Embedding the Culture of Technology and Innovation in the Legal Industry

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By Abdul Hakim M. – Founder and CEO, CodEngines Software – Dubai, UAE

Legal technology has by far been the most trending and thought-provoking topic for quite some time now. In a solid attempt to empower law firms and allow lawyers to work more efficiently, the legal industry strives to adapt and consolidate technologies in the everyday work routine.

While experts still argue that the industry is yet to fully accept the benefits of technology, many believe that digital transformation and technology is making its way to revolutionize and re-shape the traditional way of law-practice. Fundamentally, it’s because most digital technologies provide possibilities for efficiency gains and customer intimacy. But if people lack the right mindset to change, it only displays that the current organizational practices are flawed.

Blamelessly, technology has proven its notable role in enabling lawyers as “Service Providers” through efficiency in an extremely cost-effective manner. After the role goals concrete, technology sophisticating expeditiously in providing law firms the shot to thrive and expand, which has been substantial in almost every department of a law firm including courtroom operations, archive management to service deliverance. This has in turn led to an upright democratization in the industry business, assuring a more competitive edge for lawyers to use their expertise for ease in delivering the information.

Additionally, another proven factor to have had a positive outcome for lawyers/law practicing organizations is innovation. Nowadays, law is rife with ‘innovation departments,’ ‘legal pioneers,’ and ‘visionaries.’ The current state of the legal industry stands between two major groups of law firms the one which believe and tend in contrasting manner of performing legal services and the tech innovators and the staid traditional law firm.

Law Innovation Between Fiction and Paramount

To put it in simpler terms, innovation can be defined as an improvement by applying ideas to satisfy the needs and expectations of customers. Lawyers’ consensus their critical concerns on one question: How can I improve client’s accessing with efficiency legal advice deliverance? How can we deliver legal advice more efficiently?

This may be a bit contradicting to what lawyers have been taught in working by themselves that rends to take a decentralized approach but legal industry business has now begun to work things differently, in a more innovative manner to execute cleverly. Based on interactions with clients’ satisfactions surveys, a more unified process would be better to receive. Whether traditional law firms accept it or not, the legal industry around us is changing rapidly and more positively, generating new ideas and trends to meet their client goals.

Innovation isn’t a mere trend, but in fact is one of the most imperative functional areas in law firms today. In order to vantage legal service deliverance to their clients and increase competitive advantages, law firms are now incorporating innovation strategies through the use of digital technologies such as AI, data analytics, automation and more.

Based on experts’ statistics and law firm leaders, some prominent law firms are already creating their own innovation departments that serve new strategies and implement various solutions throughout the firm. But the question here remains- When should the law firms’ transition stage take place?

According to a recent survey conducted of corporate counsel by Thompson Hines in March of 2018, only 4% of in-house counsel reported seeing a lot of innovation from their law firms. Only 29% of these in-house counsels said their firms had made any significant changes to help alleviate pressures they faced. 70% of the counsel could not cite a single example of an innovative change made by their firms.

Instead, the majority of firms continue to be focused on short-term profitability, and are thus rewarding partners on that basis rather than taking steps to create more efficient internal firm processes:

“Most firms (62 percent) that have moved toward rewarding efficiency and profitability (not just absolute revenue) in partner compensation decisions have seen consequent improvements in performance. However, few firms have made serious attempts to systematically reengineer work processes (22 percent) or implement formal knowledge management programs (28 percent).”

This proves to be both problematic and unsurprising. Problematic because with the wave of technological and innovative change driving across other industries, the legal sector is lagged behind in seizing an opportunity that will only help in the better outcome of legal services. Unsurprising because law firms have become so comfortable working in the same traditional manner since decades that they are hesitant to welcome any sort of change.

Factors Taking Legal Innovation Downhill

While innovation keens to bring positive changes and is slowly morphing into something different, there may be factors that are ceasing law firms to adapt it. One of the main reasons why law firms aren’t willing to innovate is risk assessment.

Since the commencement of law and in the entire history of legal industry, lawyers are taught to minimize the risk in any given case or matter. The archetypal solicitors have been practicing to take the least in risk approaches and rules.

On the other hand, it’s rightly said that “Necessity is the mother of invention,” which means innovation is all about taking risks and breaking the rules. However, when you abide by rules, you may predict certain results. Lawyers, thus, need to explore a side and maintain a certain mind-set that would allow them to experiment and tolerate failure as part of the process just as the saying goes, “Without taking risks, original ideas wouldn’t be possible”.

Lawyers need to be bold, willing to achieve thoughts in a new manner by taking risks. Such particular characteristics tend to lead to innovation. In an innovative legal world, lawyers need to think and work miscellaneously. While risks may lead to failure, lawyers must implement strategies where they can quantify the risks in a way that is useful in order to serve their clients insightfully.

One pro-tip for lawyers beginning to adapt innovation strategy is trying out newer methods. This involves unlocking the ideas, which may seem audacious or adventurous as it is and a little outside of their comfort zone. But they also need to keep in mind that the more lawyers flourish fresh ideas and creativity, the more optimal rewards they will achieve.  

Leadership- a strong foundation for innovation

For innovation, leadership is key. The innovative enterprise and the innovative industry have creativity in leadership. Large legal enterprises do not act typically democratic or can be categorized as a premise where people aren’t really motivated to try new things.

Research shows that fresh lawyers looking to innovate are enthusiastically joining small firms where they can find like-minded colleagues rather than bigger enterprises that lead to dangerous and potentially misleading signposts, thus proving the point that if the management doesn’t trust innovation culture and enhance diversity, new lawyers tend shall disdain the enterprise trust.

Innovation isn’t about using future technology; it’s about realizing where we truly stand as we have to add the component of art in which to make a wise choice for the future of technology and bringing in new ways and ideas that would drive innovation into the system.

Instead of using the traditional chronology methods to find and approve the ideas, meanwhile that approval process could be spread across the whole organization.

What law firms must understand is that through the correct use of current technology today, we are actually preparing and building ourselves for the technology in the near future by facing extreme challenge as we must meet the growing demand, and begin the process of converting to more efficient, secure in ethical methods.

Consider it as a stairway, we cannot miss a staircase and jump into the future and get involved in the future technology without truly having knowledge about the current one.

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Using the Right Tool- why automation is the right answer

What has been achieved so far is irrevocable, but we can still predict where it goes in the future. Another imperative factor would be the use of right tools and systems. If lawyers make use of a proper, dedicated and suitable system, there’s always room to improve and prosper. But what if they’ve been using a wrong system throughout their career? Wrong tools will offer limitations and stop lawyers from moving forward in their career.

The importance of a correct and updated Practice Management System for lawyers can do wonders in driving in innovation, automation being the key. Through automation, data will be digitalized that will help law firms progress to the next level technology.

Automation, however, shouldn’t be worrying for lawyers in today’s world. They need to think about how to provide better legal services to their clients rather than being pressurized about future technology and its impact on human efforts. Automation will enhance the capabilities of lawyers to execute their expertise better, giving a strong competitive edge in the market, where law firms would compete and strive to provide more and better legal services to cater their clients’ needs.

Conclusion

Innovation is a two-way street. Law firms must realize the importance of leadership in creativity, motivating employees to participate in strategies to explore new ways of delivering their services that will lead to innovation. On the other hand, lawyers should dedicate the best of their expertise and creativity to contribute to the innovation strategy of their law firm. There should be constant attempts by lawyers to incorporate innovation to improve the legal function, along with aiming for a larger goal, and being able to see the bigger picture and act as a “problem finder.”

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