This year’s Journal IT special feature brings you some highlights from the Law & Technology Conference, covering the value of data; getting the most from your tech spend; Open Legal
Data: building blocks for success

The value of data in relation to both business efficiency and client satisfaction

Successful law firms are harnessing data, both for the profitable running of the business and to optimise the client’s experience.

These were among the key takeaway points from this year’s Law & Technology Conference, held by the Law Society of Scotland on 30 September. The online event, which hosted more than 300 attendees, featured a wide ranging mix of presentations and panel discussions including those highlighted in this feature.

“Seizing the data opportunity” was the title taken by Alexandra Lennox of Lawtech UK, who explained how data can allow better, more informed decisions. Structured data on new matters, for example, and the capacity required for each, can assist in forecasting business capacity demand and planning headcount. Data on court actions can enhance litigation strategy and assessment of risk in relation to different outcomes. Those who act for insurers can use data on elements of claims to help detect those that are potentially fraudulent.

But it doesn’t need a massive IT capability to get started, nor need it be complicated. “Think big, but start small,” Lennox advised. Asking people to fill in a form – with questions tailored for easy understanding – can allow you to collect data in a structured format. And once you have insights and learning points, share them. (For how far this might be done, see p 22.)

The client experience

How does this relate to the client experience? The theme was taken up by Lauren Watson of Legl. Starting from Thomson Reuters research findings in 2020 that clients favour customer service and a good working relationship with their legal service provider more than specialist knowledge, she maintained that clients increasingly favour firms that are willing to invest in building long term, trust based relationships and deepening their understanding of clients’ business operations.

Traditional benchmarks such as KPIs or PEP might be less reliable measures of success when firms need to provide insight into multidimensional future trends. Client feedback can be used to design strategies that will deliver exceptional results in future, providing data that can help you cultivate a client-centric mindset. Lack of data, on the other hand, leads to gaps in knowledge and missed opportunities.

The firms who find themselves in the strongest position now, Watson told us, are the ones who invested in client-centric technology before COVID-19, not those who are scrambling to adjust now. The latter can leverage the technology, but must be mindful of its underlying philosophy – collecting data and maintaining a long term, client-centric perspective is an absolute necessity when doing so.

It’s important to remember, she emphasised, that while technology can cut costs, its blind application has the capacity to alienate clients. Leading firms implement tech-enabled legal services in a way that improves the client experience. Streamlined and standardised digital onboarding, for instance, can quickly assess a client’s goals and direct them to an adviser who can achieve these. 

The truly client-oriented firm knows when to rely on technology and when to provide a personalised service, and “this can really leverage employees to do more high value work for clients”.

Firm-wide processes

Watson added that decentralised client management is very unlikely to feature in a well designed client experience. Successful firms are moving away from bespoke disconnected processes with limited communication between departments; and centralised client management also facilitates regulatory compliance. 

It isn’t just about onboarding, but every step in the client lifecycle. Digitising invoicing and online payments improves payment times and cash flow, and is the sort of “low-hanging fruit” that reduces admin while heightening client satisfaction. The firm that wants to maintain an edge can invest in client-centric designs for everything including the firm’s website. In-house IT departments can gather client data for analysis; but this can also be outsourced.

Concluding, Watson said the pace of adoption of technology in the legal sector was now “incredibly impressive”, and demonstrated firms’ ambitions to keep striving to improve.  

"What works best for clients?"

Case study on tech in a small firm

A case study on tech in a small firm was provided by recently established Glasgow immigration firm Meliora, in a breakout session led by Clio, billed “Meeting changing client needs”. Imogen Harris from the firm told us that they provide a lot of advice over the phone, or by WhatsApp – because their clients use it anyway and these methods work best for them (and their interpreters).

Technology helps Meliora stay competitive, as well as being more economical and environmentally friendly, and faster. The firm has no paper files, which “makes everyone more efficient”. Its processes prompt advisers of the next steps in a case; and in legal aid cases can generate reminders of these around the time approval should come through.

Investing wisely: heads together

A panel session at the conference on getting the most from your tech spend produced a range of insights on planning and implementing IT projects

How to get the most from your tech spend? That was the topic for a panel session chaired by Gregor Angus of Amiqus, and featuring Sarah Blair, director of IT at Thorntons; Kevin Todd, head of IT at Jones Whyte; and Craig Allan, senior legal counsel at NatWest’s Outsourcing, Technology & IP legal team.

But where is the profession now, after the great leap towards digital enforced by the pandemic? Blair recognised the progress but sounded a note of caution: videoconferencing and e-signatures are not digital transformation, she maintained – just the bottom layer of a pyramid at the summit of which is a different customer offering, with digital capability being used to create recurring revenue: “different services, subscription models, that type of thing”.

