The legal sector doesn’t exactly have a reputation for embracing technology with open arms. It’s an old profession and one that’s incredibly complex. Change of any kind can be viewed as too risky, too daunting, or too expensive — and such concerns are understandable. But in a world in which our reliance on software is growing exponentially, the need for digital transformation can’t be understated.
A profession steeped in tradition
The legal profession is steeped in tradition; its values and ethics are of paramount importance — and rightfully so. Its caution in entering the digital space is well-founded. But, if law firms are going to thrive, this commitment to the profession’s core traditions must be coupled with a drive to innovate.
It’s important to recognize that entire systems don’t need to be completely overhauled in one fell swoop. As a law firm, you can start small with digital transformation — the main thing is to start.
In 2009, only 24% of the global population had internet access. Compare this with 2019, when 50.8% of us are connected (Euromonitor International). As the number of people connected to the internet continues to increase, so too will people’s expectations. This goes for both the business-to-business (B2B) space as it is of the business-to-consumer (B2C) space.
Clients of law firms, whether B2B or B2C, are becoming increasingly tech-savvy. They realize that technology can get the job done faster — and therefore at a lower cost — than the outdated processes many firms still cling to. This means they’ll simply shop around until they find a law firm that does employ digital processes and, as such, can price its services more competitively.
It’s a significant problem in many sectors. Professionals on the business-side of an organization find that they don’t have the tools they need to carry out their work with the desired efficiency or to the necessary standard. And because advocating for new software solutions isn’t exactly easy, many business-side professionals simply decide to create their own solutions. The problem is, whenever this is done without IT’s explicit permission, it leads to shadow IT.
The problem with shadow IT in the legal sector:
According to Forbes, investments in legal technology businesses reached $1bn in 2018, an increase of 713% compared to 2017. How are leading law firms using software to drive innovation? What do these digital solutions look like?
1. A different approach
Some law firms have begun introducing new roles into their practices and changing the way they manage projects. We’ve seen the introduction of the product owner, a role commonly found in Agile Project Management. This is an approach popular in software companies, but new to the legal sector.
2. Personnel Training
More law firms are now opening up their doors to people that graduated from fields other than law: science, technology, engineering, and math. Other firms are now encouraging their professionals to undertake training in technology (and even coding!).
3. Innovation Hours
One of the barriers to digital innovation in the legal profession is that lawyers are targeted on billable hours. The key thing about innovation hours is that they count towards billable hours targets. This finally frees law professionals to work on new business solutions without the worry of not hitting their targets.
4. Artificial Intelligence
Robot lawyers are already being used to meet the consumer demand for quick and efficient solutions to their problems. But, there are many more uses for AI within the legal profession, with uses set to increase and this technology develops.
Management consultancy, Altman Weil, compiled a survey entitled Law Firms in Transition 2019. The survey found that 48% of firms surveyed are already using automation technology to replace their human resources departments. In fact, 22% said they were losing clients to firms that have utilized technology to reduce the number of lawyers and paralegals in their ranks.
Though comparatively late to the party, the legal profession is now acknowledging the value of data analytics. Data analytics tools are being used within the legal profession to help win cases, understand legal trends, provide visibility on the potential length — and therefore cost — of cases, and gain competitor insights (leading to the acquisition of new clients).
7. Cloud Computing
By reducing or removing their reliance on local servers, law firms can greatly reduce costs and increase reliability. It also means data can be accessed more readily and across multiple devices.
Of course, it’s crucial that privacy laws and regulations remain adhered to. Part of the reason for concerns surrounding security is the sensitivity of the data held by law firms — a completely valid concern. But there are many advantages of the cloud when it comes to security, including the reduced duplication of data and instantly deployed security updates across all applications.
These are just some of the ways in which forward-thinking law firms are future-proofing their businesses. But, as a law firm, how do you implement these kinds of tools? Where do you start?
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2020, one million programming positions in the US alone could go unfilled. Law firms are right to recognize this and to acknowledge that the solution must lie in expanding the skillsets of their professionals. This being said, law firms must arm themselves with specific, concrete strategies in order to succeed.
