Moving Towards Strategic Legal IT

Last month, David Houlihan of Blue Hill Research offered a very insightful analysis of barriers to technological change in the legal space. He called out specific challenges to innovation faced by both IT and legal teams at firms. Based on his analysis, David provided six ideas that could help turn the situation around:

  1. Create insight into opportunities where technology can support the growth of law firm profit margins
  2. Identify clear relationships (or the lack thereof) between spend and tangible impact on the top and bottom line
  3. Provide legal stakeholders with clear business cases for how technology will improve their lives and help them meet professional objectives
  4. Provide legal stakeholders with a “time buffer” that permits and encourages investigation of legal technology
  5. Provide IT stakeholders with opportunities to understand legal workflows, inefficiencies, and relationships to law firm profit
  6. Create incentives and mechanisms that encourage IT stakeholders to “fight battles” to promote technology investment

But how do you go from these challenges to actionable solutions? Action PlanThe best action plans are based in knowledge of the unique characteristics of the firm in question. While there is certainly no answer that will apply broadly, here are some tactics to help brainstorm what might work for your firm:

Track the Competition [#1 and #2]

Some firms already do competitive or industry analyses – and others have a business or PR person able to do one. Add a step to their analysis: to specifically seek out case studies for how legal technologies have improved profitability at other firms. Vendors can be rich sources of this kind of information, but so can press releases or industry articles. Rather than waiting on internal data on innovation to approve innovation, gather hard numbers from peers who have already made the plunge.

Encourage Technology-Related Learning [#3]

All CLE credits are not created equal. You can incentivize your team to select CLE courses in technology-related topics. That way, they use time already earmarked for education to focus on legal technology advances. Larger firms could even organize their own CLEs on the topic, led by industry experts and their own IT team.

Ask Vendors to Make Up Time [#4]

Legal Technology Vendors Save Time
Legal technology vendors (like us) regularly want to show how the software they produce can save firms time and money. However, every hour that lawyers are listening to these pitches is a non-billable hour. So, you could make vendor presentations conditional: ask the vendor to save the amount of time that they use. If they give a one-hour demo to five lawyers, request that they save five hours of time for the firm. The vendor could analyze billable data to find savings or find undiscovered case documents using predictive coding – to help make up the time. In addition to addressing the challenge of time, this would also give associates experience with the software using a realistic use case.

Implement Shadowing [#5]

To increase IT’s understanding of the legal team’s needs, they could shadow associates during a typical day in the office. Watching something be done manually that they know could be automated may give the IT team ideas for technologies that would benefit the legal team. Based on these sessions, each IT team member could list legal team pain points – and associates could vote on which is the most time-consuming. The IT professional who identified the issue could be incentivized (with a bonus or extra vacation), and the whole team would have a priority list of tasks to automate.

Make It Part of the Schedule [#6]

As David points out, IT leadership is disincentivized from seeking technology solutions that would change the legal team’s behavior. Your firm could certainly offer the CIO a cash bonus based on the number of business cases that IT puts together for legal technology. However, another way could be to schedule a regularly-occurring meeting between a few IT and legal leaders to discuss legal technology. The pressure of having a set-aside hour with their legal team peers may motivate IT to present opportunities for improving profitability using technology.

These specific five ideas may not work for your firm, but they may spur discussion about tactics that would. A more strategic use of technology at law firms is a win not just for profitability and differentiation, but for retention and recruitment as well. But that’s a topic for another post.