Legal tech is sexy, enticing and potentially disruptive. Lawyers are being encouraged to learn to code, accelerators and incubators are popping up. But should you spend time developing legal technology, if it might make your customer experience better? Let’s find out.
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The legal profession has been awash in articles exhorting its lawyer to learn to code, to become digital proficient, to consider building apps, to get on board with the legal tech gravy train. But is it necessary for you to create an app? And how do you decide? This article looks at some of the emerging technologies, and comes down to nuts and bolts. What it tells us is that without the right strategy in place, and without thinking about the broader aspects of pursuing technical development, you might accelerate your problems, rather than your growth.
Should we develop legaltech?
In September 2017, at the Clio Cloud Conference, Clio announcedthat it was committing more than USD $1 million towards a developer fund and app contest, to spur on the development of legal tech.
Not long before this — in July 2017 — the University of Technology in Sydney launched Australia’s first legal tech degree. The first intake for that degree commences next month, in March 2018. On the one hand, it promises to upskill students in disruptive tech like artificial intelligence; and on the other to consider how ‘technology is causing doctrinal changes in law’.
The University is far from being a front-runner on the world stage. Some law schools in the USA already offer blockchain-centriccourses, with a focus on financial technology. By January 2016, Spain was already requiring its lawyers to certify as digitally proficient, so that they could practise online in the country’s new systems. And by November 2017, AILIRA was rolled out to help low socioeconomic communities in Darwin, giving them access to much-needed legal services, for a fraction of the price of seeing a lawyer.
It’s by no means a new debate. At Brutal Pixie we’ve watched this wave of discourse crash over the heads of those working in law in the past five years, and followed with gusto many of its developments. Over the last two to three years, some aggregate appraisals have emerged from time to time, giving you an insight into what’s actually out there. For example, this excellent appraisal of the (in 2016) existing legal tech in the US, shining a light on how technology has started dramatically improving client experiences, and driving more intense competition as a result. Another is this one, which functions to group technology by type and usage.
Is he right? And should you think about developing new technology? Some of the profession’s awards — like the ALPMA Thought Leadership Award — may suggest you should.
However, at Brutal Pixie, we suggest that the issue is much more complicated.
Technology is helpful, but only when it’s right for you
One of our clients recently published this fantastic article about why successful transformation is actually about people, and not technology.
Two years earlier, TechCrunch wrote about why you don’t need a digital strategy, but an entire company transformation, if you’re going to provide outstanding services to people. The article’s writer went to great pains to point out that technology is going to be an essential part of things — that much we can take for granted. But what we can’t do is assume that applying one piece is tech is going to improve the entire process.
You can’t assume that one piece of technology will “transform” the entire process. [ Tweet this ]
This isn’t new thinking, either. In his seminal work, Good to Great, author Jim Collins and his team discovered that the greatcompanies were those who went back to the foundations of their strategy.
We came to see the pioneering application of technology as just one more way in which the good-to-great companies remained disciplined within the frame of their Hedgehog Concept. […] If a technology doesn’t fit squarely within their three circles, they ignore all the hype and fear and just go about their business with a remarkable degree of equanimity. However, once they understand which technologies are relevant, they become fanatical and creative in the application of technologies.
If you’ve never heard of the Hedgehog Concept, read this explanation.
Know how wide the gap is before you try to build the bridge
Legaltech is sexy and scary and brilliant for law firms. But let’s look up for a moment. So, too, is what is now known as ‘martech’: The technology that drives marketing and automation (some of which we use here). And so is ‘fintech’: The technology that drives financial processes and their automation.
When it comes to business, in fact, technology permeates every part of it, like that pasta sauce did when you spilled it on your white shirt. Much of legaltech strives to become the ‘one stop shop’ for everything. Some of it strives to make your time in research a lot shorter. Some of it enables faster and more complete communication with clients. Some of it enables better agreements and less corruptible contracts.
The first point is, you have to know what you are trying to solve before you decide on the right technology. And you have to know that developing technology is right for you, before you spend time thinking about, scoping, or financing an app.
Before diving into #legaltech understand (a) what you want to achieve, (b) how the tech is relevant to you. [ Click to tweet ]
The second point is, you have to know how the technology is relevant to what your organisation is trying to achieve. If you are working in a low socioeconomic area and are deeply passionate about access to justice, then speedily implementing something like AILIRA at the customer-facing end may be of great benefit to you. But if you are a luxury firm that prioritises the personal touch and personal relationships, then the application of that technology would be very different.
Remember that tech isn’t just in the development
Applications and technology require more than just developing and coding. If you’re in love with the idea of developing your own client-facing technology, we strongly recommend that you pay attention to the following key points.
Pay attention to:
- Good user experience: How will you create an experience that achieves the outcome you’re after for nine out of ten users?
- Outstanding content: How will you create content that gets out of the way of the users’ intentions?
- Continuous development: Do you have the resources to constantly update and maintain your application? (This is critical for smartphone devices.)
- Process change: Will your processes dovetail into it, and are you prepared to invest in training to upskill your people to match?
- Measurement: How will you know that you’ve achieved a return on your investment? If you don’t already measure what you do, building new things isn’t going to help you understand their impact on your business.
So how does this all relate to what I do, then?
At Brutal Pixie we’re a strategy-first organisation, one that specialises in great content engagement and client/prospect experiences. Getting the reasons right for building or applying any kind of technology means getting your strategic foundations clear, and your vision, mission and intention on point.
This applies to your website, to your communications, to your marketing, even to how you bill people and provide advice.
Mediocrity results first and foremost from management failure. ~ Jim Collins . [ Tweet this ]
As Jim Collins wrote, ‘Mediocrity results first and foremost from management failure, not technological failure’.
If you want to be mediocre, the best way to do it is to assume that you don’t have to spend time iterating on your business model, testing your communications and marketing, or knowing how to make a good decision about legal technology.
If your strategic foundations are weak, whatever you put in place — whether it’s technology or marketing — can in fact accelerate your problems.
Should you develop legal technology, then?
If you know it’s right for your business and your clients, and you have the resources to maintain it, then it’s possible that the answer is hell yes!.
If not, get the answers to those parts sorted out and re-assess. It’s quite likely that there is already a handful of platforms that will do the job for you, and accelerate your growth as a result.
At Brutal Pixie we help executives to get clear on their strategic foundations before creating marketing, communications and customer love solutions. To book your strategic consultation, contact us.