It’s an accepted truism that lawyers and law firms are notoriously slow to adopt technology. With all the publicity surrounding new technology and automation, it’s tempting for law firms and lawyers to rush to some tech—any tech—hoping that technology will somehow miraculously solve all their problems. But it won’t unless the tech adoption is carefully considered and well thought out. Ill-considered tech adoption often has the opposite effect from that which is intended. Poor adoption will sour users on tech in general and further exacerbate the reluctance to use any tech—even that which can help.
But the legal tech field is full of products and vendors, all offering what they trumpet as the be all and end all solution. So how do busy lawyers and legal professionals figure out what and how to adopt tech?
Here are ten tips:
Rushing to tech that doesn’t help solve actual problems is of little value. Think carefully about what job you want technology to do for you, your fellow lawyers, and legal professionals. What problem do you want the technology to solve? There is no one size fits all tech that can fit perfectly with your firm and the problems you have, so you must identify your specific issues and areas of your practice that need improvement. Is it law firm management, payment, or client intake? Is it more substantive, such as needing data analytics to enhance litigation analysis for a particular practice group or marketing? Does your corporate section need help with contract preparation that automation might help?
Relatedly, talk to the lawyers and legal professionals who will be using the technology products. Look at their workflows and where and how tech might best fit with how they do their work. Most lawyers believe that what they do is unique and can only be accomplished a certain way. You can argue with them till you are blue in the face, but most of the time, they aren’t going to change their minds. So figure out how tech can best fit with what they do and how they do it.
The tech should be like Google: it’s easy to use, and most people can figure it out quickly
Talk to several vendors. There are similar legal technology offerings on the market. But they all have slight differences, so the product-firm fit is essential. Which again is why you want to identify beforehand the problem you need help with and the people who will use the product. Equally significant is that you assess how intuitive the technology is to use when you demo the product and how easy it is to get to the desired result. One of the traditional big problems with legal tech was that it was not easy to use. Busy lawyers and legal professionals won’t use a product if it takes too much time to generate results. After all, every minute spent trying to figure out how to make tech work is time and money lost for those who bill by the hour. The tech should be like Google: it’s easy to use, and most people can figure it out quickly
Similarly, think about the training needed for lawyers and legal professionals to use the product. Most aren’t going to sit through hours of training. They are too busy, and it’s not billable. So the training has to be brief and quickly get the users to the point of effective use. Also, consider how users can be reminded how to use features they aren’t going to access every day. We all need the ability to find information about how to use tech and features quickly. Does the vendor offer easily accessible information on use, or will you need to create in-house user guides?
Look at the support the vendor is offering. Most lawyers and legal professionals, especially today, work at nontraditional times and in nontraditional places. But if support and answers to problems are not available at, say, 10:00 pm when the lawyer is working out of a hotel room, it’s not much help. The lawyer will be frustrated and dissatisfied and likely not continue to use the tech, which means your investment will be lost.
Beware integration guarantees. One of the big promises today from vendors is that their offerings will seamlessly work with many other products offered by different vendors. Some of these promises are valid; some are not. Talking to the integrated vendors and other users of the product in question can be invaluable.
Keep in mind that tech constantly evolves. So continued evaluation is always needed.
Keep in mind that tech constantly evolves. So continued evaluation is always needed. You can’t just select, purchase and forget the technology you have. Vendors regularly change their offerings and points of emphasis. As a result, you must monitor what is going on and what they are doing post-purchase. No one said this would be easy.
Assess the security the vendor is offering. One of the first questions most lawyers and legal professionals will ask is whether the information being processed by the technology will be kept secure. And it’s a valid question since we are ethically bound to keep our client’s confidences. The ethical opinions detailing how to assess security are an excellent guide for evaluating the technology and vendor in general. These opinions suggest that in assessing cloud providers, for example, there is a duty to investigate the provider’s qualification, competence, and diligence, including its reputation and longevity. The duty requires an examination of the contract protections being provided, the ownership of the data, the obligation to return the information, the emergency protections in place, and how the provider will respond to subpoenas. Ethical opinions also suggest obtaining reference checks; reviewing vendor qualifications, security policies, and hiring policies; and ensuring the confidentiality agreements are adequate. (For a good summary of these recommendations, see American Bar Association Opinion 477). These are all good recommendations for assessing tech providers in general.
Read the contract. Yes, this may be stating the obvious, but reading the vendor contract carefully is critical. Who pays for what? What happens if there is a breach? If the system goes down? Are there hidden fees built in? Too often, law firms just accept the terms without thinking about the implications. Sure, some terms may not be negotiable, but as in any transaction, it’s essential to understand the risks that these terms pose. It’s also important to have a handle on the vendor’s financial viability and insurance.
Most importantly, assess the quality and bona fides of the product and the vendor. While this may appear daunting, there are services that do just this. Bob Ambrogi’s LawNext Directory, for example, looks at and tries to compare various offerings. Talk to other firms who have used the product. Talk to other lawyers and legal professionals that have used the product. Go to LegalTech conferences and talk to other attendees about their experiences.
Tech selection and implementation are not easy. Think of it as a significant investment. It’s an investment that requires ongoing attention, analysis, and listening for what’s being offered and what users want. It requires continued monitoring and assessment of the ever-changing market. It’s a fluid project. Keep asking the users questions about the product and its use. They will tell you what’s working and what isn’t. And what needs to be changed.
Thanks to PLI for publishing this article. The article has been published in the PLI Chronicle: Insights and Perspectives for the Legal Community,https://plus.pli.edu.