11 June 2020

In search of a compelling need: fixing the disconnect between legal tech and in-house legal teams

Paul Gilbert

Paul Gilbert: 'When it comes to technology specifically for lawyers... it is fair to say the revolution has been in slow motion'

Paul Gilbert argues a new approach is needed to persuade lawyers to adopt new technology, however brilliant it is

When I was a trainee lawyer in the mid-1980s the technological revolution in my law firm was the installation of a fax machine. 

I remember very well that there was just one other law firm in the same town with a fax machine. On the day in question, an enjoyable afternoon was had seeing whether it was quicker to walk to deliver the letter by hand, or whether it was quicker to fax it. In the three decades since I qualified, other moments of technological innovation have been far more profound in their impact. 

Some universal technologies, like email and mobile communications generally, were obviously not designed for lawyers, but have been adopted by society at large. Lawyers (sometimes reluctantly at first) have generally fallen into line behind this settled societal adoption. It has been revolutionary. However, when it comes to technology specifically for lawyers, I think it is fair to say the revolution has been in slow motion; no 'big bang', no universal adoption and no settled direction of travel.

And yet the legal press and the conference circuit (pre-Covid) are full of suppliers, start-ups and organisations promoting, selling and developing all manner of solutions, portals and content for lawyers. 

I observe this, not as an tech expert, but as an observer of lawyers for the last 20 years, and I see a disconnect between the energy, optimism and innovation of the myriad suppliers compared with the caution, or even indifference, of the people who should be the buyers.

Patchy adoption

The conundrum therefore is that on the one hand we have seen a genuine transformation in the legal profession when it is adopting universal solutions (like email, and now video conferencing); yet on the other hand we still see a very patchy adoption of legal specific or lawyer targeted solutions.

Is this because when something is aimed at lawyers the instinct is for us to argue, challenge and to assert exceptionalism? Or are we just not that bothered? 

I have heard many reasons given for why lawyers seem unwilling to invest in technology and infrastructure:

We are just too busy to take the time to find out

We are ok as we are. We could get better, but it is a lot of effort and an uncertain gain

We tried it before and it did not work

We do not really know what others are doing

We just do not have the budgets

Our IT department will block it unless it is wholly compatible and totally secure

There is too much hype

I am just not convinced it is better

It is easier to recruit another lawyer

We are a small team in different locations, it is just too complicated

We do not have the sort of work that lends itself to a process

I went to a conference a few years ago and I did not like the pushy sales guy

Our law firm can do this stuff for us.

In these circumstances, and in the context of a profession where its inherent resistance to change still means that some will protest losing wigs, Latin and the liberal use of the word 'whereas', the hill to climb is steep. 

New approach

My sense therefore is that the adoption of technology has to find a way of addressing these concerns and spend a lot less time enthusiastically extolling the virtues of functionality or the depth of their investors’ pockets. 

I believe there is genuinely brilliant technology out there to help lawyers flourish; so perhaps the time has come for a different sales approach. An approach that will: 

Work with me to find the compelling need to invest. A marginal gain is not enough

Let me speak to your trusted adopters. Those people who I will know and who have done this and achieved the benefits promised

Show me you know my team and my worries; and show me you can overcome these worries and not embarrass me or make me look small

Convince me you are as committed to helping me find value as you are to achieving the sale 

Not play to my vanity or be exacerbated by how slow things can be

Let us be strategic and steadfast together.

My final thought therefore is this. I was not the type of lawyer who wanted to buy technology. I hung onto my old Nokia just about until it fell apart, but I did want my team to thrive. I did want them to feel energised by their work not their admin. I also wanted my team to feel valued and not overwhelmed. I wanted them to be proud of the difference they made, not the hours they worked. 

I could have found my compelling need, and you must too.

Paul Gilbert is chief executive of LBC Wise Counsel. His blog can be found here.

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