By Peter Krakaur Vice President, Legal Business Solutions, UnitedLex
This 3-part series offers a framework for law firm leaders to discuss and plan a sustainable IT strategy that enables internal and external digital clients of today and tomorrow. The first part of the series introduced the framework, presenting different technology layers for leaders to plan new and integrated talent, process and technology strategies. In this second installment, we consider how law firm leaders can use the framework to invest intentionally in emerging systems focused on analyzing legal content and enabling legal service delivery.
The Framework (revisited)
Law firms do not operate in a vacuum, nor should the development and management a cogent legal service delivery technology strategy. Although leaders are managing a legal business, they are also charged with insuring that business delivers value to the firm’s clients. It is therefore imperative that law firm leaders plan their value-enabling IT strategy with a view towards the way in-house legal teams leverage technology. Accordingly, the framework is designed with a structured technology landscape relevant to law firms and to their law department business clients. That said, given differing business models and legal service demands, the framework makes it clear that law firm and in-house technology designs align and diverge.
For example, both law firms and their in-house law department colleagues rely on “enterprise” technology layers that include core business enablement “platforms” (e.g., cloud, data and security models) and “applications” (e.g., office suites, HRIS, finance systems). Similarly, the enterprise delivery layer (including technology processes and policies) governs and defines how these foundational layers are managed by IT leaders in support of the business and practice of law. Unsurprisingly, law firms and their clients diverge in the way those technologies and processes are architected. Thus, law firm financial management systems (e.g., Elite, Aderant) offer little value to corporate law departments looking to manage finances. Similarly, within the framework’s legal-specific layer, law department lawyers look towards e-Billing and legal help platforms and processes in support of their internal business partners, while law firm lawyers rely upon profitability and conflict systems and processes to manage their legal practice.
The framework’s top blue layers suggest opportunities to converge law department and law firm approaches. Leaders should focus on these layers and ask (preferably answer) questions. What is the right mix of process and technology investments that will support innovative client services and enable the continued growth of the firm? More concretely, what legal project management and pricing approaches, workflow solutions, or document analysis or automation platforms will drive financial performance while delivering greater value to the client?
Our emerging legal technology landscape is robust, arguably developing at the speed of Moore’s Law as vendors claim novel Augmented Intelligence solutions to enable legal practice change (one might track developments at Legal IT Insider or explore “AI” vendors specifically at the Artificial Lawyer.) The reactive inclination is to seek technology to “automate” or “analyze” documents or “automate” processes. By way of example, in a recent legal industry online forum, a legal professional asked for recommendations for a contracting AI platform. Responses flooded back (e.g., Akorda, Kira, Seal, LawGeex) but few responses focused on the most pressing issue: do to what? Technology does not live in a vacuum. Successful technology strategies are built to enable clearly articulated policies and processes.
The Process Investments layer includes three core concepts that increasingly and appropriately serve as foundations for law department and law firm technology investments:
• Digitization: breaking down and re-building legal service delivery with technology through the capture of and ongoing reliance on aligned data. (see also I Am A Luddite (and Why You Should be One Too)
• Legal Project management (LPM): defining the parameters of a matter and delivering services to a defined budget and on time through “project management” principles.
• Design Thinking: an iterative process to understand, refine and deliver products, services and solutions from the client (user) perspective.
A full discussion of each concept is beyond the scope of this article. The essence of each is to (re)determine the nature and scope of client-centered legal services, actively managing and refining the delivery of that work. In the context of a legal technology strategy, this means understanding what you are going to augment. Are you focused on the business or practice of law (both)? With this context, how you are going to replace or enhance particular legal service services with technology, iteratively gaining insights with data. Only with this context can one recommend the “right” [“AI”/ contacts analytics/technology] platform.
In the third and final part of this series, we will explore how law firm business leaders can use the framework in an agile fashion to drive and support future legal practices and business models. As a preview, it will be critical for digitizing business to disrupt staffing and talent models, understanding that existing technology investments in all framework layers will also need to change.
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