The following article is based on an interview I did for Extech Cloud back in August 2019. 

In this COVID-19 world it strikes me even more that the barriers of not wanting to change the status quo, feeling that staff need to be controlled and the fear of change have held firms back from using technology that was available to them. 

For years and years we have had video-conferencing and remote working on tap but they have not been embraced. Yet now the situation demands law firms are using solutions so they can survive in a climate – and it means they must adapt.  

It is fascinating to watch attention switch from vanity projects to practical, deliverable IT platforms that will enable the business to  operate. 

The barriers of adoption are well and truly down and I believe there will be no going back. 

In these times we all need a little bit of good news and we all need hope. 

For me that good news is that IT solutions are proving they can enable businesses to operate despite what the world throws at them. 

Legal IT Outlook

The legal IT market can sometimes fail to deliver the hype that we’re supposed to believe about new technology — creating a disillusion which can hinder progress. In fact, it can often resemble the Gartner Hype Scale.

Often, new technology is developed, and its capabilities are demonstrated to the market, which triggers a steep rise in expectation. They peak before it comes crashing down under the realisation that this technology, although promising, is probably some years away from mainstream adoption.

Over time, expectations slowly begin to rise again as we realise the potential until it becomes normalised. It’s a bit like the Dotcom boom, in that there was tremendous hype, but then consumers became disappointed. However, the ideas people were excited about did come to fruition, albeit in a much longer time frame than those expected. Back in 2000, we were discussing watching TV anytime on any device, but the reality is that this has only become the norm over the last three to four years.

One of the possible reasons then that law firms fail to drive real value from their IT is because of misplaced attention.

For example, think of all the headlines in recent times devoted to artificial intelligence and things like blockchain. The enthusiasm shouldn’t be dampened though: it’s expected that progressive innovations will come out of these technologies, and we’re already seeing some come to market. 

How to drive value

However, for most law firms, it is mainly an academic conversation.

The more pertinent question that should be on everyone’s lips is what can firms do today and over the next few years to drive value from their IT?

A good place to start is to focus and put IT into two categories: commodity and value-add IT.

Hosting, network and connectivity fall under the category of commodity. Firms should ensure that a strategic long-term view is taken on these areas to deliver total cost-effectiveness. 

But support, helpdesk and applications are where law firms have the greatest potential to deliver high value-add IT to their business. For example, we’re beginning to see firms benefiting from positive adoption of mid-market practice management systems which have accounts, time recording and billing all within one system – there’s a dramatic reduction in paper-based practices and a massive increase in automation and accuracy. Forget the endless hype around AI and machine learning – it’s more important right now that people are leveraging core systems for case creation and a joined up data approach. And yes, these systems have been around for a long time, but at last they are being used properly, and not just talked about.

A look to the future

With consideration of the hype scale, and how these technologies can skew our views of the truth, it really is important to keep it real when it comes to legal IT. Over the next few years firms are likely to change their solutions as market pressure becomes ever greater – and then we’ll see a lot of inward-looking work on business processes, continuous improvement and making those new solutions work to their maximum.

Once firms have achieved that, then there will be a move towards greater levels of automation, not necessarily AI, but online engagement, client portals and that type of consumerisation. So, we may stop relying on letters and emails and instead implement the proper use of client portals, with clients doing part of the process themselves.

Amongst larger firms we might start to see a focus on Six Sigma-style process improvement applied to the legal process in volume areas. There will also be a greater push for mobility due to the cost of office space continuing to rise, coupled with the decreasing need for lawyers to be in the office due to the use of new technology. There will still be cultural barriers to overcome but firms are becoming more aware of the need to cater for work/life balance and that working styles are increasingly a factor in the battle for talent.

But there will always be this sense of legal playing catch-up. For all the talk, the reality is that when it comes to legal IT, it’s yesterday’s technology that is the present, and today’s technology very much the future.