Choosing the Right Legal Solutions for Your Team: One-on-One With James Jarvis [Q&A]

James Jarvis, Director, Global Legal Solutions, Thomson Reuters
James Jarvis, Director, Global Legal Solutions, Thomson Reuters

With technology now an inherent part of any efficient and forward-thinking legal practice, firms and in-house legal departments need to employ a strategic approach to choosing the right software solutions.

In part one of this two-part interview series, James Jarvis, Director, Global Legal Solutions at Thomson Reuters Legal Australia, discussed the value of informing a legal team’s software strategy with design thinking.

In part two, James outlines some essential considerations for any legal team when evaluating new legal software for their practice.

Q: How important is it for legal teams to keep up with tech developments and continually reassess their software needs? 

A: It’s vital. Technology is changing so rapidly now that the days of the five-to-10-year legal technology plan are over.

Firms need to be quick to adopt the technology that is driving the industry forward. Understanding how and why your team will benefit from the technology is the key – if it solves a problem with the way you work today, then early adoption versus a wait-and-see mentality is a good strategy. By way of example, it has been reported that early adopters of AI technologies are making decisions five times faster than their competitors.

Hanging on to legacy systems that don’t work efficiently may make a material impact on how a firm does business and, ultimately, its success in a disrupted legal market.

Technology is an enabler of better legal work, in my view. The yardstick should be whether refining the legal team’s software strategy will positively impact the business or client service levels.

We’ve also found the firms and legal teams that draw on broad internal and external networks – those that nurture innovation initiatives internally and also consult and collaborate with clients or professionals in other disciplines – are better placed to stay ahead of the curve. The more multi-disciplinary the collaboration, the better.

Q: With so much choice of legal software on the market, how do you evaluate one product against its competitors?

A: As we’ve discussed previously, design thinking is invaluable as an innovative strategy for any legal team in evaluating the problems new legal software should solve, and the outcomes it should seek to achieve.

You should also consider the specific needs of your practice area and the problems – technological or otherwise – that affect your practitioners and support staff. Will new software help to upskill your junior lawyers to contribute more significantly? Will it help to free up your senior staff to focus on more complex tasks? These are just some of the questions to ask. Taking time to observe the way your team works at a very granular level will provide insights on what can be done better and where a new approach can make a big difference.

A good way of comparing software products is to look at the willingness of the vendors to partner with you in meeting your business goals. Consider, for example, how long the vendor has been around, and whether its products or services still have a high degree of usefulness or value years after the initial iterations of the relevant software package came out. Are they in touch with the way your team works and the goals that you have with the work that you are doing? If the software hasn’t evolved to help resolve problems that need to be solved, that’s a valuable insight to inform next steps.

In our experience, the most innovative firms understand the way their lawyers are working and where there are opportunities for improvement. This enables them to sit down with software vendors and outline their needs, goals and frustrations. Partnering or road testing a product with a vendor will also make the implementation phase – should you choose to go with the product – much easier.

Q: What are some other key considerations for a legal team in choosing the right solutions according to a long-term software strategy?

A: In my view, other key considerations include:

  • Value: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The most expensive system isn’t necessarily the best if you don’t need all the bells and whistles it comes with. If the value to the way your users work isn’t apparent and compelling, the discussion should probably stop there.
  • Transparency and simplicity. Is the experience, including the pricing model, overly complex? If it isn’t straight forward to you, ask whether there is a simpler approach. If the right solution has an enterprise-wide value, there is a benefit to pursuing a long term enterprise arrangement.
  • Configuration and scalability: If you don’t need all the features a system comes with, again, ask questions of your vendor regarding their ability to better configure the software to your needs. This may also affect how much you pay. Aim for legal software that is relevant to the work you are doing as well as easy to understand and adopt within the context of your practice areas. Unambiguous, learnable and flexible means the solution will be more likely relevant and usable for your team. Anything that appears complex, probably is complex.
  • Differentiation: If a software vendor can’t explain what differentiates their software from others on the market, or how it can make a positive, material difference to your practice, it’s probably best to look elsewhere.
  • Implementation and after-sales assistance: A good software vendor should be happy to offer as much, or as little, ongoing assistance as your team requires. Ensure you agree on the level of implementation or on-site or after-hours support you need (such as staff training sessions, a dedicated helpline or support team, ongoing ‘bug’ fixes or the delivery of program updates or notifications) before you commit.
  • Service level agreements: We expect guarantees and warranties with our personal tech investments, and the same should be expected of any legal software you invest in. You should determine with your vendor up-front whether there is a partial or full refund policy prior to taking on a new system. Also, work out the vendor’s warranty policy prior to purchase and installation. You should partner with a vendor who is willing to stand behind their software and repair or replace the system to get your problems resolved.
  • Whether the software has been developed and tested with clients: If a product has been rigorously developed and road tested with clients, it’s likely to be a more usable and useful tool, in my view. Software works well when it is focused on the priorities, goals and challenges that lawyers have in the way they work. Is the solution enhancing delivery of your work product or complicating and slowing it down?

To give you a practical example, Thomson Reuters’ Contract Express was developed and tested with lawyers who came to us with a specific frustration relating to their precedents system. They noted how time-consuming it was to continually adjust a sample precedent on a case-by-case basis. We gave this some thought and turned the process around.

By isolating the relevant variables within the precedent documents and coming up with a detailed electronic questionnaire, we have been able to assist lawyers to automate the production of a good, workable first draft of an existing precedent simply by having the lawyer work through the questionnaire and indicate which variables are or aren’t required.

This is a journey and we are continuously collaborating with the users of Contract Express to make the solution work the way the lawyers and support staff approach their work. We are constantly seeking to humanise the software.

Q: As you’ve noted earlier, legal teams need to be prepared to shift to new technology quickly. How does a practice build that kind of forward thinking or agility into their legal software strategy? 

A: When purchasing any software application, consider up-front how easy it is to get your data and fit your workflow into the technology.

The technology should also enable to you easily change providers down the track. If it looks like it will be very difficult to get your data back out of a software system when you decide to change providers, you should be wary of making a commitment.

About James Jarvis

Over a highly distinguished career in the legal tech space, James Jarvis, Director of Global Legal Solutions for Thomson Reuters Legal Australia, has held multiple product design, development and partnering leadership roles across the company’s core platforms, cloud-based solutions and online workflow applications.

He was also formerly Vice President of Product and Partner Management for Thomson Reuters’ Legal Managed Services in the United States, and has been named as an inventor on multiple design and technology patents for Thomson Reuters.

In his current role, James is responsible for accelerating the development and leveraging new software solutions products in the ANZ region.

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