By Eimear McCann.
2020 is a year we will always remember. We have had to adapt and innovate, navigating hundreds of new decisions from the seemingly trivial, to the potentially life-changing. It has also been a year that has highlighted the many aspects of our lives deemed to be unsustainable, whether in our personal or professional outlooks.
Seeking out Simplicity
From a neuroscientific point of view, decision making has important ramifications. While having a lot of choice may epitomise freedom and autonomy, studies have shown that having too many choices has negative connotations. We set unrealistic expectations and subsequently blame ourselves for arriving at what we later perceive to be the wrong decision, which can be both exhausting and paralysing. This is completely industry agnostic, and so, the same pressure to make the “right decision” extends as much to legal as it does to any other sector.
There is no shortage of lawyers and legal service providers; good news from a client perspective, but how easy is it to decide which lawyer or provider to instruct? There are a myriad of factors at play here, whether we’re looking at this from a corporate or individual perspective, but, ultimately, if there is a way to make that decision an easier one, isn’t that something we should pursue? Shouldn’t the end-goal be to make the decision as frictionless and stress-free as possible?
Legal has historically been a sector that has been labelled as “playing catch up”. It’s slower than other industries to implement new technology and new ways of working; however, we have seen new models emerging, with a focus on productization and alternative delivery models. Making the law more accessible and simpler will automatically strip away superfluous decision-making for the client.
It feels as though we are moving in the right direction, starting to align with our client-centric, subscription economy and looking at legal as a product that can be easily delivered in simple language. The chasm between client and lawyer is starting to narrow and the innovators not only recognise this shifting paradigm but embrace it. In a sense, we are looking at morphing existing solutions and expertise with the new, whether in terms of language or delivery. It is this interplay between what we’ve always done and what clients really want that truly engenders innovation.
Applying the same thinking to the fast-moving world of LegalTech, how easy is this market to navigate?
On an anecdotal, yet universal level, the most common complaint we hear is that it is too “fragmented”. Breaking this down to the fundamentals, what we are really hearing is that there are too many decisions to be made. Too many decisions tire us out and we tend to freeze and make no decision at all. There is a certain inevitability here, in the sense that new markets tend to look like broken jigsaws until integrations, new iterations and partnerships start to emerge and clients start begin to understand how and where they can use the product or service in their everyday.
If we are really listening to these clients, particularly if we contextualise and examine how 2020 is impacting our decision-making stamina, we have to focus on simplicity and transparency, from pricing to ease-of-use. Like any tech product, we need to be clear on what we do, why it exists and how it can help. Ultimately, if we can change our mindsets to think of ourselves as facilitators in the decision-making process, we are already far better equipped and more empathetic than a standard provider.
Synergy: people and product
Simplicity alone, however, isn’t going to distance us from the notion of a “fragmented” market. We need synergy, a term often used in the world of M&A, but equally applicable in the wider legal landscape, where we recognise that collaboration equals strength.
Bringing together a network of innovators within legal is going to be the quickest way to accelerate change and ultimately, a cohesive market. We need to exchange ideas, give the concept of knowledge sharing more time and thought. Overall, we need to ask more questions, from academia upwards. We need to properly assess our perception of diversity and inclusion, rather than sleepwalking through a tick-box exercise.
Generally speaking, cohesion equates to credibility, and subsequently, a faster uptake, irrespective of sector.
It is no coincidence that we are seeing more Managed Services Partnerships within law, with a real focus on demonstrating value and efficiency. What better way to evidence the latter than by amalgamating law with tech and packaging them into a product that is both simple and powerful. Once again, we need to understand our role in the decision-making process. How are we facilitating the decision-making for the client?
When we talk about synergy or collaboration, we also need to focus on the processes and applications which already exist. True innovation stems from a desire to change. Conversely, no one has ever said that innovation must take the form of complete displacement of existing tools or methodologies.
Let’s take Microsoft Word as an example. It is the most universally accepted and trusted application for lawyers. As a former lawyer, I can completely relate. I used Word as a law student, throughout my brief career as a writer, and from my Training Contract upwards, throughout my legal career and to the present day. It feels like home. We have to ask whether we need to completely distance ourselves from these existing applications. Wouldn’t it make more sense to allow lawyers to stay “home” (metaphorically speaking), whilst finding ways to integrate and speed up different aspects of workflow. The point being that we would be removing another decision, focusing on a synergy with a world that has existed long before we came along to design and re-define.
COVID has been labelled as a catalyst for change within legal, with many businesses realising they are not as digitally enabled as they had believed. We are not necessarily talking about complex IT structures, but in many cases, it was the fundamental, logistical issue of procuring enough laptops for employees; no easy feat when the supply/demand ratio is skewed. It is food for thought though; we are not always good at balancing the present against the future or reconciling real-life scenarios with the hypothetical. We have all learnt a lot from 2020.
There is, however, a feeling that we are on the cusp of a seismic shift. LegalTech is positioned very diplomatically at the intersection of law and innovation, but it feels that now the hype has been replaced with real substance.
The realisation that technology has a rightful place in a lawyer’s every day is sinking in - businesses are recognising that stagnation equates to loss of efficiency and revenue; contracts and agreements are starting to be viewed as more than sheer documentation, but rather as valuable assets. Whilst the concept of knowledge as an asset is not a new concept, seeing the storage of contracts as playbooks and data stores is making the intangible, tangible.
Moreover, there is a recognition that automation can help to put the human touch back into law. By allowing software to review and summarise documentation, there is more time to look at the business and the people within, more time to look at strategy and indeed, innovation.
Scattered documents are being replaced with scattered employees and technology can provide us with a way to manage both. We all know that video calls cannot replace human interaction completely, but technology is serving its purpose in terms of overall connectivity. By analogy, we know that automation cannot replace a lawyer, but it also has its place.
I believe that the future of legal rests on our ability to pull together the reality and the vision, which is easier said than done; however, if we focus on simplicity, collaboration and a mindset change, we are already innovating.
About the Author
Eimear McCann is a former lawyer and Head of Strategy at Summize Ltd. She is also a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Law.