Practical steps to the tech starting line

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Many top-tier firms have team members dedicated to innovation.

But what about the practices that fall outside those boxes – the sole practitioners, or the small-to-medium legal practices with more than 10 years of rich history and culture; and a tried and tested ‘way that things have always been done’?

This article poses practical steps that will hopefully assist practitioners looking to move past the starting line.

Craft a simple, high-level technology plan and innovation strategy, and stick with it

Find the time to gather your practice’s leadership around a table, to work on (not in) the business.

Practices with more than one partner may have different views around the leadership table about what is essential to profitability, and what isn’t; but if you take the time to document something simple on paper, you may find your leadership is able to identify more upside (or red flags) than you could have conceived on your own.

Some basic questions you may ask your leadership around the table could include:

  • What are the technology gaps in your practice? What strategies is the legal industry adopting to increase revenue and lower expenses?
  • What knowledge, software and hardware is needed to fill those gaps? What changes are needed to your business model to remain competitively priced?
  • What is the expected upside? Are you able to prepare a detailed breakdown of the costs of implementation? What budget do you need to set aside for cash-flow ‘turbulence’?
  • What is a realistic timeframe for implementation, and a review of the plan?

With all the hype and horror that the legal profession is facing, there can be a great temptation to adopt new technology too quickly.

Adopt only what is relevant for your practice

Technology and innovation can be a significant investment. Build your plan and strategy around what engages with the needs of your client base, and creates capacity in your team.

It may be a bad investment to develop and maintain a website client portal or app, if clients prefer to engage with free software such as DropBox and OneDrive, or to meet face-to-face.

The better investment may be to purchase software whereby you can time-record on the go, access well-maintained electronic files remotely, or dictate voice-to-text notes on your mobile phone.

Think about whether adoption will occur within your team as well. For example, there may be no point investing in an expensive one-size-fits- all practice management system, which has extensive functionality that your team is unlikely to use regularly. Rather, your team may be more inclined to use a suite of inexpensive tools which improve real-time collaboration on documents,1 or manage and visualise (in real-time) your firm’s projects and tasks.

Bring all generations of your team alongside the leadership in the innovation journey. Seek the input of your team on what tools would (realistically) help them work harder and more efficiently for your clients. Especially empower those who will be able to speak positively of change when the complaints about the inconvenience of change comes (they inevitably will).

Break adoption down into bite-sized pieces

With all the hype and horror that the legal profession is facing, there can be a great temptation to adopt new technology too quickly.

This may alienate key senior staff who have built their personal practice through a certain style, or expose your practice to unanticipated risks.It may be possible to mitigate this risk with stage roll-outs. Perhaps test a new pricing model with only one practice area, in which many prospective clients have asked for more payment options.

Another strategy may be to adopt strategies through gradual reductions, as opposed to sudden change. A recent Proctor article2 proposed practical steps to go paper-lite, as opposed to paperless, which may be better received by your staff.

Take action and pick up the phone

A significant barrier to innovation can be the legal community’s risk-adverse nature. For example, there may be uncertainty around how the Legal Services Commissioner or our insurers may respond to moving away from time-recording.

The modern legal practice is also spoiled for choice when it comes to legal tech, and has limited funds to commit to new and sometimes costly technology (frequently, on long-term contracts).

Don’t leave your uncertainty and volume of choice as unanswered questions. Rather, pick up the phone to speak to some of your colleagues, or even write to the Queensland Law Society’s Innovation Committee to see whether there is any ethical guidance on your issues, or if they are able to introduce you to another practitioner with relevant experience in a product or strategy.

1 The current version of the Microsoft Word has support for real-time co-authoring. See time-co-authoring-7dd3040c-3f30-4fdd-bab0-8586492a1f1d
2 Magistrate Browne, Deane, Tyndall and Hart, ‘Can our office go paperless?’, Proctor, August 2019 p50–51.

James Tan is a director at Corney & Lind Lawyers.

This story was originally published in Proctor October 2019.

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