In part one of this series, we covered how legal technology will empower lawyers across all areas of practice. If you missed that post, you can read it here.
Part two expands on how changes in technology will create the opportunity for a new role within law firms and corporate legal departments.
The role of legal technology professionals in law firms and corporate legal departments
The rise of legal technology will create a new specialized legal technology role (“LT”) in law firms and corporate legal departments.
LT specialists will need to understand both what practice teams do, so they can understand what might be automated and how technology can fit into practice teams’ existing workflows, and what technology is available at the level of deliverable products and technology company capabilities and also at the level of broader technology trends like machine learning and cloud computing. LT professionals will be core to legal teams in that savvy application of LT can produce differentiated legal services that help legal teams compete in the market for legal services and ultimately deliver better legal outcomes for their clients.
Young partners looking to build books of business today, as well as law firm leaders seeking to differentiate their firms in the market, will build much closer relationships with LT professionals than they have had with IT professionals or other legal support staff in the past. The relationship will look more like a partner in the corporate practice assembling colleagues in tax and antitrust to win a client relationship or important piece of work. Together, great lawyers and LT professionals will find ways to combine legal technology with a firm’s legal expertise to deliver productized legal services, like real-time company-wide investigations and compliance or jurisdiction-specific understanding and tailoring of commercial contracts.
An existential risk for today’s great law firms is that they don’t embrace legal technology quickly enough.
If they don’t, alternative legal service providers will capture more and more of their work by melding process and technology with traditional legal expertise to deliver productized legal services first. We have seen some of this already with the rise of legal outsourcing services for document review and contract management and the involvement of the global consultancies in ongoing corporate compliance. To remain competitive, law firms will need to offer the kinds of productized legal services that process and technology make possible.
I think it is important to the law that true lawyers, operating in traditional, collegial law firm partnerships, with all the sense of professional standards and professional obligation that these institutions inculcate and preserve, continue to run core legal functions. And so I think it is important that great lawyers do all they can to ensure great law firms embrace LT as a core function fast enough that they aren’t left behind. The role of LT professionals is to facilitate this transition. The role of legal technology companies is to provide viable solutions that lawyers and LT professionals can integrate into their practices and use to improve legal outcomes for their clients.
Because legal technology is changing so quickly, a central challenge for LT professionals is keeping abreast of new offerings and determining when these offerings are better than the status quo.
This may result in sticking with an incumbent solution as that solution improves, for example, sticking with Westlaw through the transition to WestlawNext instead of switching to something like RavelLaw or Ross. Or it may mean switching relatively quickly between solutions as new and better ones enter the market; for example, upgrading from a first-generation ediscovery tool like Concordance or Summation to a second-generation tool like Relativity or Recommind to a third-generation tool like DISCO or Everlaw, with only a few years between each upgrade.
Loyalty to a solution or vendor should last only as long as that solution or vendor is best.
LT professionals must position technology choices internally in such a way that their organizations are aware of the need to change solutions when that is what is required to avoid technology obsolescence. It also means that organizations must become adept at listening to lawyers and case teams to hear what new technology solves their problems, quickly pilot new technology to see whether it works, learn to partner with technology companies to shape feature development and roadmap in the early stages of a product lifecycle, and avoid complicated, drawn-out procurement processes that make adopting new technology more difficult than necessary. Internally, LT professionals must associate their credibility not with any particular solution, but with their ability to find the best solution at all times in all areas as new solutions become available.