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Don't Jump Head First into Investing in Technology

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Law firms are big on technology deployments, and rightly so. However, often technology investments are driven by the 'perceived' needs of the organisation; and recently by the lure of new technologies – AI, chatbots, blockchain and such. Rather than jumping head first into purchasing technology, a more meaningful approach would be to first delve into the business to understand where the requirement for it exists.

For instance, in a previous role where I was responsible for delivering innovative solutions to law firms, we always asked every customer organisation to first document "everything" they did – tasks, activities, authorisations, processes and procedures – without giving any thought to how they thought they could be doing those things better. It was an exhaustive process and involved engaging with employees across the organisation so that a 'user manual' of sorts was created so that it was as comprehensive as it could be. This laid bare areas where certain technologies and innovation would probably fail if the possibility of changing the behaviour of the partners in the firm wasn't addressed. Lack of user adoption is one of the most common reasons why technology and innovation fail to add value to organisations. Just because something innovative is working for some organisations is no guarantee that it will work for another. Fully understanding how the firm operates today exposes the culture, preferences and work habits of the partners. Only then can a solid vision and strategy be developed, based on a clear understanding of the required combination of new technology and innovation and supported by 'change management'. Only then will technology and innovation add value to the organisation and ultimately to its clients.

Frequently, firms will confess that while the latest and greatest piece of new technology looked good on paper, once deployed the organisation was unable to adopt and embrace the innovation they were driving for. The technology they chose was wrong for that organisation.

The above-mentioned approach will pre-empt the deployment of 'ill-fitting' technology into the business. Crucially, the process will also highlight issues and challenges that weren't even visible to the business previously.

Alongside their own needs for technology, another major driver for IT adoption is commonly driven by client demands. I categorise them as 'implicit' and 'explicit' requirements. With regards to the former, clients today expect that law firms have processes in place for data protection and GDPR compliance. Therefore, technologies like CRM systems become essential investments. Another example of an implicit request may be that clients want the firm to have the capability to process extremely large volumes of data (e.g. discovery) in order to acutely understand the full scope of a particular case. Here then artificial intelligence capability becomes essential for the law firm. On the other hand, clients may make very explicit demands of law firms such as prohibiting their sensitive personal data from being stored in the cloud. In such cases, firms must make the necessary investments, and perhaps even avoid certain types of CRM-related investments, to meet such demands. Meeting both types of client expectations are essential to building trust and developing long term client relationships.

At its core, technology decisions cannot be based on the latest trend or merely to keep up with industry peers. To drive innovation and derive return on investment, technology implementation must be based on understanding a firms' existing culture, its unique business requirements and the express needs of their clients. The decision making needs to be based on hard facts rather than a 'finger in the air' approach, which frequently can be the case.

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