For many law firms, coming into the digital world can be a bit challenging, which is why so many of them have resisted the idea for so long. When crunching the numbers, however, there are so many benefits to a comprehensive digital strategy that it is almost impossible to justify keeping everything the way it is. Because digitising your law firm can be a daunting task, it is imperative to go about it the right way. So with that in mind we want to look at the 10 steps necessary to develop a digital strategy for law firms. Although these steps are not universal, they serve as a reliable roadmap to success.
Step 1: Process Documentation and Analysis
Because there are so many different elements that make up your firm, it is not necessary to digitise everything. Thus, one of the first steps you should take is analyse each component and figure out whether it will be beneficial to incorporate it into your digital strategy or else keep it as is.
Part of this process is determining the benefits that can be gained by going digital. For example, having most of your documents digitised can help to streamline operations in the office by allowing paperwork to be shared and managed online rather than in physical file folders and cabinets.
One method you could use is to break down the different areas of your law firm and see which ones can benefit from digitisation the most. Look at your operational efficiency and see what can be improved and how. Because this step is one of the most crucial, you do not want to rush into anything. It may seem like a good idea to move forward quickly, but considering how a digital strategy can impact your firm it’s much better to take your time so that you don’t wind up doing something that will have to be redone anyway.
Step 2: Decide Which Areas Should Be Digitised
Once you have taken the time to figure out which components of your law firm can benefit from digitisation, you can decide to pull the trigger. This process is not simply a matter of stating the obvious, however. Yes, you are deciding on which elements of your firm should be digital, but there’s more to it than that.
At this point, you should be starting to develop a roadmap for how to progress from your current state to your new digital strategy. How much time do you think it will take to switch over? How many people will have to be involved? How will it impact the daily operations of your staff?
When finalising your digital strategy, you want to make sure that your plan is as comprehensive as possible. One guiding principle of this entire process is that you want to take your time to do it right – rushing things will only lead to mistakes and could wind up making matters worse overall.
The other aspect of deciding which elements to digitise is making sure that everyone who will be impacted is on board. For example, if you are going to make digital copies of all of your legal documents (both past and present), then you’ll want to discuss this with your paralegals so that they know what to expect.
The other benefit of keeping your staff in the loop is that they can help to provide valuable insight into the needs of your digital strategy. There may be elements that you have not considered yet, so talking with the people who will be affected by these decisions can help to facilitate a smoother transition.
Step 3: Creation of an Internal LegalTech Strategy
After deciding which areas to switch over, it is time to create a written LegalTech strategy. This document will serve as the master outline of your transition process, so it should be as detailed as possible.
One helpful way to go about developing this written strategy is to break down each section into actionable points. Digitising your legal documents, for example, should be broken down into different steps that have to be taken.
Are you going to digitise all of your archived paperwork? Are you going to keep physical copies of old case files, or are they to be shredded once they have been transferred over? Are you going to start with archived documents and then move into recent and current casework?
Another thing to include in your written strategy is a timeline. While deadlines do not have to be set in stone, it’s always a good idea to impose them on yourself and your staff so that you can stay focused and on-task. If the transition wasn’t put on a timetable, then it could easily get postponed or put off, which would defeat the whole purpose.
Step 4: Determine Your IT Architecture
One of the crucial elements of any law firm’s digital strategy is creating a hierarchy for its internal IT team. Having this kind of plan in place will ensure that you will have a smooth transition and that your digital strategy will be well maintained after the switchover.
When building an IT architecture, you want to consider the following elements:
Will there be a tech support person for each department, or will there only be one IT team for the whole firm?
Who will manage digital elements after they have been switched over? Who will have access to sensitive documents?
What kind of technical procedures will you have in place for your new digital strategy?
What happens if an app or a network goes down? What contingencies will you put into place to avoid disaster?
What kind of cybersecurity team will you have? Will they be separate from your regular IT department? If not, why not?
How will apps be downloaded and installed? What process will you have for updating the programmes you use?
What kind of training process will you have in place for the transition? How long will that take?
Overall, you want to develop a system that can handle all of the various changes you are about to make, as well as potential upgrades in the future. Once you have your architecture in place, then you will be ready to move on to the actual process of digitisation. Organisation is going to help your firm to get to the next stage that much faster and more reliably.
Step 5: Find the Best Software and Apps
Thankfully, we live in a world where legal tech apps are abundant. That means that you can have your pick of programmes and software that will help your firm to become more streamlined. On the other hand, it can be more than a little daunting to figure out how to make the best choices for your firm, particularly when you consider the volume of apps and programmes that are out there.
To help you get started, we have broken down the various types of apps you can use and deploy in your law firm.
You already know that paperwork is the backbone of your firm. Each case requires potentially hundreds or thousands of documents, which is why digitising them can be so valuable. However, with so much data to scan into the computer, you need a programme that can help you to save time, not create extra steps along the way.
The best document automation apps will be “smart”, meaning that they can help to facilitate a fast and efficient scanning process so that your paralegal team can get files and documents onto the computer as easily as it would be to organise them into physical file folders. Automated documents also save a significant amount of time in your daily business. Contracts used on a large scale, for example, can be drafted in an automated way, which saves you (and your client) a lot of time and money.