One such strategy is citizen development. The likelihood is that law firms already have people within their ranks who are fully capable of becoming successful citizen developers. They are those professionals, on the business side, who have a passion for creating innovative solutions and an interest in technology. They don’t, however, have formal or extensive training in programming. In the case of the legal profession, they may be fee-earners that see an opportunity to make their lives easier and their work better. Citizen development empowers fee-earners to grasp the opportunity.
Citizen development and the need for IT
It’s important to note that no-code platforms don’t remove the need for IT; quite the contrary. It’s essential that IT provides a secure environment in which no-code development can thrive. In other words, the business-side creates the application it envisions with the support of IT, mitigating the risk of shadow IT in the process.
The no-code platform is the tool of the citizen developer; it enables those with little to no programming experience to be involved in the development process. This is made possible through a drag-and-drop style user interface, in which users move pre-built blocks to create applications (under the governance of IT).
This isn’t to say that traditional coding languages can’t be used within no-code platforms; this is only the case for restrictive no-code platforms. Betty Blocks, on the other hand, has an escape hatch. This escape hatch enables experienced developers to fully customize blocks (with code), which can then be kept in the Block Store to be used again in future projects.
Earlier, we looked at the problems faced by law firms in terms of legacy systems. Fortunately, no-code platforms can provide the solution here, too. Betty Blocks, for example, can connect easily to legacy systems such as Salesforce, SAP, Oracle, Microsoft Dynamics, and more. You can build new applications on top of your existing legacy system and gradually expand from there. This way, you won’t have to go through the process of replacing your entire legacy system all at once.
As an example of how no-code and citizen development strategies can be used within the legal profession, we’ll look at a Betty Blocks client: an international law firm with more than 4000 lawyers and legal professionals at its disposal.
The law firm’s innovation manager was well aware of how no-code development could be used to streamline processes and solve some of the problems caused by the firm’s legacy system. Additionally, the law firm was receiving an increasing number of requests from its clients for innovative digital solutions.
The innovation manager had 4 key goals:
With these goals in mind, the innovation manager and his team went on to build 25 apps using Betty Blocks’ no-code platform — some internal and some client-facing. One such client-facing application was requested by a large financial institution that was starting a new funding program for affordable housing across Canada.
For each loan application that the financial client processed, around 20 documents had to be produced — a process that took around 30 hours to complete. With thousands of these requests being received, the last thing the client wanted was for information to be lost in lengthy email chains. As such, the client asked the law firm to develop an application to automate this process.
Within just 1 day, the innovation manager and his team had used Betty Blocks to create a prototype application. After having created the back-end, the team developed a front-end that would be user-friendly, with large buttons and lots of white space, making it “hard to get things wrong”. The parameters, of course, changed as the development process progressed. But, in just 2 weeks, the application was ready to show to the client. Here are some of the application’s capabilities:
The innovation manager reflects that he and his team now rarely have to say “no” to clients. Many of the requests the law firm receives from its clients are, in fact, relatively simple. Yet they previously took a huge amount of time to execute due to the development methods being used. Now, law firms like our client are able to say “yes” more often, leading a better satisfaction rate for their clients, and greater opportunities.
It’s generally agreed upon that the legal profession will follow the same path as many other sectors — finance, management consultancy, logistics, etc. — in that it will have no choice but to adopt the digital solutions we’ve talked about. If nothing else, the increasing consumer pressure is simply too great to ignore.
One of the main changes we believe the law profession will see is the introduction of new roles. Leading organizations are beginning to increase the number of technology professionals they have in their ranks. In the legal profession, this means that either lawyers will become cross-skilled in both law and technology, or new roles will be created for people that fill the gap between the lawyer and the IT professional or experienced developer. This is where it pays for law firms to be open to change and to embrace it early.
Of course, some questions still remain: how long it will take the legal profession to catch up with the likes of finance? How many law firms will fail to act and be forced to close their doors within the next few years? When will the tipping point occur? What new uses for software will law firms discover?
We believe all the evidence points to a tipping point that’s happening right now. Digital transformation doesn’t happen overnight; strategies must be put in place, seeds must be sewn. As the law firms already innovating with digital solutions continue to do so, the need for other firms to follow suit will become increasingly urgent. Don’t get left behind.