Trainee blog: technology in law firms
The aim of this article is to assist future trainee applicants with answering application questions on technology in law.
Professor Richard Susskind recently argued that:
"clients don’t actually want lawyers, they want the outcomes they bring".
The natural response is that good legal advisors often add unquantifiable value to their clients as connecters, referrers and commercial advisers. Nevertheless, it is fair comment that clients want to maximise outcomes relative to time and legal spend.
As a trainee at Michelmores, I have worked closely with external IT consultants in search of bespoke solutions to client-specific conundrums; where technology does not automate regular processes, one-off use remains commercially sensible. A balanced approach between outsourcing IT expertise and keeping pace with technological developments allows law firms to optimise the way that legal services are delivered.
"Leveraging IT to increase efficiency"
Despite the headline news that AI or robots might one day replace lawyers, the majority of current investment in technology by UK law firms looks to leverage IT to increase efficiencies. Key decision makers are seeking technology that reduces the time and costs associated with everyday processes, this in turn increases service excellence and maximises the return for the client.
Technology is a wide subject but key areas of progress include:
Integrated file, document and accounting management systems
Clients rightly expect a seamless service; joined up systems provide a smooth workflow from file opening to completion. Document automation tools have the ability to standardise core documents to ensure cross-team replication of branding, advice and service.
Centralised support-task hub
The pandemic has been an agent of change in business support teams. A centralised hub facilitates a flexible and data-driven approach to capacity allocation.
Vital for up-skilling across the firm and sharing expertise collectively.
Customer relationship management tools
Maintaining highly valued existing client and referrer relationships is more important than ever.
During the pandemic Michelmores has hosted webinar discussions and successful events virtually. This includes Property Developers Club - a proven useful forum for developers and property professionals to connect and share knowledge. The Club is celebrating its 18th anniversary and attracts over 100 property professionals and advisers.
Investment in cyber-security
Under-investment in this area could damage the trust that clients place in their legal advisors, resulting in serious reputational damage.
Video, telephone and instant messaging conferencing
The pandemic and remote working has been a catalyst for positive cultural change, including an increased ability to work flexibly and the consequential reduction in carbon footprint through diminished employee travel needs. Further, video conferencing can transcend borders, replicate instantaneous office communication and has enabled the Court system to continue online.
Challenges of implementing new technology
Implementing new technology can be problematic for a number of reasons:
- High initial capital expenditure
- Ongoing costs:
- Staff training
- Data and cloud storage
- IT support and recruitment
- Maintenance and updates
- Additional support from external IT providers
- Incentivising employees to adopt change
- Risk that technology becomes outdated
- Data protection compliance
Out-of-the-box software is rarely suitable and law firms will need to work with technology providers to customise products to their needs. The most successful firms will continue to strategically leverage cost-effective, tailor-made IT to increase client service excellence.