Having worked in the software industry for more than 25 years, but not much in the legal space, HighQ’s new Product Marketing Director Eric McCashey attended the ILTA Conference in London to help him get up to speed. Here’s Eric’s unique perspective as a newcomer to Legaltech.

For those of you who don’t know, ITLA iltanet.org is a peer-to-peer, volunteer-led association. They aim to educate and connect people who work in the legal sector. Although they have a strong focus on technology, they provide support to law firms as well as corporate and government legal departments of all sizes and all areas of practice. They have members in North and South America, Asia and Europe.

Although most of their members are in the U.S. and Canada, they’ve been running events in Europe for 14 years. This is the first time they’ve had a European conference run over 2 days. They even had a 4½ hour workshop for people who (like me) were ‘New to Legal’. It covered the practice, business and technologies of law. It sounded perfect for me, so I signed up!

When it comes to digital transformation, isn’t legal just the same as every other sector?

As mentioned, I’m new to legal but not to technology. I’ve seen lots of customers in multiple sectors digitally transforming their business. They’ve used technology to transform their business by doing things differently and becoming more efficient. The right technology can even help a business to function more profitably.

In his session on the second day of the conference, Robert Grimsey from Harvey Nash presented the findings of the CIO survey they conducted with KPMG. Here are the points I certainly identified with:

  • Technology is enabling transformation in every industry sector
  • It’s happening regardless of size or age of the organisation
  • Whether you want to save or make money, technology is an enabler (and often a differentiator)

Most people can recognise the business benefits of digital, but what’s driving the pace of change? Our personal experience of technology, especially on mobile devices, is influencing our expectations of business software. As consumers, we’re even getting used to receiving OS updates every 6 months and security patches monthly.

But in business, technology can’t change things by itself: only people change things. So why are organisations in some sectors slower than others in adopting technology? Often, it’s the people and internal politics that are the main barriers to change. It’s not about getting the right technology but getting everyone in the organisation to use it. Plus, any change needs to be driven from the top.

Does the legal profession have anything that makes them a little bit different?

The legal sector has undergone huge changes over the last 30 years, and the pace of change is accelerating, especially over the last 5 years. Bruce Braude, the CTO at Deloitte Legal, outlined the General Counsels perspective, highlighting the deregulation of legal services, changing workforce models, business complexity and increased regulation as catalysts for change.

Also, law firms are no longer only owned by lawyers. The increased involvement of business-minded people brings in new investors who are willing to share the risks as well as the rewards. Clients expectations are also changing. They’re asking firms to simplify the delivery model and work for a fixed fee rather than charge an hourly rate.

Let’s start by taking a closer look at the use of technology in legal

The technology used in many legal teams is often old and outdated. The move from physical to digital material encourages forward looking lawyers to look at using technology more effectively. Businesses are certainly digitising but there are many other external factors that are driving the rapid implementation of technology in the legal sector including the following:

  • Increasing importance and volume of data
  • Emergence of artificial intelligence and machine learning
  • Massive changes to financial systems
  • Increased use of Microsoft Office 365
  • More comfortable storing documents securely in the cloud

Maybe the processes used by the legal profession makes them unique

Legal professionals are finding it more critical to improve efficiency, productivity and time-management. Lawyers have always created a lot of documents. At the end of the day this represents their ‘work’. How they create, manage and store these documents (including email) is therefore critical.

The utilisation of time (and recording it) is how they get paid. That means it’s critical to keep the time tracking and billing system running efficiently.

Collaboration with clients has always been important. Working together is critical when project timeframes continue to shorten. Clients are therefore asking their law firms to use new technologies to help them collaborate more effectively.

Some even suggest that lawyers are a bit different from the rest of us

People who work in the legal profession appear to be a bit more resistant to change than in other industries. What evidence is there that lawyers are comfortable maintaining the status quo? Here are a few points raised by the ‘Technology Adoption’ session panel:

  • Use of technology for many is very limited with some only using Word and Outlook
  • Often have limited management training and spend very little time developing their leadership skills
  • Some lack commercial awareness plus it’s not their money they’re spending
  • Suspicious of change so always need to understand ‘why’ and what the impact will be

In the ‘New to Legal’ workshop, Andrew Dey used various personality profiling studies - including Larry Richard’s study of ABA-member lawyers using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and his article on LawyerBrain - to show how lawyers score against certain personality traits. Andrew said legal folks tend to rate ‘high’ for scepticism, urgency, abstract reasoning and autonomy; and ‘low’ in sociability and personal resilience. Another member of the workshop panel (a lawyer) suggested “lawyers are insecure, over-achievers, who need to be reassured that their legal expertise will not be threatened by using technology”.

In the past, partnership models didn’t always encourage change and partners weren’t regularly held to account on profitability. But that’s clearly changing; partners are much more business-oriented today.

So, what were my key takeaways from the ILTA conference?

The message I heard time and time again at the conference was that in order for technology to be adopted by lawyers, it needs to solve a problem they recognise, and deliver benefits…quickly. They need to know how long it will take to make or save money and what’s at risk if they don’t make the change. However, in order to solve the big challenges, you need to have the technology, processes and people working together, which I have since learned resonates strongly with our SmartLaw concept.

In no particular order, I’ll start with technology

Jim McKenna, CIO at Fenwick & West LLP, and ILTA Board President did a great job of summarising the key findings from the ITLA 2019 Technology Survey.

  • Clients want more value for the same or less money
  • Security is critical and more difficult
  • Mobile first: we want to work anytime, anywhere
  • Artificial Intelligence: what will I do with it?
  • Automation is no longer a dirty word
  • Smart/agile working practices will emerge over the next 5 years
  • Working from home: firms will have more people than office desks

We need to recognise there are issues with technology. They centre around confidentiality, security and integrity of data. How we embrace technology (the company culture) and how we stop or restrict staff from using their own technology will both need to be addressed.

Next, we turn to the process

Many of the conference sessions emphasised that technology makes good processes more efficient, and good people even better. Greater efficiency leads to increased productivity and higher profitability. So, what are the key drivers of change?

For a sustained technology adoption program to be successful, companies need to follow a formal change management process. Training can’t just be about learning the features and functions of the technology, it needs to be built around a process, a workflow or a real-world use case.

Last but by no means least, the people

As I’ve already said, often the biggest barrier to technology adoption is the people who use it. You need to consider what motivates people to use technology and always demonstrate the value to secure their buy in.

You also need to recognise that people all use technology differently. We are dealing with a wide age demographic. I’m talking mental age, not physical age here. Comfort with technology is a state of mind, it’s an attitude and nothing to do with your date of birth. The biggest mistake you can ever make is to assume Millennials get it and Baby-boomers don’t.

These are just some of the things I personally learnt at ILTACON in London this year. I hope you found it useful. I’ll certainly be back, and I encourage you to consider signing up to a future ILTACON too. Who knows, I might even see you there.