When Is Legal Tech Not Legal Tech?
When we think of legal technology, we think about tools that contribute directly to production of the work product of a lawyer. Some of these tools may be “general purpose”, such as Word for creating documents, or Outlook for sending and receiving email. Others are practice-specific tools, handling everything from patent prosecution to contract review to e-discovery.
However, over the past year, there has been a tremendous focus in legal tech on the business of law. The lockdowns we all experienced beginning in the Spring of 2020 quickly exposed processes that were highly manual in nature. Printing and marking up proformas, managing paper files, and processing mail were processes that had to change literally overnight.
During the transformation, law firms developed an appetite for automating aspects of their own businesses. For example, records/information governance groups revisited decades-old processes and eagerly sought new technologies – or applications of existing technologies – to transform their function. (For great resources on this issue specifically, please check out the Law Firm Information Governance Symposium resources here). A simple, real-world example: organizations not already doing so, moved to a model of scanning and distributing electronically incoming paper mail.
One of the more recent, evident changes has been a renewed interest in extensible business management platforms that enable business process automation, cross-departmental workflows, and data analysis. Two longstanding areas of philosophical conflict in law firm tech have been “buy vs. build” and “best of breed point solution vs. product suites.” The opportunities afforded by business-focused, rather than legal-focused, platforms with multiple points of integration are tempting, and we are seeing law firms explore and adopt or expand use of such platforms.
And what does this mean for client service? For the practice of law? These implications are significant. When businesses processes are efficient, well-documented, data based, and automated, then costs become more predictable. Good business intelligence becomes the basis for more accurate and predictable pricing. Well-implemented, process-based business of law tech also enables the capture, cleansing, and reporting of data and metrics not only for running the business better but for responding to client services and providing better service.
Also, and perhaps less obviously, business of law projects – which can involve “cutting edge” technologies such as RPA and AI – can provide a proof of concept and sandbox for applying similar tech in the practice. Application engineers, data scientists, project managers, and other technologists can learn best practices and pitfalls associated with implementing and supporting such technology. I know of one large law firm that, following a merger, used a newly acquired contract analysis tool against their own contracts. For those who have been involved in a merger, you know that rationalizing contracts – many of them with the same providers – is an enormous task. This law firm used the work on its own contracts to teach themselves about how best to employee their tools for client work. This created an opportunity for more first-time successes on client projects.
So, when is legal tech not legal tech? It happens when we transform our business functions into serving our clients – with tech.