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Posted on: August 29, 2018

in Blog

ILTACON 2018 Takeaways: 4 Ways to Get Your Lawyers to Use Advanced Technologies

New technology will drive a fix to anything that is expensive or risky or time-consuming or just plain drudgery.  

For example, our transportation gets us places in minutes or hours instead of days or never. Our conveniences keep us warm, clean, comfortable, and potentially over-fed. Traders spend millions to shave milliseconds from access to trading floors. Manufacturers spend billions automating in ways to make their products better, faster and cheaper. Our mobile devices make access to entertainment and education and each other instantaneous; being awake for an hour without one equates to being “unavailable” or “off the grid”.

All this technology represents innovation to the expensive, the time-consuming, and the inconvenient.

ILTACON 2018: Innovation Theme

The theme of #ILTA18 was #Innovation. Everywhere we looked, a speaker or conference or demo showed us the next big thing – the application or workflow that would alleviate time, expense, and drudge work from legal practice. Nowhere is the need greater, for legal services are expensive and often unpredictable.

But one audience participant opined that if doctors adopted technology at the same rate as lawyers do, “we’d still be bleeding with leeches”. Share on Twitter 

An industry weathervane posted his pessimism as “#ILTACON18 “#INNOVATION or #OLDWAY?” A major software developer was unaware but intrigued by the fact that lawyers’ duty of competence includes understanding “the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology…” (See the ABA ‘Model Rules of Professional Conduct, 2012 Edition)

Why do lawyers get the rap of being slow to embrace new technology?

If we can pick one activity that most lawyers do across all practice groups, it is to manage risk. Successful litigators manage risk to resolve disputes. M&A lawyers practice “due diligence”.  Lawyers in tax, real estate, and commercial transactions document their work with clauses defining every possible conditional risk.

Lawyers don’t like the introduction of risk into their work. When you bring in that shiny new technology, the lawyer’s professional instinct is to duck.

How do we help get them up to speed?

Take Both Sides

Obviously, you have to educate.  But what is obvious to you about the new tech is not obvious to your sponsor or client. Explain what process the new tech or workflow replaces. Identify where else the technology is used. Identify any case law or legal publication of record where the technology is recommended or discussed.

Most importantly, feel what it’s like being on the other side of the desk. You can’t be one-sided. Be prepared to argue against yourself. Your credibility is much improved if you are willing to evaluate the potential risks and to articulate what risks your sponsor is probably thinking about. You will know you’re on the right track when she asks the “what if” or “suppose we do this…”.

Calculate the Return on Investment

If you educate only on how the new tech will speed things up, make things easier, or make us all smarter, you’ve done only a third of the job. If you add in your monthly or total costs of investment, then you’ve done done only two-thirds of the work. Be prepared to explain how the investment will return savings.

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Every legal engagement is a project, and every project is constrained by time, cost and scope. Pressure to commit to greater scope takes longer and costs more. Pressure on cost affects time and scope. Pressure on all three will affect quality.

Law firms and law departments inductively create project teams of lawyers to focus on an individual engagement. They have the usual constraints. They use shared or administrative services positively to affect time, scope and cost by leveraging technology and the help of administrative, technical, and paralegal staff.

For a new tech solution on any given engagement, be prepared to show how the solution you propose will save time or money. Be prepared enough to be graphic about it.  While many lawyers are comfortable with saying “It depends” when asked how much a legal engagement will cost, take your level of service a step beyond. If there are assumptions you need to make to support variability in cost, be explicit with those assumptions in your ROI calculations.

For an enterprise solution, the challenge to calculate total costs may be clearer.  Essentially, you need the costs of the application or workflow and the infrastructure and the people to run it.  But the challenge for calculating ROI for enterprise solutions may be trickier. To satisfy the attorney-sponsor who is risk-adverse, be prepared to estimate conservatively how much the new tech will be utilized, at least at first. Then calculate a growing return on investment over time as the new approach takes hold. If your ROI is based on a rosy instant and complete adoption across a firm or even a law department, you will have an uphill climb.

Talk about the Competition

There was plenty of discussion at #ILTA18 about uses for #AI. Artificial intelligence applied to legal practice can enhance the performance of legal research, document review in #ediscovery, drafting and evaluating contracts and contract lifecycles, knowledge management and re-use, and even evaluation of new and lateral hires (the latter about which there are some concerns about introduction of bias).  Beyond eDiscovery, managed review, legal recuriting, #CLMS, lawyers have the opportunity to mine their own billing patterns and histories to create viable and defensible alternative fee arrangements. Organizations have the opportunity to point #AI tools at their vast stores of data and communications to evaluate past and future behavior and performance.

Not all of this new tech is prime-time and ready for most firms and law departments. Some are, and the rest of them, assuredly, are coming. But because we are an information-rich industry with a penchant for talking about ourselves, we don’t need to attend every conference to keep up.

As you pitch your new application and workflow, look to your organization’s competitors.  Are they using the new technologies? Assist your sponsor with the talk track he or she will use when communicating new capabilities to prospective clients. Nothing succeeds like helping to win new business.

Be Patient (but not too patient)

A far-sighted law firm managing partner promoting new technology provided some encouragement when the progress of adoption seemed slow.  He said that we will get a third of them (his partners) because they want us now. We will get another third when they’re scared or they need us. The last third? Don’t hold your breath.

In every organization there are early adopters, fence-sitters, and foot-draggers. Focus heavily on the first two groups. It takes real evangelism to promote new technologies, particularly within law firms. It won’t, for example, suffice to create an #eDiscovery steering committee to put on the firm’s website if there aren’t:

(a) lawyers using the technology in their day to day work, and 

(b) those same lawyers pushing their colleagues to do the same.

If you are that evangelist and you are shouldering what feels like that Sysiphean effort, take heart. Bring every new idea to your early adopters and test it, and measure the ROI as you do it.  Use your success to convert the fence-sitters. You can educate the rest but you cannot count on everyone coming along. You have to leave the foot-draggers to come around on their own or to suffer the consequences of being left behind.   

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