The Future of Legal Technology – It’s Not in the Tech

The Future of Legal Technology – It’s Not in the Tech

I was part of a panel presenting at the ILTA educational conference in Las Vegas last month. Our subject, for the second year in a row was, “What’s New and Cool in Emerging Technologies?” We talked about all the obligatory subject matter: Windows 8, advancements in eDiscovery, Office 365 and the cloud, the latest in mobile devices and a variety of other things. It was a fun subject and well received. But let me say, it’s not just about the technology.

When I read articles that tout the amazing and wondrous powers of “technology” it scares me. It’s not that I don’t like technology. I’m a great gadget lover. But just investing in technology is a sure way to waste your firm’s money, court outright failure and assure mediocrity. None of those outcomes are desirable.

To survive in the new legal reset, the “new normal,” firms need to be even smarter about their technology purchases. Those technologies must be coupled with elements from people and process.

For many people, both lawyer and technologist alike, it’s a race to embrace the newest in technology.

For the technologist, it’s usually on the enterprise end, making sure you have the latest from Microsoft, both on the Office and Server/Exchange side.

For the lawyers, it’s usually more on the consumer side, a desire to have the latest Apple hardware and the convenience of DropBox-like apps. There are multiple problems with these approaches.

Employee education a secondary thought

The arguments for investing in the hardware and software are made and accepted. The training is secondary, forgotten or whittled down to uselessness.

Few users in a law firm are able to use more than a small percentage of Microsoft Office. No law firm has yet been able to pass D. Casey Flaherty’s basic technology competency audit. Old processes are maintained, not modified to accommodate new features and functionality. Nowhere have I seen this more than in law firm financial management packages – the newest software running around a decade old set of processes and procedures. Upgrades should be weighed against a set of business returns, and frankly some upgrades simply aren’t worth it. They aren’t worth the disruption or the “new features” gained.

Many firms are playing catch up

With BYOD and many other consumer tools, the tech came before any process, before any education and training. iPhones and iPads were hooked up the firm systems and emails, firm and client data started flowing to them. In firms that weren’t proactive enough, consumer file sharing tools were downloaded and firm and client data flowed to even more mobile devices. I get it. I understand how slick and easy DropBox is. The trouble is, once someone has created their own personal workflow using consumer tools, getting them to break those habits is difficult, if not impossible.

It also doesn’t help that many legal vendors don’t have a UI or UX on their tools that even comes close to the modern consumer tech. Many firms are now playing catch up with MDM (Mobile Device Management) tools and written procedures and policies to try to plug the holes and modify user behavior (and hoping nothing has happened in the meantime).

Where does technology fit within the Rules of Professional Conduct?

I asked the standing room only ILTA crowd, who had ever read the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct? Of those who weren’t attorneys, not a single hand was raised. None. Zero. How can you introduce new technology into the firm without understanding the “rules” by which lawyers are governed? Knowing who the general counsel or risk manager is for your firm is very important. It is important to meet and educate them on the ramifications of the tools, the potential rewards versus the potential risks.

Past a certain point, technology can be fungible. It would be an interesting experiment, but I bet that I could surpass the efficiency of most, if not all the current law firms, using what many would describe as outdated and discarded technology (something like WordPerfect) by focusing on the more important elements of process and people.

Some law firms may be differentiated by the technology they don’t have. Few law firms are differentiated by the technology they use. For the technology to truly matter there has to be more than just the technology. It has to be coupled with, and in some cases preceded by, the more important elements of process and people.

The future of technology is in the people who use it and the processes that govern it. The firms who do all three well are the firms who will truly be differentiated.

Connect with me on LinkedIn or follow me on Twitter @jeffrey_brandt, let’s keep the dialogue going.