The Modern-Day Partner Must be Tech-Centric

The legal services marketplace has undergone, and will continue to experience, significant change as a result of advancements in legal technology.

Partners and other senior legal professionals must utilise technology to avoid falling behind, and see adoption of advanced legal technology (such as Thomson Reuters’ new Westlaw and Practical Law) as key to long term success and employee development.

For Cornwalls partner Nick Amore, the realisation that tech proficiency was going to be inextricably linked to his broader professional success came well before he reached the partnership.

“Large businesses are always looking to find ways to increase efficiencies with emerging technologies. So, inevitably, law firms need to embrace technologies to uphold a status and position in the market,” he reflected.

“To ensure [such] capabilities, introducing and adopting emerging technologies is pivotal – this is required at the top.”

Maddocks chief information officer Brad Kay supports this, noting that a law firm’s ability to identify potential cost savings via technology solutions is now a critical part of client relationships.

“Those partners who are able to identify and demonstrate benefits of technology platforms to clients are seeing success, particularly where solutions are simple, user-friendly and practical. It’s often the simple things that go a long way,” he says.

“Taking an idea to a client where there is opportunity for both benefits and collaboration speaks volumes for the relationship you have with that client. Clients will often have preferred technology tools that they require us to use so it’s important that we are flexible enough in our processes to adapt to using these tools.”

In the evolving Australian legal market, these views are becoming new standards rather than outliers. What Thomson Reuters has learned from its work with thousands of lawyers globally, vice president of product management (Asia and Emerging Markets) James Jarvis says, is that the best law firm leaders view technology as critical to the successful delivery of work, for innovation and growth of their talent.

“Many leaders understand the processes and are adept at seeing opportunities for improvement through investment in capabilities that support the team to be motivated and grow, and to work more effectively to achieve the business goals,” he proclaims.

Duties of leaders

Looking ahead, partners cannot simply see tech proficiency as part-and-parcel of their success. They must, Mr Amore stresses, view it as a responsibility to their practices, clients and firm.

“A mindset that seeks to embrace and improve with tech proficiency is more adept and flexible to market disruption and change,” he deduces.

Technology has become a differentiating trait of success, both for a growing number of active and aspiring partners in Australian legal practice, Mr Jarvis says.

“Clients are increasingly expecting firms to have the latest technology to deliver the best outcome for them and legal professionals are expecting the same technology to optimise the low value and repetitive work so that they can contribute to business growth as legal advisors,” he says.

“In all industries, the best people want to work in the best environments with the best and right tools for the work that they do. If your partner or leader understands how you work and works with you to identify opportunities for improvement, that is a big step towards success because that knowledge can guide you to find, assess and adopt legal technologies.”

Ensuring optimal capabilities moving forward

While many, if not most, partners would agree that tech proficiency can go hand-in-hand with success, Mr Jarvis says, change is usually perceived to be hard, especially for legal professionals who are time poor.

“Adoption of new technologies is about knowing that the effort to switch from an old tool to a new legal technology is going to result in benefits that outweigh the effort to change. For example, ‘smart natural language searching’ in document retrieval can reduce a two-minute task to a 10-second task,” he advises.

“Lawyers may resist new technology for such a small-time change”, he continues, “however, the impact is realised when you do the two-minute task thousands of times a month or year”.

“Some firms pick up a product like new Westlaw and use it like they use older, less advanced tools. Other firms are utilising collaboration features like folder and annotation sharing because they are focused on bringing more consistency and repeatability to the way they research and because they want the development of talent to feel organic and part of how they approach each matter, every day.”

“Partners can choose to invest in legal technology. Proactive partners also prioritise the time to get everyone on board and comfortable with the change. Once you decide to use a particular legal technology value comes with actual use, so training is a crucial part of the process,” he suggests.

For Mr Kay, the success or otherwise that partners will have in bringing both themselves, and their teams, up to speed on adaptation of necessary tech will depend on two critical streams of thought.

The first, he lists, is having the space to identify opportunities and contribute to solutions and it’s when multi-disciplinary teams are working together that the magic happens.

“Getting into busy partners’ diaries to do this is often hard, however it is becoming an essential part of their job design and we see it as creating time to invest in the future of the firm.”

The second stream, Mr Kay goes on, is having the right support to execute the solution.

“This is not just the talent but the foresight to invest. Providing the right level of technical support for our lawyers when they need it, and mitigating the possible frustration that might deter lawyers from the tech is also crucial. At Maddocks, we have both internal support, as well as people and learning resources. We also rely on vendor support for more specialised areas.”

Thomson Reuters platforms

Mr Jarvis notes that Thomson Reuters understands that the law is complex and nuanced, and as such, its tech development appreciates how lawyers work and the goals they are seeking to achieve.

“Our design process is iterative and continuous, relying on a combination of domain knowledge, technology expertise and data science as well as user-experience design and research.”

