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Are Lawyers Afraid of Technology?

Written by:
February 2015
Categories: For the Business Leader
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Reading time estimate Reading time: 3 minutes

Calls for the government to implement a system of on-line dispute resolution surfaced this week. The concept is for ‘facilitators’ to work with litigants to prevent disputes going any further, with judges ruling on-line for cases that cannot be settled. The aim is to reduce litigation costs for low value claims.

Of interest was not so much the article itself (posted on the Law Gazette – ‘Online courts will cut need for lawyers – IT guru), but the negative responses it received.

Granted, this was not helped by the title of the article, and the term ‘guru’ hints at a certain arrogance. However, comments after the article included:

  • “Why does every technological advancement have to ELIMINATE solicitors? Can’t it just make our jobs and the process easier?”
  • “With the increase in automation and AI only some 10 years away, who will be litigating? Having a job will be more of a concern, but then again we may all be playing golf as everything will be done for us….won’t it ?”
  • “In all honesty, if you look back, say 20 years ago, can anyone say the rapid increase in technology since then has actually improved anything to the extent that human involvement is not necessary? Can we totally rely on any automated system?”

So it would seem that some fee earners are less than enamoured with technology.

It is useful at this juncture to consider other markets where technological advancement has resulted in change which many people felt, and still feel, cannot replace high-touch human interaction.

The simple reality is that technology is transforming industries, especially those that have not changed in some time. This is something the legal sector suffers from. It is renowned amongst those working in tech for its laggard approach to technology.

From the comments against the Law Gazette article, it would suggest there is distrust between fee earners and IT. There’s always been the view that, in partnerships, every investment is taking money out of the pockets of the approvers and so it is that much harder to justify investments. However, with pricing pressures combined with ABS’s and changing regulations, technology is increasingly becoming key to survival. Whether that’s to automate processes, create process efficiency, or enable outsourcing and offshoring of business processes. Law firms that do not see technology as key to business effectiveness and efficiency may struggle to survive in the medium to long-term.

New entrants to market, or ventures such as River View Law, are demonstrating an ability to disrupt the market with a technology-led approach.

So how can law firms be encouraged to embrace technology, and how can IT departments in collaboration with the technology industry encourage tech adoption?

I believe the answer is relatively simple and lies in greater communication and collaboration between the IT function and fee earners. So often the IT staff do not understand the fee earners roles in-depth, or do not take the time to understand the business challenges that keep fee earners and practice leaders awake at night.

At the same time, fee earners do not consider approaching IT for resolutions to their business challenges. Instead, IT is seen as the place to go when you have IT problems only, not business problems.

Key to understanding the overall business of a law firm is to try and break it down. As one of our legal sector clients recently put it, technology must balance the triumvirate of:

  1. Doing the work
  2. Managing the work
  3. Running the business

If fee earners and IT can get together and discuss these 3 aspects of a law firm’s daily activities, and together identify the top 3 challenges in each category, this will provide a useful prioritised blueprint against which to identify and deploy technology solutions.

 

If you would like help to bridge the gap between your business units and IT teams, get in touch with us. At the very least we can share with you our views and suggestions over a short phone call.

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