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Five things you can do right now to future proof your legal practice

If you feel like there is a lot of talk about innovation and disruption in the legal services, but very little actual change in the way lawyers and law firms are operating day-to-day on the coalface, you might be right.

What is changing?

There has been a 484% increase in the number of legal service technology patents globally in the last five years.  In 2017 investment in UK lawtech start-ups was reported to have reached £16m, with 87% of lawtech start-ups aimed at providing legal services to business.

Dramatic changes in processing power and connectivity are making new ways of working possible. New alternative legal service providers, improvements in AI options and increasingly accessible automation tools are bringing irreversible change to the legal market.

Is it “phoney” change?

A 2018 online survey conducted by ALMPA and Centre for Legal Innovation found that only half of all respondents identified technology, innovation or disruption as directly impacting changes to their role in the last three years.  Aside from 10% who were not sure, 40% said their role had not changed.

Why are law firms and legal departments not adapting?  Surveyed attendees at the Legal Innovation & Tech Fest in Sydney in June 2018 revealed that the top three roadblocks to innovation were:

  1. Not enough time
  2. Too many ideas, no prioritisation
  3. Not enough money


Getting started – innovation with training wheels

If those roadblocks sound familiar, the good news is that there are often opportunities to implement effective, low-cost innovations in a short time frame.

  1.  Working smarter

Asking “What is the dumbest thing you do?” will turn up bottlenecks caused by manual or inefficient processes.  Look for small ways to eliminate an unnecessarily time-consuming process or double handling.

Start with the capacity of your existing software.  Are there better ways to use it to avoid common time-suckers like:

  • manage collaboration on documents;
  • manage email;
  • auto-respond to routine requests;
  • use shared calendars to manage resources and avoid scheduling conflicts.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel and pour money into developing a customised, bespoke IT solution. Employ products already designed to solve problems commonly faced by law firms and legal departments which can be used “off the shelf”.

It may also be worth revisiting something that didn’t work very well a few years ago.  For instance, speech recognition products which enable dictation straight to screen have improved greatly.

  1.  Legal project management

The Thought Leader Experiment underway in the US suggests that 46% of general counsel surveyed highly value legal project management by law firms.  Using legal project management facilitates more accurate scoping, pricing and resourcing of work.

Comprehensive process improvement is expensive, but most law firms have detailed records of exactly how many billable units go into the work they do.  It does not require upfront financial investment to use historical billing data to better scope, price and resource repetitive work.

  1.  Alternative legal service delivery

McKinsey estimates AI will automate 24% of what lawyers do.  Even if you don’t have the budget to use AI tools, you should get familiar with the capabilities.

There are a number of reasonably-priced products specifically designed to help Australian lawyers and in-house counsel automate routine document production.  They include products that will:

  • produce comprehensive legal documents from information entered into a responsive series of questions;
  • allow you to automate your own documents using drag and drop elements (no coding required);
  • do an initial review of agreements by comparing them to similar agreements you have used in the past;
  • proof read to detect unused definitions, capitalisation and cross-referencing errors in documents;
  • update authorities cited in support of legal arguments.
  1.  Talent management

global survey by Peerpoint in May 2018 indicated that 81% of current lawyers believe that many young lawyers entering the profession will feel that undertaking the path to partnership is not worth it.  Consulting offers an alternative way for experienced lawyers to continue doing challenging work but with more flexibility and variety than the traditional law firm model.

Employee engagement initiatives are essential in a disrupted industry.  It costs nothing to thank people for effort, publicly recognise employee contributions and involve employees in interesting projects.

There are lots of opportunities for law firms to use new technology to deliver better and targeted training.  Low cost products allow easy creation and sharing of videos and screen recordings.

Reviewing data can also reveal a hidden need for training or improvement.  For instance, you can check if documents which are not approved precedents are being continually copied and used as a template.

Although it is expensive to develop useful workflows, checklists and templates for particular work types, this is another area where the quality of the available products has improved significantly.  The investment enables junior staff to progress matters more effectively and capitalises on the expertise of senior team members.

  1.  Having an authentic and credible digital presence

If you want to be able to engage with clients online you need to adapt to the continuing trend toward mobile devices and video content.  You can establish an active digital presence by regularly engaging with social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook without having to revamp the firm’s entire website.  There is no budget required to regularly share useful information with your network.

You will need to be able to present complex information visually if you want to compete in an increasingly busy online space.

“Ready.  Fire.  Aim”

Don’t let hype about Lawtech blind you to the impact of new tools and new ways of working on the future of the legal profession.

Look for ways to begin a digital transformation requiring little or no capital outlay that will improve client satisfaction, the way your law firm or law department works, and the bottom line.

Monday, September 10, 2018

By Fiona McLay, Special Counsel,  Rankin Business Lawyers

 Rise of the Machines – The Essential Guide to Future Law Firms – Panel Discussion

Fiona McLay is an experienced litigator who acts for individuals and small to medium sized companies in a wide range of commercial litigation matters.

At Rankin & Co Business Lawyers she helps people resolve disputes, both in their business and personal lives, in a way that minimises the expense and disruption that those disputes can cause.

She has implemented practice management tools which improved functionality like customisable automation and paper-lite processes.  She is excited about the way technology is helping us to work more efficiently and focus on delivering great service.

Fiona regularly shares useful info on LinkedIn@BreakupBusiness on Twitter or @FionaMcLayLawyer on Facebook.