The change is permanent!

August 4, 2015

“The legal landscape is changing”. We hear this comment all the time. We all know that this statement is true, but let me show you another way of looking at it.

One of the most unique characteristics of the environment we currently operate in is the permanence of the change in our industry. There is longevity in this phenomenon we are experiencing. In other words, change is here to stay.

While some industry players view this as a crisis, law firms and legal practices of all kinds and all sizes are actually presented with the opportunity to take a long, hard look at who we are, what we do, and how we do what we do. The use of legal technology should not escape a legal practice manager's eagle eye when conducting this exercise.

As legal practice managers, we have all experienced change. For our firms, some of us have managed the introduction of GST that commenced in July 2000, and some of us have implemented measures to tackle Y2K conformity. More recently, hardly anyone could escape the sweeping changes to Australia's PPS laws in 2012, and of course there was the new privacy regime that brought us the Australian Privacy Principles in 2014.

Legal practice managers are excellent change managers. We are either trained in some formal way to manage change, or are forced to learn how to manage change while on the job, or both. That said, one thing we probably have never given any serious thought to is that the change we are living and breathing is in fact in evolution, and that this is, and will be, a permanent feature of our legal environment. Indeed, the current environment could be reshaped beyond recognition over the coming years.

Here are my top 3 tips for thriving well (as opposed to merely surviving) and managing the permanence of the change in the practice (and business) of law.

1. Don't just embrace technology. Be part of the force - help develop technology.

Legal technology will play a leading role in the evolution and reshaping of the way we practice law. This is hardly news. Embracing legal technology is great. But this is will only help us keep up with the Jones. It means we probably won't sink, but it also won't propel us forward and be ahead of our competition. 

As legal practice managers, we can help our firm to rise beyond its peers by driving the development of technology that is relevant and important to us. One way of doing this is to provide feedback - proactively, I should add - to the provider of our technology solution.

For example, let me ask you this - in the commercial information management (CIM) space, does your current legal search technology solution meet your critical prerequisites? Is the access not only reliable but also rapid enough? Is your search data kept secure to a standard that you and your clients are happy with? By helping those who develop legal technology to think like lawyers - I mean the (very best!) kinds who are practical, commercial and have a problem-solving focus - we could improve operational efficiency and even have more time and resources for change management!

2. Go beyond technology. Invest in human capital and do this unceasingly!

It is not hard at all to appreciate that technology has big potential to help solve today's problems. However, legal technology alone will not help us endure the climate of change our profession is faced with. Let me explain by this illustration.

IT is usually invaluable in the capacity of turning data into information, including commercial information that lawyers need in order to provide sound legal advice. But commercial information, even if generated by a state-of-the-art software or technology platform, cannot be used without contextualisation.

In our world where commercial information (such as personal, property, company and asset information) is necessary for almost every single legal matter we act on, there is an aspect of CIM that relates to technology, and then there is another aspect that relates to human judgement, and both aspects add value. An example of the use of technology in CIM is the modelling capability of a technological solution, and an example of human judgement in CIM is the experience and wisdom that a lawyer applies to decision making and providing legal advice. For excellence in CIM, both the technology and human factors are important and optimising each can enhance the other.

So, what exactly does this mean in practice? It means that while we invest and continue to invest in legal technologies, don't forget to devote sufficient resources to our firm's human capital. Some things can be automated, but something's can't. The huge intangible asset values some law firms are starting to see come to the fore is when there is a merger of the clever use of technology with human intellect and interpretation. Don't fly blind - be aware of this, and take advantage of this knowledge, so as to deliver better legal services to clients.

3. Create an appetite for effective change. Develop a craving for effective change.

I am talking about impactive, long-term change. This is much more than change for change's sake.

Nowadays, businesses (including the business of law) are under pressure to respond to change quickly, and even immediately. Sometimes, in the hope of solving a business problem, firms literally just dive in to grab the latest innovation in technology off the shelf. The goal may be to improve client satisfaction, retain talent, increase sales, improve market share, reduce costs or manage information overload. For some firms, this pressure is particularly immense as they want to be known as technology leaders or champions of change.

What we often don't realise or sometimes don't want to acknowledge is this - rapid transformation is really not easy to pull off. Of course it is quite possible to put in place ambitious plans such as a 60-day information systems overhaul and still see success in delivering some immediate results, but my question is this - in reality, will such a plan be worth the investment in time, money and other resources in creating true value in the longer term? Often, sudden change is a knee-jerk response to what a competitor is doing. While we definitely need to learn from our competition, we also need to appreciate that no change is worthwhile if it is not welcomed and adopted by the users.

This is where culture comes in. Most of us already have some appetite for change. Legal practice managers can enable a cultural shift so that the lawyers we work with focus on getting hungry for effective change. This applies equally to legal practice managers operating in a large law firm or a small legal practice. For example, if we show how dedicated we are in finding a suitable search solution (not just the cheapest or most heavily marketed solution) to enable fast and accurate due diligence, this would help others around us to share this vision. The suitable solution for a firm is not necessarily the one from the vendor who is making the most noise, or using lots advertising to create a sense of urgency.

Put plainly, as we travel along with this industry in evolution, ambivalence towards technological advances could literally sink a firm. But the contrary is also true, that is, being wise and applying good judgement when embracing and adapting legal technology could drive a firm to attain long-term success.

Talk to SAI Global today about how we can help you to manage your technology changes effectively. Complete this form and we will contact you.