The legal industry already understands the power of technology as it is taking over the world. Even the larger, more traditional firms are making meaningful steps towards the implementation of technology. That said, not all of these projects go well.
How does the implementation of new legal technologies look like in practice? How should you approach the decision on whether to buy or build a technology solution for your firm?
One thing all Knowledge Management specialists, Digital Officers or Partners deciding to implement a new technology or related strategy in the law firm need to consider is effective and intelligent planning. It’s partly about technology, but first and foremost it’s about people.
Assess your capabilities. Before actual implementation of any tech solution start with the internal assessment of resources available for its launch and maintenance. Often a lack of technical competence and capability can kill potentially valuable initiatives too early. You see the value, but do your colleagues? What would they need to change and do, and how would your firm change when full implementation is achieved? Write it down, think it out, clearly.
Most importantly, define ownership and the person(s) responsible for the actual process of tech implementation into your firm. While it is a team effort across the board, ideally two but at least one person needs to be the champion and ‘go to’ person for such initiatives.
Accept that there will be some ‘failed experiments’ when innovating. Make sure you’re getting value out of even the ‘failures’ — whether that’s understanding what works and doesn’t work for your firm and a particular group of people, or whether certain technologies aren’t able to yet deliver the value you’re looking to achieve by their implementation.
Think in advance what successful outcomes from such an initiative would look like. Having clear success criteria at the start will help you soberly review whether you’ve proved the value of such solutions in the firm and help better refine your innovation strategy.
We’ve seen firms spend a lot of time, money and energy because they don’t have this internal decision processes and clarity on objectives agreed on the management level, without strong leadership support for those who own such initiatives in the practice. If you haven’t addressed the above, do that first. Impossible to emphasize this enough. The next steps are only worth executing once you’ve meaningfully addressed the above.
Getting started — building an internal innovation process
You shouldn’t start by implementing technology, but first mapping out or gaining an intimate understanding of the work actually done by the firm, its structure and goals. Based on that you’d be able to decide what areas are worth addressing, or whether and how a potential initiative based on technology or other system implementation will add value or not. Your next step is building a project framework and systems of measurement or feedback. Having the whole practice onboard, getting the buy-in for how many initiatives can and will be supported by the practice, at what pace, when, and why. This comes first before moving to the actual implementation of any technology into the law firm.
Now you’re at the stage to decide if it’s more reasonable to build your own internal solution, leverage external vendors, or a hybrid of both. Important here is to focus on your value add. Once you have clarity on the core services of your law firm, its identity and business goals making the build versus buy decision is easier because you understand what is pertinent to supporting your specific business model and needs. Technology is never a one-off investment, it’s an ongoing, edge-building, continuous exercise to ensure you get the value from it.
Build it versus buy it? What you should consider.
With building, you own the solution and can control how you differentiate to competitors. It is fully customized and tailored to the specifics of your business processes. However, if computer science and software product development is non-core to your business, it is highly likely you’d need to outsource this to an external development team. This creates additional complexity and potential misalignment in objectives. For example, the external company may have priorities to deal with a larger customer versus your needs, extending delivery timelines, or simply not have sufficient hands-on understanding of your specific business to deliver a meaningful solution. They may deliver what you ask for, but not what you actually need. They don’t know what they don’t know, and neither do you. This is why to make this work at all, you still need to manage the external process from a Project Leadership perspective and this has to be led by someone with a deep understanding of both worlds.
Hiring an in-house software team is an even more challenging option. Top talent in software and the culture they expect or may be used to is very different from most law firm’s culture. Attracting talent is extremely competitive in this space as top tech specialists prefer to work for tech companies and if treated as a cost centre, they’d be less likely to stay. High turnover reduces quality, increases the likelihood of failure and adds cost. Technologies change fast, and require regular updates and adaptation to ensure your solution is current — it’s not as simple as ‘build once and you’re done’.
Buying a solution from an external vendor reduces cost and time to getting started with a solution. With solutions such as Contract Express or HotDocs you get an advanced contract automation tool that covers extensive details (for example, re-calculation of equity ownership percentages when entering a new shareholder in a table and typing the number of new shares being issued to them). However, these more feature-full automation tools can be more complicated to implemate. In the case where changes to such documents are needed, for example, because of new regulations or compliance requirements, or simply a request from a client, you may require a Dedicated Specialist to manage the solution and ‘code’ the changes to your document template. We all know with contracts how many changes can happen before a final version is executed.
To hire a Legal Technology Specialist who would be ‘coding’ these changes using the complex tools mentioned, the average salary you’d expect to pay according to Glassdoor is $59,015 per year. Senior level people would cost more. Your ‘Total Cost of Ownership’ of your technology solution is more than just the fees you pay the vendor, but also the overhead time and effort needed for recruiting a professional Legal Technology Specialist and his/her onboarding — in addition to their salary and benefits. Always consider your total cost of ownership when implementing such a solution.
The best option: buying a Legal Tech solution from a vendor that puts your lawyers in control of its use and management, with less requirements for a dedicated specialist. The point of buying from a vendor is they manage the complexity, so you can focus on your business. Yes, you may require integration for business-specific needs, but most modern vendors support this.
In fact, Avokaado’s clients also include other Software (SaaS) companies who chose to buy-in our legal technology solution for contract automation instead of building it on their own — and they are technology companies with their own developers! Why would they do this? Because they understand the value of focusing on their core business and leveraging specialist solutions for their value add. When you start building even the simplest of products, a whole world of complexity opens up that you can’t always envisage and plan for upfront. While 99% of the time no solution would do everything for everyone, it is possible to find a solution that adds meaningful value to your firm. Figure out the context where it would be used, leverage your feedback process, and give it time to see how successful you are at realizing the value.
In short, to get the most value from Legal Technology Innovation initiatives:
- Set clear objectives on the management level. Especially important for management to have a budget and decision-making framework support within which those who are leading such initiatives have the autonomy to deliver value to the firm.
- Build an internal innovation process. Those leading such initiatives, once having a mandate from management should work across the firm internally to ensure they understand bottom-up where the biggest impact and value can be created.
- Start innovating. Decide based on either internal needs or externally sourced knowledge whether from other firms, thought leaders and most importantly from the clients you’re serving how best to implement solutions to increase your value-add.
Law firms come to Avokaado when looking to enable high-quality contract delivery to clients. We provide code-free tools that allow your lawyers be lawyers without needing advanced technical skills to leverage the power of automation with AI. For those with advanced technical needs, our open API is also available that can extend integrations with internal systems you already use, whether that is task management or document secure storage. We understand the need for systems to be intuitive, easy to implement and therefore have designed Avokaado accordingly. We also help you and your team hands-on when onboarding to ensure you achieve success without needing a dedicated specialist.