Guest post: Technology and collaboration: bridging the divide between law firms and their clients

The relationship between inside counsel and outside counsel is changing. Lawyers on both sides of the divide are gradually coming to terms with a new reality in which the delivery of legal services has become a team sport. In the modern legal landscape, it is the quality of the teamwork, dialogue and collaboration between inside and outside counsel that defines successful legal representation.

This hasn’t always been the case. Pressures on both sides have meant the relationship between inside and outside counsel has not always run as smoothly as either side would have preferred. Teamwork doesn’t necessarily come naturally to legal professionals, with characteristics such as low sociability and high autonomy, rather than cooperation and collaboration, often driving dialogue, or the lack thereof.

Still, the responsibility of delivering modern legal services within the confines of tightening budgets and an increasingly complex and crowded marketplace brings unavoidable challenges, not least for internal legal teams working hard to deliver results against planned expenditure.

As the speed and scale of the global legal industry increases, even the requirements of day-to-day business processes, such as the sharing of real-time data, can put strain on a relationship if effective communication is absent.

Collaboration between inside and outside counsel can therefore be difficult to foster. Finding new ways of working together that support, rather than hinder communication and relationship-building is now the task facing innumerable legal teams across the globe.

In tackling this challenge, legal professionals are becoming ever more aware of the transformational role technology can – and must – play in bridging the divide and nurturing cooperation.

Of course, this collaboration cannot be delivered overnight, nor can it be delivered by technology alone. The most effective relationships are built on numerous factors, not least a shared vision and understanding of mutual goals, but also an honest assessment of how the collaboration is performing, underpinned by the tracking of performance indicators.

Technology can however help to catalyse precisely this type of relationship. Across a host of daily, business-critical tasks, such as sharing documents and data, or tracking electronic billing, legal professionals are increasingly looking to technology in order to monitor, measure and streamline workflows, freeing up scarce financial, physical and mental resources that ought to be focused on building the organisation’s core value proposition, rather than driving its daily logistics.

Technology can provide a platform for structured, meaningful dialogue between in-house legal teams and law firms, and the wide array of solutions in the marketplace has never been more powerful or comprehensive. If approached correctly, holding real conversations around the use of process and technology in the delivery of legal services can lead to reduced costs for clients, increased realisations for law firms, as well as an ethos of partnership working that can – and will – deliver continuous improvement.

Of course, technology is only as good as the willingness of the parties involved to share information and measure it in such a way that it can be acted upon for improvement. It requires a mutual, honest, and accurate assessment of the often imperfect efficiency of legal service delivery, as well as a shared vision of, and commitment to, an improved future state. But if that willingness is there, then employing the right technological solutions can not only support, but in fact amplify, collaboration and partnership working for the betterment of General Counsel and law firms alike.

Casey Flaherty is a former in-house counsel, and founder of Procertas. Elisabet Hardy is vice president of global product management and marketing at Thomson Reuters Elite.