“Practical Law should feel instantly helpful—like a check-list or guidance from a senior resource in your firm. Westlaw has the authorised law reports, legislation and commentaries fundamental to everyday research, powered by advanced technologies including our Natural Legal Language search, the KeyCite citator and our KeyNumber Digest, so you get started faster and have confidence that you haven’t missed any relevant information,” he details.

Practical Law, Mr Amore says in agreement, is an example of tech proficiency.

“When administered correctly and diligently by a law firm, it can be instrumental in learning and development of lawyers and keeping up to date with market developments. The key is the mindset and strategy of the law firm – how can tech best be utilised and implemented to deliver the desired outcome for the team and the firm,” he argues.

Both Practical Law and Westlaw, Mr Kay agrees, are platforms are tried and tested with many legal solutions.

“Having a team which is well versed in the benefits and how to tailor solutions for clients is essential – and often saves an enormous amount of time versus developing a standalone system,” he says.

The capabilities of Practical Law and Westlaw, Mr Jarvis goes on, are engineered to “shift some of the burden from the user to the technology”, providing trusted, unbiased information lawyers need to be successful, and in less time.

The Modern Day Partner Has to be Tech-Centric

“Partnering with Thomson Reuters gives you access to our people because we want to be there with you to answer questions and take on your feedback at every stage of your adoption of the legal technology. It’s important to understand why the subscription tool can make your team more effective than using the existing process or ‘free to access’ services.”

“Free to access legal technologies on the internet may have similar legal information as subscription services, but you often need to refer to multiple sites which takes time, and as each site works differently, the likelihood of error and missing something relevant increases,” he says.

“Using a single site that has all primary law and key secondary sources reduces ‘site hopping’ and the chances of missing something. It also allows for effective use of time because it shifts the effort from finding relevant law to analysis and application of the law. Westlaw includes suggestive questions/documents as you start typing because we want to make the process efficient so that after a couple of keystrokes you are moving closer to fulfilling your research goals.”

Dangers of failing to adapt

Client relationships have evolved substantially, Mr Kay muses, over the last 20 years.

“Clients required strong technical skills, then added the need for strong service skills. All major law firms have developed these attributes very well. The next generation of client need is for strong tech innovation,” he posits.

“Clients will seek collaboration in how they can do more with less. So, any partners who are unable to ensure proficiency with technology will be affected over the next 10 years.”

Thankfully, Mr Kay continues, he has not seen many instances where partners have failed to ensure tech proficiency. Their adoption may be slightly slower, he says, but once the benefits to their practice and clients are demonstrated, “they quickly adapt”.

“The stories of partners unwilling to deal with emails is certainly not one we see at Maddocks. As to risking adverse outcomes, I would say that the same quality of outcome can likely be achieved without the latest technology but it will take longer and cost more.”

Mr Jarvis puts the proposition of dangers to those who fail to adapt in another light: firms and organisations taking the time to invest, train and use legal technologies aligned with their needs and ways of working are the ones who are realising the broader benefits and gains.

This is because, he explains, they are focused on ensuring the legal technology aligns with the work their team does, the problems they are trying to solve and the clients they are trying to retain.

“The risk of continuing with outdated processes, investing in the wrong solution or adopting technology without sufficient training is that you can fall behind other firms who are delivering a better more efficient service to clients, and offering a better, more rewarding work environment to their team – the real value is why this makes a difference for your lawyers and clients,” he says.

Further reflections

Ultimately, Mr Amore submits, partners who continually strive to adopt tech advancements are the ones who will be more likely to remain current and competitive in an ever-evolving market. This is something, he said, that his firm identified some years ago.

“Today, innovation and technology are ingrained in our strategic direction. This has led to some exciting and innovative opportunities,” he mused.

Mr Kay supports this, noting that tech innovation is central to Maddocks’ offering to clients, “and it starts with a focus on people”.

“This is not just about how clients experience our services or user-centric design, but it is about how we treat each other. I often say to my team that what matters most is how we take care of each other and the rest will take care of itself,” he says.

Thomson Reuters, for its part, is focused on designing and building legal technology and information solutions that are flexible, usable and useful so that said partners can be more effective in the ways that they and their teams work.

Mr Jarvis: “We are passionate about legal technology and believe our continued efforts work to make Westlaw and Practical Law the best Australian legal research solution.”

“Our goal is to support you to realise your full and true potential as a lawyer. We want to give you an edge and a differentiator,” he concludes.

This article originally featured on Lawyers Weekly and has been republished with permission.

Jerome is the editor of Lawyers Weekly, an independent source of news, analysis and opinion about the practice of law in Australia. He is also the author of The Wellness Doctrines book series and a board director for the Minds Count Foundation. He holds bachelor degrees in both law and communications from the University of Technology in Sydney and is an admitted solicitor to the Supreme Court of New South Wales.

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