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The Dichotomy Between ‘Buzzword’ Technology Adoption and Reality

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While the legal technology sector is ablaze with buzzwords such as innovation, blockchain, Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, deep learning and most recently, Robotic Process Automation (RPA), it's telling that on scratching the surface there appears to be limited understanding of what these terms/technologies mean and how their adoption can help law firms operationally – in real terms. Perhaps we are being pressurised by intense media hype and a fear of being viewed as laggards by our peers if we aren't thinking about deploying these new technologies?

Rather than getting hung up on the latest technology, the more pertinent focus for law firms should be to identify the business issues where adoption of technology 'as a tool' can help overcome those challenges. Key questions to ask are: What processes can be made more efficient? Where can profitability be enhanced? How can clients be better engaged with? Where can operational costs be reduced? – and so on. Once answers to these types of questions are known, then the most appropriate technology can be explored and applied. Interestingly, many law firms may even find that their existing technology can be help solve several of their problems. For example, within Visualfiles, a robotic process (imaginatively called a Visualfiles Robot!) has been available to remove any human interactions and achieve ultimate efficiency, for over 20 years now – clearly long before RPA became fashionable.

Technology needs to make a tangible difference so that organisations can achieve their goals, large and small. I'm reminded of the excellent phrase 'Tiny Noticeable Things' (TNT) that has been applied in a wide variety of scenarios - for instance, Michelle DeStefano, Founder of Law Without Walls has talked about it in a legal context.

TNT is about making small changes that facilitate incremental, but perceptible improvements, acknowledging that 'big bang' is a massive challenge and seldom successful. Allying TNT to an approach that fits the appropriate technology to the problem – as opposed to the other way around – gives a much better chance of making a real difference to a business operation.

If you are NOT "as efficient and profitable" as you can be, then there is a need to think about 'Automated Intelligence' – which fundamentally is a combination of business approach and, where appropriate, technology, to help achieve specific business metrics. The technology could be in any form and does not necessarily need to carry the label of AI, blockchain, RPA or any other. It simply needs to be the right tool for the job.

An Automated Intelligence approach entails regularly reviewing existing activities and eliminating unnecessary procedures; automating, where appropriate, the retained processes to meet the current needs of the business; and finally ensuring that all activities, especially those where automation isn't suitable, are undertaken by suitably skilled resources. Automate intelligently! It should never be about mindlessly applying technology, it must be fit for purpose. A process that may not be suitable for automation today, may be in the future. The Automated Intelligence 'practice' must be repeated at regular intervals so that firms can continue to be 'as efficient and profitable as they can' at any point in time.

Technology adoption must be about using the right tools for the desired outcome. Call the technology what you will!

About the Author:


Nigel Williams is widely experienced in technical, managerial and consultancy roles in public and private organisations, with particular expertise in the UK legal sector - from both client and supplier perspectives.

He has run IT in a number of law firms, and has worked with Visualfiles since it was first introduced. In his role as the Visualfiles Product Manager he has primary responsibility for setting future direction.

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