We’ve nearly reached the end of another twelve months in the Australian legal profession. The industry did well in some areas, while in other areas it inevitably experienced setbacks. But a sure thing that will remain with us into the New Year is most definitely the pandemic-ready systems and processes that law firms have adapted to.
One thought leader who knows this all too well is Eric Chin. If you’re familiar with the 2020 Australia: State of the Legal Market Report, you’d know about Eric already. He is a strategy consultant who works with law firms, listed law firms, LegalTech firms, NewLaw firms, and corporate legal departments on strategy, M&A, market analysis, innovation and Asia.
In a recent Thomson Reuters webinar on the legal market, Eric was asked some questions about the innovation side of the profession. The contents of the article addresses a couple of questions from the audience, which Eric has answered here in detail. If you’re looking to work out which technology or tactic to take into 2021, start with Eric’s commentary, drawn from his experiences advising law firm clients in the Asia-Pacific region.
Eric Chin (Alpha Creates)’s legal tech lessons for firms
The pandemic has accelerated technology adoption to help lawyers with remote working. If we were rewinding the clock back to March, most of the firms were testing their server loads as we waited for the impending lockdown measures that were going to be introduced across the country. It has shown that cloud computing works! Which has eased the transition to remote working for the majority of lawyers – as they can access files and collaborate online.
Lesson 1: Optimise and digitise practice with existing tools
The first lesson that comes to mind is that firms can already optimise and digitise with existing tools. The pandemic has seen The Family Court, Federal Court of Australia, and Federal Circuit Court using Microsoft Teams as they move to online hearings. This also meant firms have transitioned into the Office365 environment. We have been busy working with firms to optimise their legal practice using applications already available in the Office365 suite as budgets are restricted at some firms as a pre-emptive measure to weather a depressed economy.
Lesson 2: Technology roadmap to direct technology purchase decisions
The second lesson that comes to mind is that having a technology roadmap is important to avoid reactive purchase decisions. In our work with firms to optimise processes at the practice group level, we would also conduct a technology audit and inevitably reveal technology decisions made at the practice level that could have been streamlined for cost saving as well as reduction in time waste. We have seen how practice-specific tools like e-conveyancing for example that are used in the property team that could also be used in the wills & estate team and leasing team.
Lesson 3: Structured approach to technology selection
The third lesson is to implement a structured approach to technology selection. Once a need has been identified, lawyers and the IT team will need to apply a structured approach to assessing the different vendors in the market on the same metric that ranks the criteria based on importance to your practice goals. Some might rank price higher than user interface others might rank training and support or market brand strength higher.
Will legal innovation roles become more formalised in the region? Eric weighs in
Firms are at different stages of their innovation journey. A typical trajectory will see law firms establishing an innovation committee that will then mature into formalising an innovation function that’s led by a partner before transitioning the lead role to an innovation specialist (usually someone who has worked in the legal industry and is familiar with how law firms work).
As innovation functions are now being formalised across the region, firms have also turned to the process of staffing their innovation teams with analysts, process engineers, project managers, workflow consultants, legal technologists, change managers and programmers. The pandemic has fast-tracked digitisation initiatives which will continue to keep innovation teams busy through 2020. This will no doubt continue into 2021.
As firms mature in their innovation journeys, we have also seen the innovation function’s focus transition from internal improvements to external engagements with clients. Some firms and the Big Four accounting firms have already launched their legal operations arms to help legal departments with operational issues. All of these will contribute to the increase in innovation roles across the APAC region in 2021.
For further reading on the subject of law firm innovation and operations, Thomson Reuters’ latest whitepaper can help with your strategic planning. The topic is gearing up for legal business operations, and you can download it here on Legal Insight.