This year’s UK 200: Business Services report, which analyses headcount-related trends across the UK legal market, focused in particular on technology. As part of this report we conducted additional research into firms’ approach to investing in technology.
The full results are contained in the Business Services report but a snapshot highlights several key trends, notably that a growing number of firms are setting up technology-specific innovation teams and R&D budgets. As the report found, this is evidence that technology has shot up the agenda at an overwhelming number of UK law firms (see pie chart below).
Although the idea of a standalone R&D budget or innovation team remains largely in its infancy in the UK legal market, there are clear signs that some firms are blazing a trail (see selection of answers, below). More than half of those surveyed said they either already had an innovation team or an R&D budget for technology. One firm said it has a “dedicated legal technologist” whose role is to help identify new innovations coming into the market and establish which of those innovations it should look at. Most said that their IT-related spend had increased last year (see pie chart below).
Do you have an innovation team or a separate R&D budget for technology?
“Yes, innovation is a core strategic aim of the firm. IT also has an
“We have appointed an innovations manager this year.”
“We have maintained an innovation panel for several years. It promotes innovation within the firm and acts as a ‘think tank’ for senior management, exploring challenges that are not on our current agenda.”
“We have a separate budget for technology and an R&D budget will be one of the outcomes from the board meeting later this month. It is regrettable that there is no R&D tax credit regime available to an LLP.”
“Yes we have an innovation project team and we also set up a separate IT R&D budget for the first time in 2016/17.”
“Not formally although this is being considered.”
“Given the size of the firm we do not have a dedicated -innovation team or R&D budget but we do run innovation -projects and pull in relevant resource from around the firm.”
We also asked firms to tell us the most visible or positive benefits of investing in IT over the past three years, apart from an improvement in financial performance. Among the wide variety of responses came the first-ever indications of the impact of artificial intelligence at UK firms.
Clifford Chance’s response in particular highlights some of the changes it is already seeing and which are likely to be felt across many other large firms over the coming years: “There have been many areas of progress, but perhaps the most visible are our recent partnership with artificial intelligence provider Kira Systems, which will search and analyse the text of contracts; and more recently Neota, which makes it possible to capture and replicate the decision-making logic behind giving some kinds of legal advice.” Other answers include:
“The use of communication tools has seen our engagement with clients increase. This has led to increased numbers attending events and in turn an increase in conversions. Our staff in addition benefit from the investment in IT, from the increased visibility, improved performance and productivity it brings, which in turn increases motivation and satisfaction levels.”
“System reliability avoiding downtime,” pointed out another. “Security avoiding crime and downtime, and mobile access allowing working from home or from clients’ premises.”
Another firm said: “Technology has cut down paper use and reduced the rekeying of information. We have also seen the firm’s flexible working initiative supported with iPhones and iPads, allowing our partners and staff to work regardless of their location.”
“There have been improvements in morale due to firm technology investment.”
“Clarilis allows us to stay up with, or at times ahead of, the competition, who may have deeper investment pockets”
“The implementation of a single global active directory and associated messaging and network services has improved our ability to work seamlessly globally. These have recently been complemented with a global Skype for Business implementation and we are currently piloting Yammer.”
And Allen & Overy answered: “Technology has contributed to changing the market perception of us. We are viewed as leading the field globally among big law firms in the deployment of alternative delivery techniques.”
When asked which single recent technology-related initiative has had the biggest impact on their firm and why, several products and services get a name check, including VisualFiles, Artesian, Rekoop and Peppermint:
For example, one said: “Artesian, a customer engagement and sales acceleration solution for B2B sellers, gives us the ability to target, connect and share with customers and prospects and measure outcomes. This has had a hugely positive impact on our sales and marketing. Artesian gathers and tracks intelligence on customers, prospects and competitors from millions of online resources including blogs, news sites, editorials and social platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn. It provides valuable insights based on the companies and industries that are important to users.”
Another said: “Over the last 12 months we have completed the technology refresh which included a refresh of laptops and the replacement of BlackBerry devices for smartphones and an upgrade to firewalls which has stabilised the VPN platform – this all improves our capability for flexible working. The other major project that impacts everyone has been the managed print solution which means that printing is far more secure from a data confidentiality perspective.”
Rekoop, the time-recording software, was mentioned several times:
“The implementation of Rekoop ensures we accurately capture time. It allows us to really understand the time spent and ultimately the profitability of the matter.”
Others mentioned Surface Pro tablets with Skype for Business: “Combining Surface Pro tablets with Skype for Business has enabled us to implement a more agile working environment. This has improved productivity, client service and collaboration. It is also improving people’s work-life balance and helping us to attract and retain talented individuals,” and “We have 200-plus Surface devices in use as part of an extensive pilot, along with seamless remote access, wireless headsets and Skype for Business. The feedback about this device and software has been very positive from nearly all users, enabling new levels of agility and mobility in our workforce.”
Some talked about the switch from BlackBerry to smartphones: “A move away from a tired and restrictive product (BlackBerry) to Windows smartphones has provided a richer more productive tool for fee-earners. The smartphone has enhanced the ability of fee-earners to work away from the desk,” is one example.
Another firm answered: “In terms of a single project, the biggest impact firm-wide has been seen from the introduction of a new social intranet – JACK – Just Ask, Communication and Knowledge. This has only just been released but will bring significant improvements in communication, knowledge sharing and collaboration across the firm, enable effective referrals and a become the central nervous system for all information.”
Other answers included: “Real-time reporting dashboards, which has enabled senior staff members to have data readily available to them, which is invaluable.”
“During the last 12 months the focus has been on preparing for Peppermint’s going live. Our experience has been broadly positive, unlike some other firms’, because of the significant time investment of a project board and the champions in the development of processes and testing.”
The new Elite 3E practice management system in tandem with the MatterSphere case management system has allowed us to remove some of the technical constraints to improvement in the way the business undertakes its legal operations. This is a firm-wide implementation which provides a world-class platform for the organisation’s continued growth, servicing both the volume and bespoke legal services markets.”
“The most beneficial technology-related initiative the firm has introduced over the past 12 months is Contract Express. It has had the biggest impact on the way we work in terms of improved responsiveness (work turnaround is quicker), improved accuracy and improved efficiency – which is improving profitability.”
“The introduction of Clarilis – a cloud-based platform that makes the drafting process simpler, secure and far more efficient. While the impact is small at the moment it has the potential to be huge. It demonstrates two things: (i) that the automation of documentation can help firms retain margin or (where they have to give it, or some of it, away) it puts them in a more competitive position; and (ii) that the option for firms of our size to buy in document automation as a service (rather than having our own team of people to do it) allows us to stay up with, or at times ahead of, the competition who may have deeper investment pockets.”
“The biggest initiative we’ve introduced has been the virtualisation of desktops (where users can see their desktop on a remote computer when out of the office). It gives employees greater access to remote working, and provides a faster and more stable platform for staff. This initiative has also enabled co-location provision of professional services, and has allowed our technology systems to be managed and administered in a more efficient way.”
“VisualFiles has streamlined processes particularly within litigation, which has had to adapt to major changes over the past five years. The reporting mechanism within VF now gives visibility of work in progress at any stage of the process and how much it is worth. This helps with budget forecasting and business development.”
The responses to The Lawyer’s questionnaire make it crystal clear that most firms regard investment in technology as a strategic priority, whether it is to deliver better services to clients or to enable them to introduce efficiencies, or both, and ultimately improve their bottom line.
To purchase the full UK 200: Business Services report contact Richard Edwards on 0207 970 4672 or at firstname.lastname@example.org