Legal tech. You hear about it at CLE events, read about it in legal industry publications and discuss it at networking events. It seems like every day, a new legal technology startup launches, hoping to solve a need and help law firms run more efficiently.
Adoption of legal technology varies widely. Perhaps you’re the skeptic – and you wonder if all this technology really lives up to the hype. Maybe you’re on the other end of the spectrum, and you get so excited about all the legal tech offerings but have a hard time determining what fits your firm’s needs and budget. Maybe you’re somewhere in the middle – you realize there is potential benefit to introducing some new technology into your practice, but you’re really not sure where to start.
Whether or not you love legal tech, one thing is for sure. It’s not going anywhere. Law firms who can find a way to leverage the right technology solutions will have a clear advantage over firms who are slower to adopt it.
But what kind of technology does your law firm really need? How do you stay ahead of the curve? In this post, we’ll cover some key considerations you should keep in mind as you evaluate, adopt and optimize your law firm’s technology stack.
Not all technology is created with the unique needs of attorneys in mind. Many law firms benefit from business technology, such as marketing and sales solutions. These may have a place in your law firm’s operations, but it’s important to understand the difference between business technology and legal technology.
Business technology is a solution that could be applied to many different business types. Legal tech, on the other hand, is specialized toward the legal profession. For example, there are many general business technology solutions for virtual receptionists – such as Ruby Receptionists. Many law firms utilize Ruby Receptionists, but the solution isn’t exclusive to the legal profession.
If the technology you’re evaluating is not specialized, you need to ensure you thoroughly evaluate it. Law firms have very unique needs when it comes to business operations, and you don’t want to adopt a technology that may put your business at risk. Think about how problematic it may be to use a virtual receptionist technology that isn’t familiar with how a legal intake process works, or a marketing technology platform that isn’t aware of the ethics guidelines for law firm marketing.
We are biased toward specialization. For any technology, whether it’s a legal tech or a general business tech, the first step in your vetting process should be to learn how well they understand law firm operations. Some questions you should ask include:
Oftentimes, a technology solution cannot operate in a vacuum. For example, let’s say a company offers a solution that allows your law firm’s clients to easily schedule and pay bills securely online. An integral part of this is email reminders; clients will receive them when payments are due, when appointments are upcoming or for any relevant information such as a court date change.
While this sounds great, it relies on one important thing: email capture. In order for this to be effective, you have to have a process in place to capture your clients’ email addresses. For many law firms, this doesn’t always happen.
You should never view a technology solution in isolation. You need to understand what other technology, tools or processes are required to make the solution work. In many cases, law firms must update the way they operate to allow the technology solution to perform at its best.
In other cases, technology needs to work together. As you evaluate new solutions, be sure to check that it will work with anything you currently use.
At a glance, most legal technology exists to make things easier and create efficiency within your law firm’s operations. But saving time shouldn’t be the sole benefit of an investment in legal technology. Make sure you understand the true benefit of a technology offering.
If you don’t really understand the goal and how technology affects your firm’s bottom line, then it will become difficult to measure its effectiveness. You’ll end up with a technology that seems to make things easier, but you’re not really sure how much value it adds to your business.
Generally, technology is meant to do one of two things:
Cost-saving technology is meant to automate tasks that would generally cost more time and money to complete. For example, many legal tech offerings focus on fast, automated contract and legal document preparation.
These solutions focus on bringing more cases to your law firm. For example, marketing technology is generally meant to increase your revenue.
It’s important that you understand the difference so you can measure performance accordingly. After you adopt the new technology, you should be able to measure its impact to your cost structure or firm’s revenue. Technology is most successful when you can confidently say that it saves your firm employees time or generates more revenue.
In some cases, technology can do both. For example, if a legal tech solution saves significant cost that allows you to pass the savings off to your clients by reducing fees, this could make your law firm more competitive in the marketplace. This will lead to more business and higher revenue. Technology that can help you achieve both cost savings and additional revenue to your firm are the best investments to make, so keep this in mind as you evaluate.
Think about any major purchase you make. You spend some time researching. You read reviews. You make sure you understand exactly what you’re getting. Legal technology is no different.
If you’re evaluating a solution for your firm, you should always do your due diligence and evaluate similar technologies, if they exist. It’s easy to be romanced by a great sales pitch, but make sure you understand all of the available technology solutions and take time to evaluate them all objectively.
Always ask for a free trial. Most technology solutions will offer this if you ask.
Lastly, ask for the contact information of other law firms who use the same technology. A legal tech company should have no issues putting you in contact with attorneys who can give an honest review of the technology solution and how they use it. If a company is unwilling to do this, it could be a red flag.
We live in a world where people have increasingly high expectations of businesses, and law firms are no exception. Firms who find a way to use technology to increase their speed, efficiency and service will win more business, and law firms that function on antiquated technology and processes will not.
This is a shift that you simply must embrace. Just like you are required to continue learning as a practicing attorney, it’s important to keep up-to-date with the legal tech industry. It’s changing fast, and there is always something new to learn. Take some time at CLEs to talk to the legal tech vendors, and bookmark legal tech blogs to read with your morning coffee.
Finding the right technology investments for your practice can make a world of difference, but it requires careful consideration and a strategic approach.