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Will tech transform law firm activity?

I've been spending some time looking back on prior ILTA reports from prior years. Not as much to look at trends, but just to gauge what the areas of discussion have been. Below is the ILTA Report for 2014 that I've reviewed over the past couple of days.

Maybe 2013 will be next, and then a jump forward to 2015. The idea that keeps sticking with me is the lack of momentum for any particular idea. The ideas for progress continue to float out there, with no one true north emerging. But law firms can't continue to have the patience of our foxhound Bo when it comes to trying more expansive, practice area experiments. 

The ILTA Report 2014 - Legal Technology Future Horizons (download) identified four critical topics involving technology (p. 6) faced by law firms: 

  • client focus
  • leveraging lawyer access
  • managing legal process
  • innovation to expand new business
1. The client as a priority.

The typical ideas of the relationship and aspects of responsiveness and answering questions in an efficient manner are prevalent. These are important, but aren't they really just table stakes in the professional services environment?

2. Leverage lawyers.

This is the notion of on-demand access to the lawyer by the client and that the lawyer can access resources from anywhere. Certainly tech-focused. The idea of AI pops up in this topic, though true AI is not yet available. Despite the ever-present notion of IBM Watson and other variants. AI, at least in the legal sector, is still more about advanced, automated categorization. Watson does not learn how lawyers approach a problem and learn from experience. I'm not certain that increased access to resources from anywhere solves the problem on how to better respond to clients and provide solutions. It might be a quicker response, but if those same resources were in the office and now the resources can be accessed at home, is the response better or just faster?

3. Reengineer processes.

My personal observation is that lawyers are fairly busy just trying to get work done and not really able to step back and see how to do things differently. That takes time, patience, and a conviction that there is a future ROI. This is a tough environment for a law firm to take that approach. Now lawyers within a law firm can be given that type of task, but the trick is finding the right group of people (lawyers and non-lawyers) that will work together. There are better tools for breaking down the process today, but this idea of workflow analysis and adjustments has existed in law and other disciplines for some time now. What makes now different?

4. Innovate to differentiate.

Selling innovation is tough generally. There's only a small sector of clients that might use innovation as a deciding factor. Do clients care about the process or just getting the answer to their problem at a given price point? Isn't the "how" the law firm's problem because that's why the law firm is retained by the client in the first place?

wrap up

So these are just some notes I jotted down while reading through the report thinking about the tech topics highlighted at the beginning of the ILTA report. I wonder if there's a pictogram that compares ideas from different ILTA reports. I don't care about percentages in categories, but the high level ideas that are focused on in a given year. That would be interesting to see and consider.