By Ed Grubb, Afinety
ILTACON 2022 provided a stunning array of legal tech innovation and excitement, the most I have ever seen in my 30 years in this industry. The conference was like a legal software gold rush! People were clearly smiling about being back together in person with a sold-out crowd of about 3,000 attendees. I don’t remember the enthusiasm being this strong even going back to the LawNet days before ILTA was even called ILTA.
Legal tech is a fast-moving industry now and change is happening at an exponential pace. As someone who marketed hosted cloud desktops for law firms before the “cloud” was even a thing, I have seen law firms grow tremendously in their ability to adapt and thrive.
Seeing software developers bring together multiple components and flattening them out to make a more efficient workflow is very enticing. The effective use of artificial intelligence (AI) in litigation tools makes you wonder how it will be an even playing field for those that don’t or cannot embrace it.
However, rapid change and excitement always needs to be weighed against sound business sense and the ability to successfully implement and use technology. Having seen a lot of exciting solutions for law firms come across my desk, there are 5 overriding themes that continually help law firms ensure success amidst while riding this thrilling wave of tech development.
1) The importance of due diligence.
Savvy law firm IT professionals know that legal technology is not a “set it and forget it” proposition where you buy a product, set it up, and leave it alone for several years to take care of itself. In reality, when bringing on a new software or SaaS product, that product has to be cared for along with the rest of the technology stack – and iteratively maintained for the foreseeable future. Even if the law firm’s IT staff is not doing the daily patching, monitoring, and updating and a cloud provider is taking responsibility for that work, the law firm still needs to stay current on the feature set and capabilities of these powerful tools to make sure they are leveraging the software to its fullest advantage. This effort is an investment of time and education for both the IT professionals and the legal professionals within the organization.
2) Seamless integration.
Most new software or SaaS products that firms are investing in still require integration with the incumbent environment. For example, a robust practice management system might still need to integrate with a legacy accounting system if even for a short period of time. When considering a new technology product, part of legal IT’s due diligence is to determine whether it will integrate and play nicely with the firm’s current tech stack. Certainly, if there is no pre-existing integration between a firm’s incumbent products and the incoming one, the firm will have to ask the vendors to develop the integration or have an IT staffer or outside consultant build it for them, which with older platforms is easier said than done. Before acquisition of the new platform, legal IT must drill down and really understand how the integration will work to ascertain if it is seamless or so cumbersome that it is virtually impossible.
3) Longevity is key.
Is the software provider or developer getting traction and is their business strong and stable? Law firms purchasing technology are also investing in the vendor producing the product. Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions about the company’s success and development roadmap. There is a lot of M&A and investment activity in the market which may impact the company’s ability to support its customers.
4) Ensuring ROI.
Implementing new technology will include a learning curve and investments of time and money. Ideally it won’t be too long until the firm recoups a return on investment (ROI), but it’s good to have an idea of how long the ROI will take to be realized. When deploying new software products – even SaaS – firms need to remember that they may need to customize the base version to suit their needs. This takes time and may require hiring an outside designer. I have heard countless stories of lawyers’ and staff’s productivity taking a hit for a few weeks or even several months when new software tools are rolled out. Make sure to have a firm understanding of the recurring costs, what may be impacted as well as what may potentially cause the price to increase.
5) Take your time and look for substance.
There are many products to choose from – an overwhelming amount these days. Therefore, take the time to evaluate solutions based on substance, not flash. There may be a legal software gold rush but there is no need for you to rush. Listen to what the vendor says as a starting point – trust them, but due diligence needs to include talking to a few of their current customers to find out the client’s point of view.
These are exciting times to be in legal tech. Legal IT professionals are often the information gatherers, recommenders and sometimes decision makers for what technology a firm buys. Due diligence involves examining the vendor/provider as well as the software, with an eye to when the software will start paying off for the firm. Take advantage of the gold rush in the legal tech industry but proceed with a cautious yet optimistic approach. There has never been a time with more enthusiasm and greater options to make law firms more effective and efficient ultimately translating to more profits.
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