3 ways to accelerate innovation projects in law firms

Neota Logic
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Neota Logic

[authors: Hasan Choudhary & Shaz Aziz]

Innovation has been a hot topic in law for a few years now. We all know the story: “become more efficient”, “enhance service delivery”, “stay ahead of ALSPs”, “tech attracts new talent”, and a lot more. Despite this, the clamour often boils down to little more than vague declarations. How, exactly, should you approach innovation? Innovate where? Firms often don’t want to disclose their strategies, and legaltech hasn’t been around long enough for there to be a concrete idea in lawyers’ minds about how to approach digital transformation. Here, we will discuss a high-level approach to innovation: how to make more sense of it and how to push innovation projects forward faster.

Developing bespoke apps for clients

At Neota, one term we often see thrown around is enhancing ‘service delivery’. It’s worth unpacking this term. Enhancing service delivery to clients can come in many forms. Internal workflow innovation can mean lawyers providing answers to clients faster, or with more confidence, or based on more data. Another way to think about it is about giving your clients the tools to get answers on demand.

What we mean here is about providing applications to clients through which they can relate legal requirements to their specific circumstances and receive individualised advice for their situation. This is a less flashy side of legaltech which rarely gets talked about, but can be one of the most useful ways of approaching legal innovation. You can use a one-off fee or a subscription model to deliver answers to frequently asked questions on certain matters. Our law firm clients have built merger control advisors, or signing requirements tools, or contract risk analysers. By building the tools yourselves, you can integrate your clients’ needs into an app guiding them through requirements, saving time for your lawyers while still generating revenue.

Depending on what tool you use, you can potentially also stylise the app to fit your firm’s look and feel. This might sound like surface polish, but it allows you to integrate the one important thing you have which the ALSPs don’t (yet) – your credibility, reputation, and a sense of your relationship with your clients, all while delivering a bespoke tech package. An example here was our client Foley & Lardner, who developed an application to collect information and provide risk assessments to smaller businesses on Foreign Corrupt Practises Act (FCPA) compliance. A typically expensive and time-consuming compliance program to develop was simplified and offered on an annual subscription basis, with simple scaling of matters to Foley lawyers.

Internal workflows

Many legaltech products relate to enhancing internal workflows in a variety of ways. It’s useful to understand what the different products are, and where their value might lie for your firm.

The overall idea is simple: speed up and automate some work so that lawyers have more time to spend on work which requires more thought, expertise, and general ‘lawyering’. From more of a business perspective, automating some work – or parts of work – means that a firm can take on more matters and spend more time on strong pitching. The question is what tools you should invest in, and how you should automate your internal workflows.

Broadly speaking, this comes very much down to the work which a particular firm does. And the key thing here to remember is to not only look at the flashiest, most tech-y products on the market. While putting out press releases about a new AI software might get you into the legal news, it might not be the most useful innovation project for some firms. In some cases, a simple NDA automation system could be the most ROI-friendly project on the slate.

Also, innovation doesn’t have to be automation in the typical sense for it to be valuable. A data visualisation platform might enhance your practise with an eDiscovery platform for your disputes team, or a contract lifecycle management dashboard. The ultimate thing here is to take time, understand the work your firm does, establish an in-depth understanding of where the inefficiencies lie, and finding use cases from there. A multitude of legaltech consultants exist now – speak to them and work out what would be best for you.

Last but by no means least, a holistic approach to establishing use cases in your organisation is key. This means involving individuals and teams from across your business in the conversation when working out where innovation is needed and where it might be of most use. A classic pitfall, for example, is where law firm partners confer between themselves about what tech product would be of most use, and which they should invest in. Often, these solutions are left gathering digital dust after being touched a couple times and having a press release written about them. The reality is that many individuals across an organisation like a law firm are typically the ones carrying out the manual tasks which could often be automated. The potential value of digital transformation, then, can be lost in circumstances where a superficial assessment is carried out to establish what products an organisation actually needs. In the law firm example, involving juniors, trainees, and paralegals can be the most valuable way to assess your innovation needs. Much of their workflow can go somewhat unnoticed at a partner level, despite being an area where innovation would provide the greatest help.

Integration

Now for one of the most overlooked yet fundamental aspects of approaching innovation: making your tech stack work together. As use of cloud services and broader technology becomes increasingly unavoidable in law, ensuring that the systems you use work together is as – if not more – important as what an individual system is capable of. Let’s think of this by way of example. Imagine a commercial legal team dealing with large scale contracts who have an eDiscovery platform for document management, a workflow automation platform for reviewing and signings, a document automation platform for redlining, and a document filing system. If these systems don’t integrate, the number of times individuals have to manually export, import, re-analyse, and re-format files would ultimately render the digital solutions somewhat pointless. Old manual processes are replaced with new manual processes, and not much is achieved. Now imagine that software stack integrating in order to provide you with straightforward, seamless movement from one software to the next. With the click of a button you can upload the relevant documents from your eDiscovery platform into your review and signing system, into your document automation system, and finally into your document management system. Tags used in one system are recognised and visible across the solutions, and everything can be managed far more effectively and simply.

Sadly, this aspect is often considered when it is all too late. Think early about the grand plan – how does it all fit together? – and you can build a technology stack that truly delivers value to the business.

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