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The 5 questions you should be asking about legal tech

Shaun Temby, Partner, Maddocks
Shaun Temby, Partner, Maddocks

Shaun Temby, Partner, Maddocks

Over the past 2 years, I have been the designated “innovation partner” at my law firm, Maddocks. Aside from, “what the heck is an innovation partner?”, the most frequently asked question that gets posed to me is, “What’s the next big thing in legal tech? ”. I suspect that the reason why I am asked this question varies from person to person and event to event. The most obvious reason is that people like new and shiny things. There is also an increasingly wide and diverse array of new tech aimed at (and being promoted to) the legal market. Given that, the sheer volume of choices is (for most law firms) overwhelming. Finally, most firms now appreciate that they need to be “doing something” to innovate (or at least be seen to be doing so) and new tech is an easy substitute for the hard grind of creating an innovation culture.

Bearing all of those factors in mind, let me suggest that any question centered around what is “the next big thing” in legal tech is misplaced, as any approach to legal tech-focussed on what is trendy is doomed to fail. Law firms would be better placed approaching the question of new legal tech from a completely different perspective: one that is focussed on need and capability. To this end, I wanted to propose a number of other questions for law firm leaders that they should be asking when determining whether to invest in new legal tech.

What is the problem you are trying to solve?

Too often, law firms buy solutions to problems they haven’t yet identified. Once the purchase is complete, they then start looking for possible uses and user. A far better approach would be to identify a problem within your organization and then use that as a starting point for the identification of possible legal tech solutions.

Do your clients (internal or external) agree that this is a problem?

Having identified a problem, it’s very important then to ask your clients (which could be your employees or your actual clients or both) whether they agree that your problem is really a problem. Or are there are problems that are a higher priority. It is critically important to put the user at the heart of any decision to buy new tech and that rings true at every stage of this process. It’s a quick road to failure to impose solutions on the end-user.

Do you already have tech that can address this problem?

I think most law firms would be surprised at the amount of tech they already have within their business. Some of it will be bundled with their operating system and simply not activated or just poorly understood. Other applications will be heavily used in small teams within the firm, unbeknown to most (including possibly the IT department). And then some of it may have been purchased with great fanfare some time ago and then be languishing on the shelf.

Does this problem (and any solution) have a home?

The process of identifying the problem, scanning the market for possible solutions, selecting tech for pilot testing, designing and completing the testing and then measuring the results is difficult. You need to have suitably skilled experts from a number of disciplines driving that project from start to finish: you need IT professionals, project managers, the finance team, a representative sample of “clients” and data analysts to name a few. And most importantly, you need a champion (in most commercial law firms an influential partner) to steer the project through all the various obstacles that will inevitably arise.

How will you know what success looks like?

Frequently, new legal tech is purchased by firms because an influential partner has seen it and wants it. Even in firms where there is some form of testing and validation process, the firm doesn’t identify any metrics for identifying which tech choice is the better one and whether it in facts solves the problem for which it was selected. Clearly designing parameters for ‘success’ before testing begins will maximize the firm’s prospects of making the right choice and then making it stick.

Conclusion

While it is tempting to succumb to the lure of buying new tech and using that for a press release or to disguise the fact that your firm doesn’t have a clear innovation strategy, I would counsel against it. The time of law firm leaders will be much better spent and their firm’s chances of success much greater, if they begin their legal tech journey asking themselves the above questions.

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