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Thomson Reuters

Embedding innovative legal tech in law firms

The introduction of innovative tech solutions into the legal market space is continuing to gather pace. Notorious for its deep-rooted reluctance to sweeping change, nearly all corners of the legal industry are now acknowledging or exploring the vast swathes of new legal tech transforming the market, while pockets of the legal sector have been embracing it for some time.

The rationale behind piloting and eventually licensing innovative technologies is abundantly clear. Ultimately it is to alleviate existing pain points through improved efficiencies, risk reduction and client care, as well as creating new ways to deliver value. However, despite the increasing perception that legal tech is growing in adoption, there is still some way to go in establishing an industry-wide cultural change to technology enabling new ways of working.

A big part of this shift can be attributed to how legal tech is implemented in the law firm. Investing in innovative tech is one thing, but effectively embedding it into everyday ways of working is another. It requires time and a change in mind-set and behaviour.

The roll out of any new legal tech must be viewed as a “change project”, according to Mike Polson, Partner, and Co-head of Ashurst ‘Advance’—the law firm’s integrated legal service efficiency platform.

Like many large law firms, Ashurst has ramped up its tech innovation agenda in recent years with the launch of its own internal legal tech hub to meet its “clients’ demand for innovative and more cost-effective delivery of legal services”. Ashurst Advance includes a legal analyst team, legal technology team and legal project management team, who provide resourcing, process and technology solutions.

“The embedding of any new legal technology inevitably involves asking lawyers to change the way they are working. As such, successful implementation and widespread adoption must be viewed as a change project and must start by making a clear and compelling case for change and the benefits which that will deliver, particularly at an individual level,” says Polson.

During the pilot phase, emphasising the benefits—both for clients and internally—of new legal tech in the firm can go some way in validating the rationale behind its introduction. If, for example, a seasoned corporate lawyer has been used to reviewing client contracts via one methodology for some time, the prospect of switching to a new machine learning powered tool could be met with some apprehension.

Such a change to working practices needs to be robustly supported and, according to Polson, “backed by a clear communications process and a commitment to ongoing training and support, again tailored to the needs of the different stakeholder groups and the role they will play with the new technology”, he says.

Jane Challoner, Head of Tech Innovation at law firm CMS, concurs, adding that given the sheer amount of legal tech launching onto the market it can be perplexing for clients and partners alike.

“Both groups want to see tech’s promise deliver results. Demonstrating practical applications, a holistic approach and laser like focus are vital if firms are going to successfully implement new technologies. That’s why we launched our CMS By Design group”, she says.

The firm’s tech hub, CMS By Design, leads the development of legal service delivery and technology within the organisation. The launch of internal innovation tech hubs has increasingly become a strategic priority for many law firms. They provide a space to trial or develop new technologies in a collaborative setting and, importantly, give lawyers direct access to legal tech, with scope to explore and be inspired about its application in legal practice—which can be vital for changing attitudes towards new legal tech.

Focus is crucial

With the plethora of new legal tech tools now available in the marketplace, choosing the right tech can be challenging. Equally, with increased pressures to be more cost efficient, and drive sharper efficiency, there is a risk of investing in tech for the sake of investing. Instead, however, when exploring and trialling new technologies, through to full implementation—the focus should be targeted at remedying an existing pain point or delivering enhanced client value.

Challoner says that it is important to “double down your efforts” on key technologies to get more value. “It’s very easy to be tempted by all the shiny new toys out there, but you get much more value if you double down your efforts on key technologies and really understand how to get the most from them”, says Challoner.

“Ultimately the technology itself is not a USP, it is having it in active use paired with the right experts. That takes insight and intellect from your smartest legal minds and your brightest tech and project management specialists”.

As law firms increasingly engage, build and license legal tech, it must be ensured that it is embedded with precision to not only gain widespread internal buy-in and adoption, but to achieve the optimum desired results for clients.

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