The Future Shape of Law Firm IT – Major report out now 

A new report from Legal IT Insider in association with legal cloud and managed IT services provider CTS finds that the majority of UK law firm IT departments are spending only 0-20% of their time on value-add and innovation projects, as many look to decentralise innovation in order to meet the growing uptake of practice-specific software-as-a-service applications. 

The report, which is the culmination of a survey, webinar, and conversations with a dozen UK top 200 IT leaders and industry consultants, reveals that only 14% of law firms believe that technology is driving efficiency and productivity to the level that is possible. 

While a minority (14%) believe that IT will be decentralised, many of those we spoke to are in the process of devolving some IT capability to their practice areas, including developing practice-based business analyst roles to lead on innovation. 

Birketts’ director of innovation and technology, Tom Wagstaff, told us: “We’re saying it’s time to look at segregating the team into lights-on and ensuring that you are safe and have a good service for users, and over here you have a team dedicated to value-add, including business analysts that understand what lawyers and clients need, and the mechanics to capture that, such as a dedicated projects team that is not saying ‘we will get to that when we have done this service upgrade.’” 

Not all agree, and in a mini case study in the report, Shawn Curran, head of legal technology at Travers Smith, argues that the trend towards decentralisation will be reversed, as a practice-focussed approach to technology proves to push practice groups apart and create unnecessary duplication across law firms. 

The report looks at many of the different approaches being taken to solve the ‘innovation problem’, including speaking to Addleshaw Goddard’s head of innovation and legal technology Kerry Westland, whose now 45-strong innovation team works directly with fee-earners and reports to managing partner John Joyce. “The people who are going to use those tools are the experts in whether those systems work,” Westland says. 

And we hear from Clifford Chance’s director of legal technology solutions, Anthony Vigneron, about how the magic circle firm both devolves innovation and retains oversight and control. 

While law firms profess to be rising to client demand to become more innovative in the way they deliver legal services, the findings of the report suggest that the majority are still battling with updating their core infrastructure, with Jenifer Swallow, the outgoing director of LawTechUK commenting: “The firms that present that they have it nailed, often do not have it nailed. We need to get people to invest a far greater percentage of their revenue on R&D and you can’t do that if you haven’t got your baseline sorted.”