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Building On Your Legal Tech Journey

Neil Blum, National IT Manager, Barry.Nilsson
Neil Blum, National IT Manager, Barry.Nilsson

Neil Blum, National IT Manager, Barry.Nilsson

It’s no secret that historically, the legal industry has been slow to embrace technology. A variety of recent challenges, particularly client-driven pricing pressures, and generational change, is compelling many law firms to review their technology response. There is a multitude of technology solutions available to law firms. These solutions provide not only a means by which to create efficiency gains within their operations, but also the tools to better understand and manage client relationships.

It would seem however, that many law firms are yet to commence their technology journey. According to the latest BigHand Legal Support Staff Survey, released in June 2019 which surveyed 807 law firm staff across the UK, North America and APAC, although the majority (59%) of firms have made “significant changes” to their back-office support services in the past three years, 41% of firms have yet to start the journey. The report suggests there are law firms still supporting dated processes. Given the overwhelming business case to operate current technologies, why aren’t law firms commencing their tech journey?

The primary reason is many law firms don’t know where to start. We suggest for law firms looking to kick off their tech journey and enhance efficiencies, two great places to begin involve speech recognition and reducing paper.

Speech recognition comes in two formats: server-side and client-side.

Client-side speech recognition allows lawyers to record on a Dictaphone or smart device as normal. The recording is then converted into text automatically in real-time and is shown on the screen. As you make corrections, the software learns and adapts to your voice, to become, in most cases, over 90% accurate. For heavy dictators willing to spend the time perfecting the software’s accuracy, the efficiency gains can be substantial.

Server-side speech recognition technology allows recorded files to be instantly transcribed. The lawyer dictates in the usual way, and the job is sent to the server. Here the technology will convert the audio to text and email it back in seconds. The lawyer or a typist need only listen to the audio again and make corrections as required. The corrections then help the software learn and improve its accuracy.

For example, a10 minute dictation usually takes around 40 minutes to type, depending upon audio quality and the experience of the typist. A server-side speech recognition job will take approximately 10 minutes to ‘listen’ to the job and make all corrections. The result is a time saving of 75%.

There are many advantages for law firms to take a ‘paper-lite’ approach to their administrative function. The cost savings realized are often considerable through reducing paper, ink, printers, archiving, storage, and inefficient work practices related to printing, sorting and binding. Further, many staff and clients expect environmentally friendly law firms and reducing paper is a good way of becoming a ‘green-friendly’ firm.

Reducing paper is however a challenge particularly for those lawyers who think very fondly of their red pen.

The three main reasons why law firms struggle to adopt a paper-lite approach is:

1. Generational challenges including a historical familiarity to a paper-heavy practice;

2. An insufficient understanding of the technology available; and

3. A lack of clarity and direction to effectively manage the change.

To overcome these challenges, ensure that your program is realistic in terms of scope and timeframe. Start small, one practice team at a time.

From a change management perspective, someone must ‘lead’ the change. Converting a Partner or senior lawyer to ‘paper-lite’ early on in the process will increase the likelihood of a successful project. Less tech-savvy lawyers heavily entrenched in their paper-heavy practices will resist change. Work closely with them and give them responsibility for the project. This will assist in dealing with the resistance. Ensure there are some quick wins in your project timeline.

Finding the right technology is an integral part of a law firm’s journey to an efficient Paper-lite environment. An advanced PDF application, such as PDF Docs, will give you the ability to create, edit and review, as well as powerful bundling and binding capabilities. These functions assist those within the firm who rely less on paper when undertaking their ‘day to day’ administrative tasks

When weighing up the benefits of embarking on a paper-lite project, it should be noted that the courts are also embracing technology within their processes. Submissions can now be completed in electronic form, as well as creating and submitting court filings.

A Document Management System (DMS) is equally as important. The use of full text searching across all documents and automatic OCR’ing of your electronic data is essential. Automatic email tagging and filing are also a must-have, as well as a considered folder structure in which to save matter data, otherwise, you may waste time trying to find documents.

Finally, flexibility is important and the ability for technology. Allowing access to matter data from any location, on any device is powerful and supports flexible working and collaboration.

A law firm legal tech journey has many challenges, from choosing the right solution and vendor to align with your strategy, to managing change. Remember that the newest and shiniest piece of technology will be inefficient unless a successful implementation occurs.

Gaining an understanding of your firm’s demographic will also assist. Most law firms have Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Zall operating off the same technology platforms, but each generation has different levels of technology sophistication. Such a wide range of skills poses challenges. The generation gap is only likely to increase as Gen Alpha begins to emerge and who will be the most technical generation yet.

Paper-lite and speech recognition are both good examples of how operational efficiencies can be delivered with the right legal tech solutions. Coupled with an effective change strategy, you will be well on your way to building upon your firm’s successful legal tech journey.

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