenges, including securing employee buy-in, ensuring clean datasets and consistent processes, and knowing which of the 700-plus legal tech products currently in existence is right for your organization.

For years, legal professionals have taken an active look at technology, technology adoption, processes and how they can improve the practice of law. But as attorneys and staff have moved from the office to working from home and the usual workflows have been interrupted, it is increasingly clear that technology alone doesn't solve problems.

To ensure a successful digital transformation, law firms and law departments need to focus on people, process and technology — in that order.

Putting People First

Every organization has a unique culture and way of engaging its staff and attorneys. That was true before the pandemic, and it's even more true now.

The first step in implementing a holistic plan for digital transformation involves understanding your people dynamics. You must look at your problems, understand how your people function and then identify a working solution that will bring about effective change.

While it's tempting to focus on top-down solutions, that approach is rarely effective in the long run. Bottom-up thinking will yield the best results.

Often, resistance to new processes and technology is caused when people feel like change is being forced upon them and their voices are not being heard. When staff and attorneys are part of the idea-generation process and engaged in change, they will be more open to disrupting their familiar ways of doing things.

It's also important to give users a stake and sense of input. Staff and attorneys should feel that they are in control of the processes and technology, rather than feeling the processes and technology are in control of them.

At the same time, enthusiastic early adopters within your firm or company can help make your case. When early adopters can demonstrate that new processes and technology are helping them to accomplish their jobs better and faster, their colleagues will notice and mirror that attitude.

For example, if a group within your firm or organization is in need of a process overhaul, technology integration and training, consider kicking the process off by meeting with each of the employees in the group, and understanding their perspective on the team, ideas for changes, ideas for technology integration, and perspective on areas of weakness and strength.

These listening sessions are critical to ensuring changes are not forced on a group, and allows the firm to champion the ideas of the people closest to the work. When team members generate the ideas that ultimately revolutionize the team, there is less resistance.

In addition, consider holding open status meetings throughout the transition period and be upfront about changes that need to happen. This transparency helps build trust and allows the team to accomplish more than they ever could have accomplished by forcing change, and morale remains strong throughout the project.

Creating the Right Processes

Along with people who are supportive of change and improvement, you also need to have clean datasets and well-identified processes. Without these working in tandem, you will simply be speeding up bad or broken processes.

Having a process in place ensures successful standardization and optimal use of the chosen technology. For example, if you have 10 different ways of negotiating the same type of contract, no technology can help you achieve the efficiency benefits and return on investment you're looking for. Instead, consider building out those internal processes first.

Before the COVID-19 crisis, organizations typically took one of three approaches when it came to defining and reimagining their processes.

Those in the first category mapped out internal processes and procedures to try to understand how to go about digital transformation. Second, there were those that were very defined in what they wanted to solve, and understood clearly what metrics to measure and how they wanted to solve those problems. Finally, some firms and companies were exploring options and trying to understand what process improvements were possible but were not necessarily ready to leap into change.

After COVID-19, those categories have all shifted to a new emphasis on identifying and solving for specific problems. To do that, it's necessary to understand where your issues lie and clarify where current gaps exist. For example, can your people find the contracts that they need, when they need them? Can they extract data from those contracts cleanly?

As you delve into your current processes, you may discover that in many cases, a well-defined process may not even exist. Even if you have solid processes in some areas or for some functions, they may not be standardized across the firm or company.

That is why it is critical to map out your processes across the organization to ensure that departments and individuals are following the same set of steps, regardless of their function, role or geographic location. Otherwise, when you have 10 different ways of negotiating a contract, the result will be 10 different contracts that have been marked up by 10 different people, and each one will differ from the next.

Measuring the Right ROI for the Right Technology

Your return on any technology investment will be closely tied to the initial mapping of your processes. Focus on getting the people plus process part right, and the technology will pay for itself.

The key to measuring your return on investment lies with data, more data and even more data. Once you can track and analyze data, you can develop metrics that will further help identify the usefulness and value of new technology.

Regularly checking in on how the technology is working and whether it is meeting expectations is also important. This step may seem exceptionally cumbersome while your people are grappling with logistical considerations of working remotely. But by planning and building this into your implementation plans, you can ensure that it happens.

When looking at digital transformation, you need to consider more than the product itself. You need to conduct research on the provider. You want to be sure that providers will be able to adapt and expand their offerings to keep pace with your needs in the future.

Consider whether the kind of tool, function or company should be part of a bigger platform or suite of tools that will help across a lifecycle of a litigation or a transaction. Where does the technology fit in a broader industry, and what is the trajectory?

Before the current crisis, a lot was said about the way artificial intelligence-powered tools might affect the legal workforce — and which of those tools might be worth getting behind. The best use case for putting expert automation tools to the test has arrived.

For example, automated contract tools that edit contracts like a lawyer can automate as much as 70% of human review time. This kind of return on investment offers relief to companies that are pressed to keep business moving forward while fulfilling the challenging mandates of cutting costs and eliminating redundancies.

Conclusion

COVID-19 has accelerated the pace of change across the legal industry while adding new demands. Times of challenge and stress require exceptional focus and vision — but those are precisely the circumstances where it's most difficult to think strategically.

By working with your people, creating and strengthening processes, and identifying the return on investment of new technology, you can create a digital transformation that positions your firm or legal department for success, no matter what the future looks like.



Dan Broderick is the CEO of BlackBoiler. 

Daryl Shetterly is director of Orrick Analytics at Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP.

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firms, their clients or Portfolio Media Inc., or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.


[1] http://www.altmanweil.com/LFiT2020/.

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