As most of you know, in the United Kingdom, you are frequently reminded to “mind the gap” when stepping on and off trains. It’s a precaution to watch out for the gap between the train and the platform, so you don’t trip and fall flat on your face.
I was reminded of this this admonition recently. LexisNexis has rolled out a premium research service called Lexis+. I had a chance to talk to Jeff Pfeifer, LexisNexis’ Chief Product Officer and David Ganote, LexisNexis’ Senior Director of Product planning, about the product and the design process.
Lots has already been written about this colossus upgrade to the LexisNexis legal research platform. The new platform offers 11 new bells and whistles that I won’t begin to describe here. (For a complete description of the new features, see Bob Ambrogi’s excellent summary).
But when I talked to Pfeifer and Ganote about the new package, one thing stood out. Pfeifer and Ganote found one of the biggest challenges in designing Lexis+ was to make it usable to a full range of customers. These customers and users range from younger law students to older and more experienced lawyers and professionals. It is this latter group, of course, that often make the purchase decisions.
This range creates a serious gap in experience with technology and, let’s face it, mindset toward technology. This gap in turn often causes frustration. It results in dashed expectations on both sides of the experience bar. Tech decisions made that don’t help the actual users. Technology not doing the things that’s someone expects it do. Benefits and limitations being poorly understood.
Best I can tell, recognizing this sometimes broad gap led Pfeifer and Ganote to do several things.
First, Pfeifer told me LexisNexis went to its users–lawyers and legal professionals–before it designed the product. As I previously wrote, just like it did with the Product Navigator design process, LexisNexis wanted to get input about their pain points and what they really needed. Lexis, Nexis went to some 2000 users across the experience board before designing the overall product. The result: a platform that hits the pain points and makes it easier to accomplish tasks for those that have the greatest use of the products.
Second, for perhaps the first time, a legal tech product designer actually considered design.
Second, for perhaps the first time, a legal tech product designer actually considered design. As Pfeifer put it, who says the dashboard and user interface for legal tech has to be boring. The result: an excellent easy to use and inviting interface that looks good for a change. A dashboard that appeals again to a large and diverse group of legal users. Again recognizing and dealing with the gap.
The result of these efforts and recognition hopefully is a product that appeals and can be used by those across the board. By talking to people and paying attention to design interface LexisNexis hopes to have a product that is functional and appeals across the board. It hopes to bridge the gap.
Failing to recognize the gap can indeed have deleterious consequences.
Failing to recognize the gap can indeed have deleterious consequences. Too often, I have seen those involved in tech purchase decisions in law firms and legal departments think of the users as monolithic group and assume what’s right for one group is suitable for all. Older lawyers will look at how they, themselves, might use a piece of technology in deciding whether to buy it. What is or is not useful to them. But the younger lawyers and other legal professionals, have a different idea of what is or is not useful in the work they actually do. Too often tech is bought that does not advance the users pain points and frustration ensues.
Failing to see the gap had also led to strange and counter intuitive decision-making processes. For example, back in the day when we actually had physical onsite legal tech trade shows, I was always amazed at how few working lawyers would attend. How could these lawyers–who often make tech purchase decisions (or even worse, have veto power over the choices of others)—not try to get familiar with what is going on? With what is what is useful?
On the vendor side, I often see products designed that appeal to younger more tech savvy users with little to no thought to how the product looks to an older lawyer. An older lawyer-buyer who is not as familiar with technology and tech terms and concepts. Hence the marketing effort falls on deaf ears.
So how can we better mind and bridge the gap? I think it takes awareness. Awareness by those making tech decisions of what those who will actually use the product think. Ask younger lawyers and legal professionals what they think. Asking whether the products will address their pain points. Will those people actually use the product? This kind of inquiry takes time, which, to most lawyers, is the most valued commodity. But a long-term view would surely demonstrate that taking the time to mind the gap would lead to more efficiencies. It sure would lead to fewer disruptions, disruption that reduce billable hours.
On the vendor side, it means greater sensitivity to the differences in the market. Just as LexisNexis has tried to do, it means looking across the market and seeing the differences and addressing them. It means taking the time to understand the viewpoint and goals of the often-older lawyer. These are the lawyers who have the ultimate power when it comes to use and purchase. It means marketing to them in ways that demonstrate the sensitivities of the real users. It means taking the time to make them understand what’s being offered and show who and how it helps. It means translating the value the product has to the younger lawyers and legal professionals to the older lawyers in ways the older lawyers can see.
The time spent learning how to use a nonintuitive product is money literally taken out of lawyers’ pockets.
I often talk to vendors about the need to understand what more experienced lawyers see when they look at tech. They see time, and time to the billable hour lawyer is money. The time spent learning how to use a nonintuitive product is money literally taken out of their pockets. It this kind of sensitivity to the goals and needs that can help vendors mind the gap.
Finally, the same is true for all of us of commentators. If we want to enhance technology and innovation across the profession, we have to understand we aren’t talking to a monolithic marketplace. Like Pfeifer and Ganote, we have to recognize and address the gap between law students and, say, the 71-year-old solo practitioner. If we want to be effective communicators, we need to understand the legal market is broad and diverse. Minding the gap should be a message we give ourselves every day.