Are law firms missing a trick when it comes to the use of technology? The first panel session at this year’s Business Leadership Summit will suggest that the answer to that question is ‘yes’.
What’s more, the panellists on the session – Baker McKenzie research and development partner Ben Allgrove, Laura Bygrave, legal innovation lead at Deloitte Legal and Tara Waters, partner and co-CEO at Ashurst Digital Ventures – say they are determined to offer delegates some practical tips on how to avoid the “falling in love with the technology” syndrome.
In short, this pitfall boils down to investing in a technology solution without fully identifying what the problem actually is that the tech is supposed to solve.
“That’s what’s led to some of the disappointment in relation to the speed of digitisation of legal generally,” says Allgrove. “There’s lots of low-hanging fruit we could deal with now.”
Allgrove believes that part of the problem is that legal innovation has too often been seen through the lens of legal tech. What’s generally missing is the strategic piece of the puzzle.
The focus of this panel session, the first at this year’s Business Leadership Summit, is to introduce this year’s over-arching theme: that of taking a step back and going back to basics.
The key, says Allgrove, is to make sure you really understand the problem you are trying to solve and what it is you are trying to achieve before making any strategic decisions around technology, processes or people.
“In the future I’ve no doubt much of this technology will be impactful,” adds Allgrove. “But framing it around robot lawyers rather than business model and process model change is what has led to the hype cycle. Most technology innovation in the law is relatively underwhelming. Progress needs to be made not in the sexy areas but in building the back office infrastructure so you can do what will be possible in the future.”
This return to basics includes the necessity of learning to ask clients the right questions about the issues they face in transforming businesses and operating models. Deloitte’s Laura Bygrave advocates for more critical thinking efforts on this front.
“We cannot assume that we understand client problems straight away. There are hundreds of legal startups in London, so we should go deeper: the clients want to buy this piece of tech, but can they use it across a number of areas in the business? Can it be integrated with existing and future products?,” she says.
Bygrave calls this renewed attention to client needs the ‘Spice Girls technique’.
“Just tell me what you want, what you really really want,” she explains.
Adding in a similarly practical point of view, Ashurst’s Waters says the market has now reached a point where innovation specialists are trying to help clients understand what tech is out there and what is appropriate for what they’re trying to do.
“That means us as lawyers taking a step back and realising that tech isn’t the answer in and of itself,” says Waters. “It allows you to provide services in better ways but tech in itself can’t solve the problem. You need to understand the tech and be upfront and honest about its limitations. That’s the bit that’s often missing, having a dialogue about this.”
Wrapping around this dialogue the process and advice that goes with being a legal services adviser is what also underlines the fact that tech is simply one piece of the puzzle, adds Waters.
She concedes that the sheer volume of possible tech solutions out in the market can make properly evaluating what is likely to be best for any particular problem challenging, particularly when there are new ones all the time.
“How have we addressed this?” asks Waters. “By building up our team internally so we’re not looking at anything in isolation and can focus on how products align with our strategy. It comes down to placing a bit of a bet on a product that aligns best.”
Ben Allgrove, Laura Bygrave and Tara Waters are part of the 30+ speakers making up this year’s speaker line-up at The Lawyer’s Business Leadership Summit on 25 September. For more information on the conference, a copy of the agenda, or to inquire about attending, please contact Felicia Drakos on +44(0) 20 7970 4279.