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How To Choose What Legal Tech To Use At Your Firm

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There’s a big gap between how lawyers deliver legal services and what clients want and need from their lawyers.

I learned this in 2007 which was the year I became a lawyer, as well as being the year I first joined Facebook. Joining Facebook changed my life (sounds ridic, but it’s true). It sparked my interest in legal innovation and legal tech. While using Facebook I discovered a serious issue in the legal industry that I am now fiercely committed to solving.

Here’s the story.

Not long after joining Facebook, I joined a Facebook group for Kiwi small business owners. The purpose of it was for business owners to support each other by sharing business tips, advice and experiences.

I was surprised to see business owners posting legal questions in the group. And even more surprised to see who was answering these legal questions – the other business owners. I had heart palpitations when I read the answers given which were often wrong.

I began asking the group members posting legal questions why they weren’t asking their lawyers these questions.

This created an eye-opening discussion. The answers I got include:

  • My lawyer doesn’t do email so it’s hard to communicate with him
  • I don’t want to end up with a $1,000 plus bill for asking a quick question
  • My lawyer is too busy – I can never get hold of her
  • I tried calling my lawyer to ask this question….2 weeks ago. He hasn’t called me back.
  • Dealing with my lawyer is hard work – he always wants me to go to his office for a meeting but I don’t have time.
  • My lawyer did give me some advice on this issue but I didn’t understand what the heck he was saying
  • I’ve emailed my lawyer twice with this question but she hasn’t replied to me.
  • I don’t have a lawyer for my business. And I don’t want one. 

I asked these people whether they were worried about getting wrong advice. They told me they knew the risks, and in the circumstances were happy to rely on answers from people with no legal training. 

As a brand new lawyer full of hopes and dreams (lol), I was appalled that these business owners would rather get answers to their legal questions from randoms on Facebook with no legal training (and knowing there is a reasonably high chance that the answer they’re receiving is wrong), rather than get legal advice from their lawyer. 

<Dramatic pause> 

I am still a member of a number of business groups on Facebook, and can see that 11 years later this situation has not improved. It’s actually getting worse. 

So this was the starting point of working towards my life’s purpose, which is to make quality legal help available to everyone, everywhere. 

Why am I telling you this story? 

This is your wake up call. 

We keep hearing about how AI bots are going to take lawyers’ jobs. But if people would rather get “legal advice” from a random person on Facebook who isn’t a lawyer, then I would argue that having your job taken by an AI at this point in time is reasonably far down the list of things to worry about. 

There is a big gap between what the legal profession is offering, and what clients want and need. This presents a huge opportunity as lawyers can use technology, which is now readily available and affordable, as one of the tools to bridge that gap. 

Unfortunately many lawyers are blowing this opportunity. 

Here are the main issues with law firms using technology: 

  • Firms have no strategy or plan when it comes to choosing legal technology – a real scattergun approach is being taken.
  • Law firm leaders are looking at legal technology with the wrong mindset – they look at legal tech as a tool to benefit the firm and create efficiencies for their lawyers, rather than as a tool to benefit and create efficiencies for their clients.  
  • Firms start using a new software without really knowing why, and then try to wrap a strategy around that particular software, rather than using that software as a tool to help achieve a broader strategy.  
  • Firms are not partnering with tech companies to work together to plan and achieve successful rollout and adoption of new technologies. 

OK so those are the problems, what is the solution? 

Firms need to start with a client-centric strategy first, and plan their technology second. 

There are common themes among innovative lawyers using technology well – they are masters at strategy, planning and execution, with a strong sense of urgency and a real understanding of how they can better serve their clients. They care deeply about the client experience. They use technology and digital marketing in entrepreneurial ways to serve lower value clients and acquire new clients. 

After speaking to a number of legal innovators recently about how they plan their tech, I noticed a number similarities between them. This is similar to how I used to plan the tech at my law firm, so I want to share with you some practical steps on how I did it. 

Step 1: Create your firm’s client-centric strategy doc 

Put a Word doc or a Google doc in landscape and create a table with 4 columns (or use a spreadsheet if you please): 

  • Column 1:  list your firm’s strategies from your strategic plan
  • Column 2:  list the technology you think you’ll need to achieve each strategy
  • Column 3:  list reasons why your clients will love each strategy
  • Column 4:  list the reasons why your firm and your people will love each strategy (it’s important your people are on board with your firm’s client strategies too – you need everyone’s buy in to improve your firm’s client experience and use new tech to support this) 

I’ve created a template for this client-centric strategy doc that you can access and copy/download here

Step 2: Get your teams ready 

To create, implement and review your client-centric firm strategies you need three groups of people: 

  1. Strategic planning team: you will likely already have a strategic planning team set up at your firm. It may be your partnership and CEO, or a select group of partners or directors, or some other make up of the leaders, innovators and strategic thinkers at your firm. 
  2. Legal tech team: is a group of people from your firm who are particularly interested in legal technology. They meet once a month with an agenda to identify and discuss current technology trends, how the legal tech being used by the firm is going, rollout and adoption plans for new technology the firm buys, and the opportunities they see to use legal tech to support and achieve the firm’s strategies. 
  3. Client experience team: is a group of people from your firm who are particularly interested in improving your firm’s client experience. They meet once a month to discuss client ideas and feedback, how to continue getting valuable client feedback, and the opportunities they see to better serve the firm’s clients and improve the client experience. This group might help you organise your firm’s Client Advisory Board

If your firm is small you might have 1 or 2 people in each group – don’t let this put you off – smaller groups usually work better and get more done. 

Step 3: Get your teams to work on the client-centric strategy doc 

Every 2-3 months the strategic planning team meets with the legal tech team and the client experience team to hear reports on what they’re learning and the opportunities they see, and this would form the basis of creating and regularly reviewing the firm’s client-centric strategy doc. 

Here is an example of how you could fill out your firm’s client-centric strategy doc:

Step 4: Get everyone’s buy in

To successfully execute your client-centric strategy doc you need everyone at your firm to buy into it – they need to become raving fans of the plan. Your firm will need good leadership to do this well. Getting your staff members to help by speaking to clients about how your law firm can better serve them, and researching the latest trends and thought leadership patterns, to help the legal tech and client experience teams will help get them fired up about this plan.

Don’t spend too long on the planning process

A lot of firms get bogged down in the planning process. It’s important that you don’t. A strong sense of urgency is needed. Otherwise the randoms on Facebook may end up giving your clients “legal advice” instead of you.

Keen to find out how former Solicitor-General of New Zealand, Michael Heron QC, is using intelligent automation to save time and improve the client experience?

Michael is the founder of CODR, an online dispute resolution platform, that uses Automio to improve access to justice. Check out Michael’s story here.

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