Part 1: Don’t believe the Hype
It’s 2009, and I’m on the phone attempting to get hold of a developer who I’ve been told can help in my quest for a data feed that I’ve been desperately searching for. This is key to me setting up my approval workflow in our new and shiny Legal e-Billing system due to go-live in a panicked few weeks.
When I finally get hold of him and explain who I am, what I want, and why he really should drop everything else he’s doing to help this increasingly desperate-sounding Program Manager, he replied quizzically “We have a Legal Technology department?”. The conversation went on, with me explaining that ‘Yes’ there was a Legal Technology team, and ‘No’ we didn’t just fix the Lawyers printers when they break (OK we also did that sometimes… if they asked nicely). I explained we were actually putting in real technology with tangible business benefits which was very important for the bank and please could he just help me out with getting the data over to us!
Fast forward 10 years and surprisingly I find myself still having some of these same conversations, which is surprising given the present-day climate of requests for clarity on the value we bring to an organisation, quantifiable and qualified data requested at every turn.
The exciting thing is that 10 years on, our ability to meet these demands is helped by an explosion of innovative technology choices. Now more than ever there are solutions able to make efficient once arduous tasks that took up Lawyers time.
But as with all rapid expansions in innovation we can sometimes find a hype bubble starting to form, whilst the paranoia of being last to the table kicks in. It can seem that if you’re not using ‘AI’ you are not one of the cool kids… that everyone’s once impossibly manual tasks are being put swiftly to the sword by the latest contract analysis tool, and the next robo-lawyer is already eying up a corner office with views over the park.
So, what can we do about it? It can sometimes feel safer if we all just went back to living in Excel, and wouldn’t the world be simpler if everyone just got on with each other and just used SharePoint? Quite simply – No. This approach never works and those who tell you it does are selling you something (I assume Microsoft licensing). No one appreciates the appeal of quick and dirty approach to projects more than your author, however it can quickly get out of hand leading to the need for supplemental spreadsheets to support the original master. Tracking these becomes onerous (probably on another spreadsheet) and reconciliation and proving the fidelity of the data becomes a task in itself.
On the other hand, if you go out and buy Deep Thought 2.0, plug it in and expect immediate results you sometimes get even less value than before. In short, if your software choices don’t have real purpose behind them they will fail to deliver, and their value won’t be realised.
I would like to think there are a few simple things all departments should aim for no matter where they are on the journey, because having these fundamentals stands you in good stead for moving ahead:
- Draw the vision – Where do you want to be? What does ‘good’ look like to you?
- Have an integrated approach to solving the problem – that way there is no wrong answer to how you approach the problem
- Get the basics right – what fundamentally contributes to you being successful?
With these 3 things in your back pocket you are set up to make the right decisions, wherever you are on your current plan, because you can always go back to these principles to test new ideas whenever they occur. Ask yourself:
- Do they fit into the overall vision and if so where?
- Do they meet the test of adding value to the initiative you are currently working on (i.e. Fundamental matter data gathering Vs extracting the correct collateral threshold clause data from our trading agreement documentation)?
Then all software becomes a valid choice at the right time. You may be embarking on a Document Management project and have the ‘usual suspects’ of DM vendors lined up for the normal beauty parade. But if your goal is to keep the piles of documents you have stored in email folders, hard drives and SharePoint sites then possibly a document classification engine that can act like a Magic Sorting Hat for your content is your first step. Otherwise aren’t you just moving the problem? If you want to control costs then e-Billing is your next step, right? Unless in fact you are struggling at effectively managing scope definition with your law firms in the first place, and maybe concentrating on Project management and Outside Counsel Engagement platforms are really where you need to be looking first, with e-billing helping you with compliance of effective project and matter management?
So, what do we believe when it comes to the hype about Legal Tech currently out on the market? I would argue there is no such thing, we just have different options to solve our problems and meet our goals.