Don’t fall in love with tech for tech’s sake
Did you know that there has been a 484% increase in the number of patents filed covering new legal services technology globally in the last five years? It’s unbelievable the proliferation of offerings in the “legal tech” space. Can you imagine being a General Counsel with little to no tech knowledge and being bombarded with sales emails and calls with the latest legal tech? It’s no wonder the legal industry is slow to adopt technological change – the choice is overwhelming and so much of it is focussed on selling a tech solution not on understanding the actual business problem. I struggle to trust any legal tech business that has no understanding of why lawyers do what they do and does not take steps to understand the unique nature of the organisation it is selling to. The solution may not even be tech at all but if all you sell is tech, your ability to understand the problem is massively biased.
“When you start looking at a problem and it seems really simple, you don’t really understand the complexity of the problem…A really great person will keep on going and find the key underlying principle of the problem - and come up with an elegant, really beautiful solution that works.”
I am not a techie. I’m a passionate lawyer and most of my career has been in-house. This is the rule of thumb for everyone we hire at lexvoco and we believe this gives us a much better understanding of in-house legal teams face when compared to the tech firms run by developers, marketers and spruikers with no in-house legal industry experience. Firstly, it means we know our customer really, really well. We can talk their language. We know their pain. We understand just how varied in-house legal teams can be in terms of their size, politics and organisational dynamics. Secondly, we know that tech is not always the solution and this is why at lexvoco we always lead with a problem solving review (which we call a ‘legal operations review’) to understand the cause of the issue and then we design a plan of action from there, which may actually involve no tech at all.
This is not at all to say I’m not passionate about tech. I am, very much so. Vendors and consultants who downplay or disregard tech do it for selfish reasons – they don’t know what to build, how to do it or have the conviction to do it. I think AI, blockchain and algorithms have huge implications for the future of how we work and lexvoco is actively building solutions in these areas. We are already helping clients work more efficiently through document and workflow automation and predictive analytics. But you just can’t assume tech is always the solution. This is why our Head of Innovation (a techie who became an in-house lawyer and has transitioned back into tech) works with our Head of Legal Operations (another in-house lawyer) to understand the problem before they collaboratively design a solution. And if they agree tech is not part of the solution, our tech developers step aside.
Of course tech can actually play a huge role in understanding the problem itself and this is where data analytics is key. Lawyers by nature aren’t fans of numbers and Excel, let alone complicated formulas, so data analytics is new (scary) territory. To date a lot of legal tech in the in-house data analytics space has been focussed on ‘law firm spend’ but the trend is to rightly bring most work in-house. Compare this to 20 years ago when the vast majority of work was done by law firms and the writing is on the wall – any tech ‘solution’ that only analyses external spend is likely to become redundant. This is an example where some tech providers are failing to understand their industry, let alone their customers.
The other big bucket of tech that is being bought by in-house lawyers in an attempt to understand the problem are matter management systems. But these were never designed to fulfil this purpose. At their heart they are really information (mainly documents and email) management systems, just like the leaver arch folders at law firms, not a data analytics tool. They fail to capture the relevant data which goes to the heart of proving the value of and solving the problems for in-house counsel. They only capture data on key matters and their value is in enabling any team member to see where matters are at and pick them up, just like any other project management tool. But what about all the BAU tasks? Where is that data captured? It’s not. But it’s often BAU, which is why everyone’s got a job, that ends up causing the problem of overcapacity and being under-valued. This means it can be a struggle for in-house lawyers to prove and justify their resourcing requirements or even demonstrate the value they are delivering to the organisation overall.
This is why we invented MyDay, a free legal operations app that captures data to prove the value in-house legal teams deliver. And because it’s been designed and built by in-house lawyers, there is no scary Excel or overly complex graphs. MyDay reporting is entirely visual through simple graphs and infographics. This is an example of us seeking to understand our target audience and their problem before building the solution.
The great thing about MyDay is it can be used to ongoing track and measure success of any new ways of working or tech solutions implemented. This is something else legal tech providers need to consider. Once the solution’s been sold in and implemented, how can the legal team identify return on investment and ongoing justify its use over other potentially less expensive solutions, especially when compared to solutions that might involve no tech at all, like a template or workflow change. In summary, tech needs to reduce complexity, not add to it. Start with the problem and ensure you work with a tech partner that is an expert in legal operations and seeks to understand your specific organisation, or the solutions presented to you are going to be immediately biased.
About the author:
Anthony Wright is co-founder and CEO of lexvoco. lexvoco launched in Australasia in 2015, and its mission is to help in-house lawyers succeed through legal operations improvements, legal technology, and providing hands on help in the form of secondments and via its law firm.
Anthony is an expert at legal team strategy, operations, innovation, change management and advising lawyers on simplification, systems and processes. Recently he’s led legal operations and continuous improvement projects for State and National Governments, Fortune 500 and ASX100 organisations. Prior to lexvoco, Anthony had General Manager, Head of Strategy and Systems, and General Counsel positions at a number of global and ASX100 companies including Transpacific Industries Group Ltd and the PGA Tour. He’s admitted to the High Court of Australia and the High Court of New Zealand. He has a Bachelor of Laws, Master of Laws, Bachelor of Accounting, an MBA and a Green Belt in Lean Six Sigma.