Operations Director & Accredited Legal Technologist
Back in November 2019 we launched CaseLoad. This was a new vision of how legal software could make a difference to legal operations, which we knew was considered a largely non fee-earning, undefined role.
This was pre-pandemic, but law firm leaders, legal departments and the wider legal community were already feeling pressure do things more efficiently and effectively. The financial constraints forced legal professionals to rethink how they were doing business.
As we reflect on the past year and a half, we think about how circumstances inspired leaders from all industries to rethink how they work. This includes turning to technology to address problems in ways they never had before. Even in a change-resistant field like legal, the economics become undeniable at some point. Now more than ever, legal departments are ripe for disruption.
When the pandemic first hit, businesses responded in many different ways. Some made the mistake of getting rid of (furloughing) their legal operations teams whereas others invested further. But now, as we see signs of recovery, businesses are hiring quicker and faster. The drive to succeed is undeniable and legal operations lie at the heart of how successful a law firm can become.
Not only is the legal operations field itself growing, so is its fuelling of legal technology. In the first half of 2021 alone, venture capital and private equity firms are heavily investing in legal software companies, take Smokeball over in the US an example as they have just raised $30 million in a private funding round. It’s clear we’re at the cusp of massive transformation. This moment is loaded with possibility as everything is up for discussion. The question is, “What’s next?”
Because of the pandemic, there’s no more denying the need for digital transformation. As the legal industry looks at this opportunity for transformation, legal operations professionals will lead the change. At its core, the discipline of legal operations is all about making things better. Now is the time we step up and make things better for not only law firms but businesses as a whole.
But the answer to making things better isn’t in technology alone. The reality is technology won’t solve everything. So, for the legal operations professional, there are three areas we must focus on moving forward to maximize technology and make things better for legal.
We’ll likely face an uphill battle when it comes to adopting technology in the legal world because legal is based on tradition and precedent. So, it’s not necessarily a lack of belief in technology, but more so a desire to stick with the status quo. To increase adoption, legal operations professionals should consider two principles. First, the technology should make things markedly easier and better than the old way. Second, if you don’t involve everyone, it won’t work. The tools you implement need to be as intuitive as possible. We need to focus on adoption, because without it you are missing out on the valuable data these tools can offer.
2. Process Improvement
Technology is only as good as the processes already in place. Now is the time to start rethinking processes. For example, Litigation is a notoriously difficult process with a lot of risk —it’s rigid, time-consuming, introduces friction and delays. To truly solve the problem of litigation we must start thinking about dealing with the matter differently. Because if all we do is apply technology to an already broken process, we’ll just exasperate the problem.
But if you begin thinking about litigation matters differently you can truly unlock the power of technology. When you can collect data differently and have the system force your next move then things can start to move quickly, and you end up in a position of strength during the negotiation with the other side. Legal operations can take this line of thinking elsewhere and begin to see the real impact of legal technology.
Something that can be lacking is a sense of community within the legal world. Real transformational change requires people learning from each other, sharing information, and solving problems together. That is how you create new standards and best practices—that is how we’re going to fix what is really broken about legal operations in many organisations. True change for legal will come by the power of our community.
In times of pressure and restraint, like we’ve seen the past year and a half, businesses are forced to rethink their priorities and processes. We’ve learned new ways of doing things. More importantly, we’ve learned to be okay asking questions and rethinking how we do what we do. For legal operations and legal as a whole, now is the time to see true transformation in our industry. The opportunities are endless, from contracting to data and more. Legal can become a business partner rather than a cost centre, and I believe legal operations professionals will lead the way.