Most sectors have undergone digital transformation in some way, shape or form, but the legal sector has been notoriously slow to adapt.
On the AZK Media Target Market podcast, Greg Wildisen, founder and director of Panoram recently discussed why lawyers are slow to adopt digital transformation and the importance of law firms embracing the ‘new digital world.’
Greg, who has has an extensive background in legal and support services with degrees in both law and business, founded Panoram to help law firms and in-house legal teams develop their digital strategies and transformation roadmaps.
When we think of law firms, many of us still think of piles of paper and filing cabinets. Can you explain why it is so important for law firms to embrace paperless systems and undergo digital transformation?
COVID has accelerated the need to transform, whatever the rate of change was prior to COVID, it’s now fundamentally accelerated. Why? Because lawyers have found themselves working remotely or in hybrid models. They now need to change their work practices in order to continue to serve their clients.
Remote and hybrid ways working have fundamentally been driving the change – and the need to work in a digital way. There’s also been a global move to digital in the corporate world, and indeed, the consumer world, everything is becoming digital.
It’s forcing a change of business and it’s forcing lawyers to change their practices – legal professionals need to be able to serve their clients in the way that their clients want to be served, which is increasingly, via digital channels.
What are some challenges that lawyers and law firms are facing within the digital space?
There are many challenges. The first one is change management. You can’t wake up one day and say, ‘okay, on to digital tomorrow’, it doesn’t work like that. It needs tone from the top, it needs a strategy and it needs a roadmap.
Unfortunately, many law firms aren’t always good at that. They need to consider how they’re going to get all of the right elements into place and how they’re going to drive that change throughout their organisations. This is something that’s often quite new for law firms.
They have other challenges too, with the lawyers themselves, who, often when you talk to them about digital, they’ll say, ‘I’m too busy for that’. For lawyers, their number one focus is serving their clients and they bill by the hour in order to do that. That’s how they recognise their own value. If digital transformation isn’t their priority, if it isn’t anyone’s actual job role within the firm, then often it just doesn’t get done.
Another challenge is finding the right place to start – and finding the right problem to solve. In our experience, lawyers want to start their digital journey by building applications that solve problems in the same way that they do. But digital transformation isn’t about creating a digital solution that just mimics the current way that they’re doing things. Many lawyers can find it difficult to work out where to start their journey.
A final challenge that resonates across almost all firms is the lawyers themselves see digital transformation as a threat to their practice. Digital solutions that solve business as usual problems for their clients, means potentially less work for them and for the lawyers in the future. It’s hard to get the lawyer focused on creating a digital solution that potentially threatens their very earning capability.
When you mean that they feel threatened by digital transformation, do you mean there might be a bot that could give me legal advice?
Lawyers are very good at answering bespoke difficult questions that are all about answering a legal problem that is about your particular set of circumstances. That’s what they’re really good at. Now with technology looking to solve some of those, or answer those questions using technology they see that threatening.
It’s actually both an interesting challenge for them, but, but also a problem for them. When we see lawyers trying to use technology to build these kinds of applications, we see a very difficult journey for them.
We definitely see a scenario where lawyers, when they do digital transformation properly, will get to a situation where they solve their clients business as usual problems and the legal advice that the lawyers provide is actually wrapped up in that solution already. To some extent you’re right, the lawyers are no longer needed to provide that advice.
However, there are still always even in those kinds of solutions. They’re always very bespoke pieces of experience that only lawyers can answer. Technology never could answer those questions.
What common issues do you find when law firms and legal teams want to digitise their workspace?
The first one is they often start without having a strategy, they don’t have a plan. Not surprisingly, when things get to be difficult, or things go a little bit awry, then they don’t have a way to resolve those challenges. The key is to spend some time upfront, get a good strategy in place, and save yourself a lot of headaches on the way through.
Another common issue is lack of capability, this is a tough one for lawyers. They often don’t have the skills in house to really understand what needs to be done, and also how to execute. That’s fine, most departments in a business are good at bringing in specific skills to solve particular problems, IT does it all the time, finance, tax etc.
But lawyers really aren’t good at admitting that they can’t do something. They need to learn how to augment their skills and get the right help.
They also need a ‘champion for change’, someone from the top, that’s committed to success, and committed to seeing the transformation journey through. Without that, it’s very, very difficult for a law firm to go on that journey.
Another common challenge is expecting instant results, It’s important to understand what are the metrics? What are the KPIs? What are the soft and hard benefits? It’s important to celebrate the fact that you’re actually getting there, you’re on the journey and you’re winning your way through.
What tips would you give law firms and those in the legal profession who want to undergo digital transformation?
First of all, get the right strategy for your firm. Secondly, make sure you have the right tech to enable it. Finally, have the right people to deliver it.
If you get those three things right, you’re well on the way.
What digital trends do you think will emerge within the legal space?
Automation is going to be key, and we also see the increased concentration in storing and using curated data. That’s been a big problem for law firms, and legal in general for a long time. While other industries are able to use AI to really benefit them, it hasn’t really found a foothold in legal as yet.
We’ll also see increased adoption of cloud and an increase in the spending on digitisation in the in-house legal departments of corporations. In fact, it’s actually that the corporations more broadly are digitising and therefore dragging the legal department along, sometimes kicking and screaming, along that journey.
The other thing we’ll see is law firms looking to build ‘legal checkouts’ to sell solutions to legal departments. We’ve seen that already in Clifford Chances Applied Solutions and Siemens Wavelength Acquisition history. We’ve seen those building over time, and they will continue with that momentum.
What should digital software providers stop doing? And what should they start doing?
In the legal space, the first thing is to stop solving problems an inch wide and a mile deep. A lot of software providers are looking to solve very bespoke unique legal use cases. It’s very difficult to do that and make that commercially viable. We need to be looking at solving whole business problems, where usage is high, not just the legal issue within it.
For law firms, start building software that makes lawyers’ lives easier, and also the lives of their clients easier. Focus on those elements – and that’s a great start.
For in house lawyers, start building software that allows them to demonstrate the value that they add to their corporation – that’s absolutely essential. In house legal teams create incredible value for their corporations, and yet often they’re just off in the background doing their work, and not really being well represented at the board level. There is a real opportunity for technology and digitisation to help in house legal teams demonstrate their value to the board.
Finally, start building software that’s easy to use. All software should be as easy to use as iPhone apps, if they’re not, you’ve gone on the wrong journey somewhere. If you get all these basics right, then everyone in the legal community is really going to enjoy their digital transformation journey.