Legal tech has undoubtedly proved its value in recent years, helping law firms to become more efficient, cost-effective and agile, and also realise the benefits of advances such as artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, big data and automation. But what role can a law firm play when an in-house team is in the process of considering, choosing, implementing and finally using legal tech?
Unsurprisingly, legal tech is edging its way up board agendas as innovative companies look to exploit its potential to make their legal teams more streamlined and efficient (see Blog post, And what are we doing about LawTech?). However, putting legal tech on the agenda is the easy part. The main issue for General Counsel (GCs), legal teams and board members is to understand the true picture around:
- The likely costs.
- The likely timescales.
- The actual benefits.
- How to ensure integration with the legal team.
- How to ensure integration with the business’s other technologies.
How law firms can help
In many cases, the GC and their legal team will not have seen or dealt with a legal tech project before. It’s also unlikely that they will have the time to review the landscape and assess their options in the same way that an external firm is able to do. With projects like this, law firms need to avoid thinking like law firms and should instead act as impartial external business advisors. They should use their unique position to share their experiences and knowledge with clients by providing context and wider expertise. This requires a shift from focusing on how best to win the client’s legal work, which is not always about improving efficiency, to subjectively assessing what is best for the client and their legal teams. Ultimately this may not always mean outsourcing the work to an external law firm.
Perspective is key. Law firms can provide great value by critically analysing the problems within a company that legal tech may be able to address, as well as clearly identifying how legal tech can be incorporated to ease the pressures that the organisation faces. Law firms can help their clients be more realistic about what tech can solve, how it can fit into their team, and the other processes and strategies that they might adopt, which are not necessarily tech related. For example, creating playbooks for standard positions that can be used by the commercial team as a starting point to reduce queries to Legal (see Practice note, How to create a contract playbook).
Taking a real-world approach
Law firms should concentrate on helping legal teams highlight and prioritise the inefficiencies that they are looking to reduce. This means that a GC can focus their attention and legal spend on solving real problems, rather than perceived ones, which are often very different. The risk for the legal team, and more particularly for the GC, is that any tech purchased will hit the business’s bottom line. There will be pressure to show a return on investment (ROI) for that cost which, if the tech does not create the efficiencies desired, will be difficult to demonstrate.
It is therefore crucial for the GC to fully explore the problem that they are hoping to solve before taking any practical steps to introduce new tech. For example, does the legal team have enough contracts of the same type to to justify potentially expensive technology, and will the proposed technology integrate and work with the systems that the business already has in place?
A GC should also scan the horizon for any future issues that could potentially hamper the implementation of the technology within the business. Law firms can add value for their clients by using their knowledge of the issues and risks that they see in the market and their experience of other businesses’ legal tech (and, indeed, their own). They are also adept at evaluating what’s currently on the legal tech market, explaining how it operates, providing feedback on whether it delivers the benefits it claims, and subjectively interrogating what will work for a client, and what will not.
Providing practical support
There are other practical ways law firms can help too. For example, implementing AI generally takes longer than expected. There are currently few examples of “plug and play” legal tech in the market and consequently they often need someone to:
- Integrate systems.
- Train AI.
- Build the legal tech into the business’s existing processes.
Although this is not traditional legal work, it often needs the experience of a lawyer (certainly for the training element) and someone with an understanding of the business. It also needs dedicated time as some training and implementation projects can take up to 18 months. This is a time commitment that not every in-house legal team can spare as most teams are lean and do not have spare capacity for such projects.
It is much more likely that a law firm will be able to manage legal tech projects for clients as they have the capacity to offer a dedicated person to work on the assignment until its completion. This means a much shorter time frame from the purchase of the legal tech to its integration and subsequent ROI, which achieves the aim of making the tech more useful and cost-efficient for the GC and the in-house legal team.