Clients are demanding more for less. It has become almost cliché, and yet — like many clichés — one that contains a central truth which legal practitioners ignore at their own peril. Given the increased transparency into legal processes and pricing, the competitive environment created by the economic downturn, the increase in legal outsourcing options, and the democratization of legal documents into consumer-facing products, consumers have never been more empowered to push their counsel on price and service.
This isn’t a full examination of how the industry arrived at this sea change in consumer power and influence; there are many of those available for the interested reader. Rather, this is a look at what the savvy firm can do to navigate this challenging cost-control gauntlet — at least in the realm of controlling costs and increasing attorney productivity. It involves taking advantage of the functionality advances and changing philosophies of legal tech providers.
This part of the story is more rosy. Seeing a lag between the innovation and advances of the consumer-facing product world and the legal space, a handful of cloud-based, computer-science-informed startups have come to the legal services and tools marketplace in force. The nature of these businesses and their products are fundamentally different in several crucial ways that can help drive firm-wide time and cost savings. Let’s take a look:
Applying cutting-edge technology to legal problems
This generation of technology-focused Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) legal providers have striven to integrate advanced coding infrastructure with sophisticated design and user interfaces. The idea is that significant gains in customer efficiency can be achieved simply by bringing the user experience with legal products up to the level to which we collectively have become accustomed in other spaces. In practice, this means faster and more streamlined products that save attorneys time by reducing moments spent waiting for search results or recalling specific documents. Also in play are next-generation algorithms helping lawyers more quickly focus on relevant case law and evidence. Bringing these tools to legal practitioners are founders with computer science expertise, trained to drive innovation and avoid the platform pitfalls and bloat that plague many industry-leading products. Speaking of which…
More focused products without legacy complications
It’s not just a focus on technological foundations that make this breed of provider different. The startups introducing new products into the legal marketplace have another significant advantage: they are not hampered by cumbersome legacy products or infrastructure, nor are they attempting to answer multiple problems with a single platform. Modern SaaS providers tend to tackle a discrete user need, both by choice and based on the limitations of scope inherent to a new company. By using a product that is narrow but deep, teams can easily integrate it into existing workflows. While this does present the challenge of adopting multiple solutions, it also makes it easier to cut ties with software that isn’t meeting firm needs without facing the daunting prospect of an entire platform shift or being stuck with a bad tool because it is packaged with other baked-in features that remain palatable.
Designed to reduce the time spent learning and jump-start actually working
We’d all like to jump immediately into a new productivity tool without needing to spend hours combing through help interfaces and online FAQs. Happily, as mentioned above, these new workflow platforms and products have embraced the design philosophy traditionally associated with consumer-facing products, emphasizing a pick-up-and-play approach that doesn’t require torturous training or learning curves. Where workflows are more complicated, modern SaaS products generally have better-integrated help videos or overlays and a dedicated customer support team ready to assist. Again, the theme here is ease-of-use and clarity of purpose; cluttered and complicated interfaces are minimized, while core functionality is front, center, and accessible.
A step in the right direction
Of course, no tool or technology can be the sole solution to maximize attorney time and value in the face of growing client expectations. That said, the enterprising firm will clearly reap benefits from identifying long-in-the-tooth internal tools and seeking replacements from the ever-growing crop of startups in the legal services field. When shopping around, keep the characteristics listed above in mind, and don’t be afraid to try multiple products purporting to handle the same slice of workflow. While that will mean additional time investment at the outset, the rewards in identifying a well-designed and intelligent tool will quickly outweigh those costs.