Law firms resist change – the only aspect that drives technology change in law firms is the external pressure from their clients, general counsel or legislation. Also, if they get burnt by something that technology could have prevented – like viruses, hacks, email snooping or server crashes.
It seems absolutely crazy that law firms would resist innovation that would see their firms providing more efficient services to their clients, so why do law firms fight the changes that would help them down the line?
In my many years of providing legal technology solutions to law firms in South Africa, here are the reasons I noticed…
Salary Cost Seems Unimportant
Salary does not seem to register in their ROI calculations, they happily employ another secretary, but don’t think about making the process and/or tools more efficient for the existing staff.
Attorneys don’t care how difficult or how long it takes the secretary/paralegal to complete the task, as long as it gets done. Look at how long document assembly has been around, and still, the law firms fight against using it.
Training Is A Cost, Not An Investment
Why do lawyers kick against getting their staff to know the tools they use in the office – would that not improve efficiencies in the office – cut costs?
Maybe they look at the short-term loss of productivity – “if I send you for training who will cover for you for the 2 days you are away from the office?”
Maybe they think that if they upskill their staff, they will walk out the door when the first job offer comes along.
ROI Expected Immediately
Unless they can see a saving or income in the month of adoption, they don’t see it!
No Appreciation For Other Service Industries
Hourly rate – a network/software engineer, who is qualified and extremely capable of sorting out the technology issues will charge R1000 an hour. The attorney charges at least R2500 for their knowledge of the law – however, the attorney sees the technicians’ bill as a real grudge purchase.
However, be that as it may, …law firms should embrace the “less expensive” technicians/developers and get them to create extra revenue streams using the attorneys’ knowledge and the developers’ coding knowledge.
Attorney Business Is Unique
Attorneys have always seen and promoted their business as unique, explaining that they are outside the norm of business. There are many aspects of a law firm business that make it a very different business, but the fundamental aspects of business – especially business services – are very much the same and very relevant.
Return on investment, clients service, marketing, cash flow etc are all the same; it is time for law firms to monitor other business service industries and start adopting smart business practices.
Get Your Own Toys
Attorneys live in fear of their value will decrease if they share their knowledge and processes with other people in the law firm. This creates vertical business silos who try to co-exist, but who fight to stay segmented, ready to gather the files, staff and systems and move to greener pastures. Very seldom do you see open sharing in law firms.
Competition Pool Is Growing
Technology firms have supported and developed system to support the attorneys for years, selling the begrudged solutions to them. After years of fighting to supply the attorneys with solutions that make more money, this industry has decided to grab the opportunity and go directly to the public with system driven solutions, which are a fraction of the price and often way more efficient.
So, technology solution providers are coming to take away the attorney’s business – mostly the repetitive processes that can be easily automated.
The solution for attorneys is to lift their heads, remove themselves from being in the business and analyse their business processes, their client needs, their expertise and then create client-facing technology solutions that will bring additional click revenue and pull additional clients who find they need more bespoke legal solutions.
The time to watch and see what happens has long passed, either you do a better job of delivering solutions to your clients, or somebody else will.
When looking at innovation, approach the new project like the best adoption of paper-less projects in law firms. Paper-less was best adopted by starting with manageable adoption projects, first by scanning all incoming paper correspondence into an electronic form and then growing the concept into the firm from there. Tackle innovation in small pilot projects which allow the firm to realise small wins and then mould the projects using the information gathered from the small projects to ensure a better success rate with the project as a whole.
As all the innovation is going to be used to improve your customer experience and numbers, it seems ludicrous not to seek the input and advice from the people you want to spend more money with the firm – no project should commence without extensive analysis and consultation with your customers.
Before scrambling to innovate, make sure your first step is to plot the firms’ goal for the next 5 to 10 years so that your innovation does not end up pulling divisions into such diverse directions that it rips the firm apart.
Many assumptions are made above, and I doubt all apply to your law firm, but take the time-out to see if you fight the urgent drive to innovate using any of the above – then take a different look at innovation and see it as an investment.
The time is now, whether you like it or not.
About the Author: Malcolm Pearson – Editor Tech4Law
Tech4Law is a weekly online publication that looks at how technology can best improve the business for law firms in Southern Africa, visit us at www.tech4law.co.za, your golden nugget to innovation could be in our content.