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Balancing Pragmatism and Innovation in Legaltech

When diving into an innovation project, it’s important to start with the desired outcome in mind. People need to get their heads wrapped around what to do with all the technology that’s now available to legal ... beyond the hype. You’ve got to be practical. You’ve got to figure out what outcome you want to achieve and, definitely leverage technology, but only in a way that is efficient and practical. It’s not just a matter of flipping a switch (buying a piece of kit). Getting overly excited about the latest tech without a proper plan can be as bad as running on spreadsheets.

Part of the challenge in striking the right balance between pragmatism and innovation is the pace of change in this day and age. The pace has accelerated so rapidly in the last few years, and the technology and innovation cycles are getting shorter and faster. This makes it difficult for people to make strategic decisions that they feel comfortable staking their reputations on. The concept of a strategic long-term plan, something many legal departments work on for years and spend many more years implementing, is made all the more complex by these rapid innovation cycles.

Compounding this, it is often the case that more senior people who tend to make the decisions are most comfortable with what they know or what they’ve experienced in getting to where they are in their careers. Nostalgia for what has worked in the past conspires with notoriously slow corporate buying cycles to keep legal departments limited to aging technology or wondering if it is better to just wait and see what the future holds. Because of this, the speed at which new technology gets released is outpacing the ability for people to accept and adopt it. This makes pragmatism especially important.

Being pragmatic is all about being realistic and honest about what your organization can “digest” in terms of change. What is your starting point? If you have software already in place, does that fact make it easier or harder to put in new systems. Perhaps your people are technically savvy and used to using systems, so the transition to something more modern could be smooth. Or, perhaps they’re set in their ways in using the existing system and a change would cause even more drama than if you had nothing at all. Other questions to ask when thinking of trying to justify, buy and implement a new piece of technology:

  • What resources are available (people, money, time)?

  • Can you do this without overburdening your staff?

  • Does your corporate environment lend itself to accepting change or not?

  • What are your end goals?

Once you are certain that your end goals are more significant than obtaining the latest and greatest “toy” on the market, you can set about evaluating which of the available “toys” will help you best accomplish them. No one system or tool is the perfect fit for every legal department. That’s why the legal technology market is so big and growing! A ten person department that only deals with matters in one country is significantly different from one with 1,000 people operating globally. A smaller department may have more room to be agile, trying out new things and moving on more easily if it doesn’t work. This is a good reason that large departments might try to pilot new things with small subgroups, expanding tools to the whole department when one is identified that will work for all.

This kind of pilot is often done by regional groups in global departments. While this may seem like the most convenient approach, it can lead to long term difficulty. A more practical approach might be to form a pilot group across regions to avoid having success in one region only to have failure in a global rollout. A good example of this is eBilling. Legal eBilling systems have been around for decades, and most legal departments are still struggling to fully implement them outside of the US.

As technology options become more plentiful, these questions and considerations become all the more important. As exciting as all the new startups are, they may not be what is right for your specific situation. Trying to be cutting-edge in every area may, in reality, set you back rather than drive you forward.


About the Author: Josie Johnson has over a decade of experience working with solution providers to the in-house legal community. Prior to becoming Chief Marketing Officer for Yerra Solutions, Josie served in marketing leadership roles at three software companies serving the corporate legal and finance markets, including Datacert (now part of Wolters Kluwer), HighRadius and Prodagio.Josie has also worked as a consultant to legal software and service providers through Edge Legal Marketing. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Houston and lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and two children.

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