Allan believed that while working from home had broken the back of innovation, “What was tomorrow’s problem is now tomorrow’s table stakes.” Repeating the familiar mantra that people want more for less, he would look for solutions that allow us to offload work that doesn’t drive much value – for example, diligence review tools.

Todd also highlighted clients’ different value propositions on what they now expect from a law firm. They are seeing other traditional industries such as banking delivering more digital offerings, and the law needs to look at that as well. 

Getting buy-in

Involving the right people in your project is very important. As a supplier, Angus reported that his best experiences had been where firms set up a project team at the outset to decide what they needed and how it would work, and got buy-in from the people it would impact. Todd, who had seen projects fail due to people issues rather than the IT, highlighted the need to involve individuals at all levels – which would also “foster a better culture of change”, helping in the longer term as well.  

Blair added the need to set the right expectations, and not oversell. At the same time, people must realise that it isn’t about bringing in tech to do things the same way: there must be an expectation of a “change project”, or you are setting yourself up to fail. From an assessment of projects that had and hadn’t worked well, she had learned that “leadership is the number one factor, certainly in terms of success” – which means “the right voices telling the right stories”. And while you need to involve those who are keen on tech, a message from someone known as less enthusiastic, but who has been sold on the idea can be even more powerful. She further urged us to harness the “amazing mindsets” of the young coming into the profession, who may not know about office systems but are constantly using tech.

There was also agreement about the need to have a “healthy relationship with failure”, learning from it and not sweeping it under the carpet – something that may not come naturally to lawyers. “Getting something wrong isn’t failure if you use it to change tack and come to a solution that works,” Angus assured us.

Focus for the smaller firm

Among the audience questions was, what should smaller firms with limited resources focus on?

“Don’t just assume that because you are limited in resources or budget, it puts you at a disadvantage,” Blair advised. Smaller operations can be more nimble, having fewer layers of governance, so change can happen faster. You probably don’t need the big expensive solutions; “Find out what’s relevant to you – what are the things that are going to make an impact on you and your clients.” Talk to people and use the online resources that are there: “Just do a little research and you’ll find the stuff that will make an impact.”

Todd emphasised the need to be clear about the problem you are trying to fix and why you need to make the change, to get proper demonstrations once you have narrowed down your choice, and to address questions of development and maintenance of the software: will your provider take care of this, or do you need to upskill or hire staff yourself?

Allan’s tip was to work out your “areas of friction”. What would make the most change for the smallest outlay? You might not even need to spend money: he instanced a case where an audit of working practices revealed training needs in order to use existing packages efficiently.

A final message from the panel was the importance of collaboration in developing solutions. Regulators are keen to collaborate because it leads to better and safer working practices, and certainly the Society’s Lawtech Group is always keen to hear of new ideas.

To conclude with a point made by Allan near the start, you need an open mindset, and to know that things won’t be perfect at the outset: “That’s fine as long as you are learning and working towards something a bit better each time.” Day 1 success may be something that works and doesn’t crash the whole system; day 365 should be totally different and allow you to assess whether you are getting the desired return on investment – while still looking to see whether you can make further refinements. 

Open Legal – are you in?

LawtechUK seeks value for the legal sector from collaborative data sharing

A concept of Open Legal, similar to Open Banking? The idea may seem unlikely at first blush, but is a serious project and was promoted at the conference with an invitation to interested parties to join in.

It is one of the ambitions of LawtechUK, the Government-backed initiative to support the IT-based transformation of the UK legal sector. Director Jennifer Swallow, in the first keynote of the day, described data sharing as a “step change to data structuring, access, portability and use, towards shared sector goals”. 

Lawtech sees access to legal data as “one of the great opportunities for the legal community today”, and is partnering with the Open Data Institute to establish a set of recommendations and a pledge of commitments for the legal sector to act on, via a steering group to take the lead, and working groups to identify the practical challenges and opportunities.

Its Report 2021 explains: “Data helps organisations, clients and customers to make better decisions, improve efficiency and productivity, identify new revenue lines, reduce risk, and improve customer acquisition and market advantage... Realising this value will require changes to data collection and accessibility.”

Her colleague Alexandra Lennox later explained the project as intended to “improve the use of and access to legal data and build a strong, fair and sustainable legal marketplace”, benefitting both business and society.

What it does not mean, a question and answer session heard, is exposing client data to outside view. Rather, it has uses including as a facilitator in negotiations, for example if you can say “in 85% of cases, issue X raises Y”. It is data driven rather than relying on the formula “in my experience”.

Lawtech knows it has to overcome significant reservations surrounding the idea among legal firms, who in addition to concerns about confidentiality, may not see the value, or lack the expertise, or don’t want to “be the first”, or worry about the regulatory side.

But its report carries the key message: “Collective effort from organisations, government and regulators is needed to establish common approaches, governance and standards to enable responsible, secure and equitable access to data and unlock its benefits.” 

Share this article
Add To Favorites