In our latest 60 second interview with The Lawyer’s Business Leadership Summit speakers, Kennedy Van der Laan’s legal service designer Jelle van Veenen talks to The Lawyer about law firm technology strategy and how design thinking can help with the innovation process.
Dr. Jelle van Veenen
Dr. Jelle van Veenen

Is it better to develop your own technology or buy it externally and bespoke it for your own needs?

Generally, it makes little sense for a law firm to develop software. Development is costly, time-consuming, and requires a high level of expertise. Software development also implies a long-term commitment to maintenance and support, which is also costly. Economically, it makes more sense to buy software from dedicated vendors that sell their product to a large number of customers, and use their margin to keep investing in development and innovation.

In practice, however, this is not always an option. At Kennedy Van der Laan |Sync, we talk to several software vendors every week, looking for tools that can potentially improve the way our clients work. What we find is that there are many technically advanced products out there, but only a fraction of them fit (or can be made to fit) the challenges of our clients. Our solution to this is usually one of the following:

  • We adopt a promising startup and coach them in order to improve their product-market fit
  • We pick products that have the flexibility that we need to achieve the right fit
  • In some cases, where there is a great demand for a certain product that is not being met by the market, we choose to develop our own products.
What are the biggest blockers to technology adoption? 
For any innovation, be it a new tool, service, or product, three aspects are essential. First of all there needs to be a clear benefit for the user. This benefit has to outweigh the cost of using (and learning to use) the product by a sufficient margin.
Second, the innovation must be easy (or even fun) to use. The user experience has to be great, and it needs to integrate well with other tools and processes.
Third, users must know where to find the innovation and how to use it. The innovation needs to be readily available at the right time and place, and proper training and marketing efforts have to be made so that people can actually use it.
When technology adoption fails, it usually is because one or more of the above aspects have not been met. This happens, for instance, when a new technology seems to be so promising that it is implemented without properly considering the specifics of the organisation where it will be implemented. To improve the chance of success, any innovation process should start with proper interdisciplinary research. Methods such as ‘design thinking’ are essential for getting the right people involved at the right time, and reconsidering the people and processes that will be affected. Sure, this brings up some extra costs at the initial stage. But it can prevent a costly project from failing later on.
Are investments in legal tech all about reducing cost or is legal tech actually about increasing a law firm’s value proposition?
Over the last decade, we have seen technology-driven companies take over big parts of certain industries by offering a new response to lingering inefficiencies. In the legal industry we are also starting to see that specific tasks can now be handled more efficiently or more effectively by technology. Consequently, clients are becoming less willing to pay substantial hourly rates for commodity tasks such as drafting documents. Law firms could attempt to keep their share of this market by investing in their own technology offering, but chances are that tech companies will be able to do this more effectively by leveraging large-scale offerings.
The rise of legal tech is changing the legal market. I do not think that it is wise for law firms to seek to keep their current share of the market by competing directly with tech offerings. The smart thing for law firms to do is to observe how new products and services affect their clients, and to invest in new service offerings that respond to these new types of demands.
Tell us 2 truths and one lie (in any order) about yourself.
            • I have a Phd in law, but have never attended more than two classes in law school.
            • I once recorded a soundtrack. To a book.
            • I strongly believe that robots will take over the legal profession.

Jelle van Veenen is part of the 120+ managing partners, C-level executives and business services leaders gathering on the 25 September 2018 at the Business Leadership Summit in association with Propero to spend a day focusing on defining your law firm strategy in a tech driven future. For more information on the conference, a copy of the agenda, or to inquire about attending, please contact Nathan Graham on +44(0) 20 7970 4672.