Regardless of the size of your firm, you will be managing a lot of data once you go digital. However, handling all of that information can be an impossible task unless you have the right programme that can help you to analyse it all.
This type of software will be invaluable to your firm because it will ensure that you can make the right decisions each step of the way. Not only that, it will make it a lot easier for management to get a bird’s eye view of everything.
Staying compliant is one of the more vital aspects of any digital strategy, and fortunately there are programmes that can help your firm to make this process more streamlined. Compliance apps will ensure that you’re not making any potential mistakes that could lead to legal jeopardy down the line. Also, as rules and regulations change, you will want to be able to adapt accordingly, and this kind of software will make that infinitely easier.
Yes, some software can help you during the discovery process in your cases. These programmes will help you to digitise the data so that you can analyse and share it more easily across the firm, as well as with any necessary third parties. Best of all, the software can help you to manage everything efficiently, so nothing gets lost in the shuffle.
Your paralegals will love research software that can help to cut down on their time. Since you can only bill for so many hours, streamlining the research process will make your firm not only more efficient but cost effective as well.
Another area where technology can help your bottom line is by enabling executives in the firm to manage everyone and everything more effectively. This kind of software will help to create a comprehensive analysis of the firm and how it operates. By getting a breakdown of each component in real time on the computer, management can make decisions and run daily operations much more efficiently.
Step 6: Start Following Your Transition Timeline
Now that you have all of the information you need and you are ready to switch over, it is time to pull the trigger and make it official.
Realistically, you will want to stagger this process so that it does not disrupt daily operations too much. If everyone were to switch over to a digital strategy at the same time, it could cause a variety of unforeseen problems and delays that could cost your firm a lot of lost productivity. Also, if mistakes should be made during the switch, they could do irreparable harm to your firm and its reputation.
Starting slow will also help you to adapt to any potential issues that you did not consider during the planning phase. It is easy to assume that everything will run smoothly, but once you start on the path towards digitisation, you could hit a variety of roadblocks that you never knew existed.
If you were trying to switch over as quickly as possible, adapting to these obstacles would be significantly harder. Taking your time will enable you to overcome them before moving forward with other elements so that nothing is lost in transition.
Step 7: Start User Acceptance Testing
You should have a good idea of which apps and programmes you will be using in your firm, so now you have to start implementing them into your operations. Again, staggering the use of these apps will help to make things run more smoothly since you will give your staff time to adapt to the new technology.
If necessary, have a rolling installation process where some people start using the apps and new software first before everyone else gets on board. There should initially be a testing phase so that you can determine if there are any potential bugs or setbacks that will have to be addressed. It is far easier to fix these problems when only a handful of staff are using the app, so keep that in mind.
Another point to consider is that some apps are built to work in conjunction with others. For example, an e-discovery programme could feed into a document management app, which means that you should implement both systems at the same time. If you only did one first and then the other later, it could cause further delays and complications during the transition.
Overall, it is best to start from the bottom up when installing and using new apps and software.
Step 8: Draft of Rollout Plan
Once you have finished the initial testing phase, you will want to roll out the new systems across the whole firm. Determine which departments will be shifted first, and make sure that everyone involved is helped throughout this process. Also, consider that changes in one department could impact another, so be sure that your rollout plan takes those adjustments into account.
Again, another element to include in this plan is a timeline. Give yourself plenty of time for the transition as some people will take to the new system faster than others. Overall, you can only move as quickly as the slowest person in the firm, so do not try to rush anyone into using a system that they are not comfortable with yet.
The other component to include in your plan is the potential for any setbacks or issues that might occur along the way. As helpful as technology is, it can be finicky and glitchy at times, particularly if you are using a relatively new and untested software. If something does happen and your new system does go down, you should have a contingency plan in place so that your firm can stay productive in the meantime.
Step 9: Train Your Employees
The training phase will usually take the longest to implement, so keep that in mind. Depending on the technical savvy of everyone in the firm, training can be a long and arduous process. Nonetheless, you want to make sure that everyone is completely on board before going live with your new changes. If some staff members are not yet integrated into the new system, it could cause potential delays or issues down the line.
As with everything else, staggering your training process can make the transition smoother. Those who pick up on the new system easily should be saved for last since they will be ready to make the changes as soon as they’re trained. If you had them go first, they would have to wait for the slower members of your staff.
Step 10: Go Live
Once you have all of your ducks in a row, it is time to make the transition final. You have spent all of this time finding and installing new programmes, as well as making sure that everyone in the firm is on board with the changes and ready to incorporate them into daily operations.
Assuming that you have done everything right, going live should be as smooth as possible. While there may still be some hiccups here and there, the overall switchover should be quick and relatively painless.
Best of all, by implementing a successful digital strategy, it will be much easier to make adjustments and changes in the future. Now that you know what to expect, you can feel free to incorporate new digital systems later on. In fact, once you start seeing the tangible benefits of this strategy, you may decide to digitise more elements of your law firm as well.
About the Authors
Steve Hafner is a Senior Manager with PwC Zurich and Head Managed Legal Services & Legal Process. He is advising clients of all industries in optimizing their sourcing strategies for legal services and is responsible for managing large scale legal sourcing projects.