By Peter Krakaur, vice president, legal business solutions, UnitedLex
Businesses are transforming digitally, leveraging data and technology to drive dynamic business models. Legal service providers are adapting apace. Law firms, legal departments, enterprise legal services companies, and the Big 4 are stratifying and remixing talent models, business processes, and technology investments, adjusting the legal practice to enable clients and keep pace.
In support of these practice adjustments, lawyers readily grasp for newly proclaimed AI solutions to disrupt their practice. Before responding to requests for shiny new technologies – hammers for a world where everything is magically a nail – IT and law firm business leaders must understand and plan for change. Where is your business going? Where are your clients going? Your IT strategy must align with where you are now and where you will be, not where you were when the current strategic plan was designed X years ago. In our evolving digital landscape, firms need to invest wisely, intentionally, and vigorously.
This 3-part series offers a framework for law firm leaders to discuss and plan a sustainable IT strategy that grows with internal and external digital clients of today and tomorrow. This first installment introduces the framework, proposing different technology layers for leaders to consider as they plan new and integrated talent, process and technology strategies. The second installment will explore how law firm business leaders might apply the framework to assess current and future technology investments. The series will conclude by exploring how all legal IT and business leaders might adapt their strategies to manage the inevitable impacts that digitization will have on law firm and competing legal service delivery models.
[See below a bigger version of this table if you’re having trouble reading it.]
The framework consists of nine (9) layers applicable in varying degrees to law firms and the clients they serve.
1) Context: Firms operate and evolve in many contexts. The bottom framework layer (white boxes) reflect that fact that law firm IT strategies differ based on geography, client industries, and practice areas.
2) Enterprise Platform: The security, infrastructure and hardware layer is the critical, often overlooked, foundation for any technology strategy. Fee earners may assume that this “plumbing” is safely established, preferring to focus instead on the latest app. IT and legal business leaders need to invest wisely and regularly in this foundation, particularly as data, cloud, and security strategies of yesterday continue to shift in support of tomorrow’s legal service delivery model.
3) Enterprise Applications: Legal businesses run on a core set of applications, including an office suite, HR, finance, and payroll systems, and, ideally, a dynamic business intelligence and analytics platform. This application layer may include legal specific customisation, but core enterprise applications are necessary to run the business (of a law firm). Legal IT and business leaders must continue to assess where these foundational business technologies are headed to ensure alignment with a changing legal business environment.
4) Enterprise Delivery: Technology platforms depend on a curated delivery layer that includes business analysis, process design, change and project management, and data governance policies. The delivery layer is an essential, synergistic element that connects process and staffing models to ensure that the technology delivers the promised value. These process layers require agile re-alignments as the business and practice of law shift digitally.
5) Business-Legal Solutions: Certain technology platforms offer legal-specific solutions, such as contract management, corporate secretary and entity management systems, legal holds, AML/KYC, and IP management. Although enterprise application providers may offer solutions to address these business-legal issues, law firm technology and business leaders, need to consider how much to invest in focused solutions versus a more generic enterprise system designed for many purposes. This layer contains solution offerings where law firms and the clients diverge slightly. Clients are more focused on contract management, compliance hotlines, insurance management, and corporate secretary solutions (areas in green). By contrast, legal hold, IP management, and records management solutions are relevant to both clients and firms (areas in white). Some of the technology/process solutions that have traditionally been the focus of corporate clients represent areas where law firms and other legal service providers are starting to drive digital technology and process transformation.
6) Legal-Specific: The legal-specific layer includes areas where law firms and the clients they serve diverge to greater degrees. Clients focus on eBilling, matter management and legal help solutions to support their business clients, managing their legal work and outside counsel in parallel (areas in green). By contrast, law firms invest in profitability systems and client intake/conflicts systems (perhaps systems to manage outside counsel guidelines) (areas in orange). Technology strategy decisions in this layer may present challenges. Law firms need to invest in systems that support their firm business model but separately need to invest time and processes in support of systems that the clients want the firm to use. In the age of digital disruption, this layer also offers law firm opportunities to change the dynamic.
7+8) Process Investments/Tech Investments/R&D: The two blue sky layers sit above the previously described layers, representing the areas where clients and law firms increasingly focus investments – process (e.g., legal budgeting and pricing, legal project management and design thinking) and technology (e.g, BPA, document automation, expert systems). This layer represents technology and process changes that law firm leaders need to scrutinize to plan a successful digital business and practice of law.
9) Developing Staffing & Talent Models: As law firms and clients continue to explore new legal service delivery models, technology is replacing certain aspects of traditional legal service (e.g., see blue layers — eDiscovery, digital contracting solutions, spend analysis, expert systems). Law firm IT and business leaders must develop an IT strategy that considers the firm’s overall staffing and talent models to drive this digital transformation. Put another way, law firm IT leaders need to shift from conversations regarding technology investments and ROI business cases towards conversations about the business of the firm, the alignment of legal service offerings that clients now demand, and the legal and non-legal talent that will support newly developing digital-based services.
As IT law firm leader, you are regularly challenged to reimagine the way you deliver services to your legal business. In parallel, you are enabling fee earners to re-imagine their client legal service delivery model. The foregoing framework can help you consider and meet these challenges. In the next part of this series, we will explore how law firm business leaders might apply the framework to assess current technology investments, plan for the future, and ensure those plans align with client demand and where the legal market is going.
Peter joined UnitedLex in 2017. He has held roles including director of legal operations at SolarCity, where he was responsible for developing and administering processes and systems that supported the legal department and its collaboration with employees, law firms, and external service providers. He also spent more than 10 years as chief knowledge officer at Orrick.
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