You may be surprised to hear that HotDocs, a software product that enables the creation of intelligent templates for document production, has probably had more user licences sold than any other legal software in the UK marketplace. And yet, it is severely under-utilised in law firms. Why? In most cases we find that firms invest in the technology to address the needs of the first project for which the licences were purchased, but then don’t assign further resources to properly roll out the solution to other practice areas. 

Consequently, not only don’t firms realise the benefits of intelligent templates throughout the organisation, but they actively limit the return on their investment. HotDocs and document automation is of course only one example where the use of the product, despite its proliferation, falls by the wayside. This attitude towards technology investment is very prevalent in the legal industry, and baffles me. It defies business logic and rational thinking. Firms deploy a variety of technologies such as case management, workflow and document management, but only scratch the surface of possibilities that the use of these systems offer. It’s as if firms become bored of the solutions they have purchased and quickly discard them to move on to purchasing the next shiny new toy. 

The sentiment conveyed by the Dog Trust’s slogan, “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas’ seems apt in this context. Perhaps more so than in any other industry, I find that the legal sector is especially prone to being swayed by the latest marketing hype and buzz. Law firms are quick to move on to the next “big” thing; and presently, that new, cute adorable puppy, appears to be artificial intelligence (AI).

There is a flood of newly found AI tools coming into the market and many vendors are also looking to AI enable their existing offering to keep up with the trend. What perhaps purchasers of these tools don’t realise is that these products demand significant investment, not just financially, but in time and resources. AI isn’t ‘plug and play’. AI tools must be ‘trained to be intelligent’. AI needs to be nurtured and developed for it to provide specific functionality/application – and then the process continuously repeated for iterative development or creation of other applications. It also requires an ongoing commitment towards the ownership of the product, whether that be an investment in hiring and training internal resources or the sub-contracting of external resources.

Sadly, many software vendors are only interested in selling software licences and not in how well their product is adopted. The seller may possibly underplay or the buyer may not fully appreciate the extent and depth of skills that are required to fully realise the potential of the tools. An extreme example of this would be a Microsoft salesman telling a customer that a single licence for one of their programming languages is only £X and once they purchase it, they could use it to develop any functionality they need for their business. Whilst the claim is indeed true, it would of course take each individual organisation 1000's of software development hours to build and deliver the required functionality. 

You can buy the latest and greatest piece of technology – and firms spend a great deal of time and effort issuing tenders for software selection – but the real success of the system will depend on how committed the firm is to organisation-wide user adoption. This in turn is reliant on how well the solution is configured to the firm’s specific and unique way of working, both at organisational and individual practice area levels. From the point of purchase, focus, resources and tenacity are essential to effectively rolling out the point solution for the first group of users, ensuring that the product meets their business needs and makes them more efficient and productive. More crucially however, the same level of attention is necessary to repeat that cycle of system configuration, skillset development, change management and ongoing user training for the other departments that can also utilise that software within the firm. Only then can the benefits of the solution be truly leveraged.

It should go without saying that law firms must adopt technology based on a strategic vision for their business. However, to fully derive value from their investment, they need to develop a culture that continuously looks at where else that technology – and the skills learnt from the initial implementations of it – can benefit other areas of the business. This approach will ensure that the technology investments they make are fully harvested. Rather than being cast away early on in its life, this approach will guarantee that your ‘puppy’ becomes a loyal, rewarding and trusted friend for life.

Published originally in Legal IT Newsletter - November/December 2017 aka ‘The Orange Rag’ Thoughts from the Market Page 12-13 (308)