In my last post, I discussed how changes in technology will create the opportunity for a new role within law firms and corporate legal departments. If you missed that post, you can read it here.
Part three describes how and why lawyers choose technology products, and what companies can do to build products that lawyers want to use.
Recipe for products that lawyers will actually adopt
Lawyers have a reputation for being averse to technology. What we actually are is demanding: when technology is designed specifically for us, speaks our language, and works the way we work, we adopt it readily. Lexis and Westlaw, for example, have universal adoption among lawyers and are some of the earliest SaaS products in any industry. And many lawyers are techies outside of work, being early adopters of everything from Amazon Echo to electric cars. When a company tries to push products on lawyers that are not built for the legal industry, however, lawyers simply refuse to use them.
Delivering products that lawyers will use requires:
- Combining world-class engineering with a deep understanding of what lawyers do and how they work;
- Committing to consumer-grade design that delivers the ease of use of products like Spotify, an iPhone, or Google; and
- Services that close the gap between the technology and a complete solution that lawyers can use out of the box to solve problems for their clients. Let me discuss each of these in turn.
Product development in legal requires two ingredients that are both difficult to assemble.
The first is a world-class engineering team that can apply the latest technologies from Silicon Valley –things like elastic compute and convolutional neural networks – to make real what the product team envisions. Too many companies fail to take engineering seriously, believing they can get by with a small staff of cheap developers, possibly outsourced, plus components licensed from other software companies. This approach to development makes it impossible to solve really hard engineering problems, impossible to build truly customized user experiences, and impossible to respond in real time to customer feedback.
Building a great engineering team means being willing to invest heavily in it, especially in early days before meaningful revenue, and being able to explain why legal technology is something on which great engineers should spend their time, when they could be doing things like organizing the world’s information at Google or sending humans to Mars at SpaceX. It also means treating engineering not as a cost center, but as the core of an organization: a great legal technology company is a product company, with the feel of a Google or an Apple, not a sales-driven company, with the feel of an Oracle or an EMC.
The other critical ingredient is just as difficult to assemble: lawyers from the relevant area of practice who are senior enough and accomplished enough to understand how great lawyers and practice teams work in the real world and what technology can do to help them. Legal is such a specialized domain that feedback conversations with customer or customer steering groups are not enough to inform product design. A company needs actual former practitioners in house, and it needs to structure its operations in such a way that these lawyers inform everything from product design to marketing, sales, and services. Again, this is difficult because you have to be willing to make the investment in expensive senior lawyers and you have to be able to convince them to abandon successful practices to pursue careers in legal technology.
Assembling the right team is hard, but it is not alone enough.
A great legal technology company must also be committed to consumer-grade design, that is, to spending the time necessary to design user interfaces that are as natural and easy to use as the interfaces of the best consumer technology. Design is not about how a product looks, but about how a product works. Great design in a legal technology product means that the product feels like magic to lawyers and practice teams, doing what they expect, and requiring that they make only the decisions they need to make. Building simple, elegant user interfaces like this requires being willing to put products through many more design iterations than if the goal were simply to make a product that is functional. But the difference between functional and magical is what drives adoption of legal technology by real lawyers.
Finally, great legal technology requires great services.
The services I mean are services that close the gap between what the technology does and the complete solution that lawyers and case teams need to solve practical problems for their clients. When technology is only part of the solution, and some human effort is needed as well, it is not enough to deliver the technology and expect law firms and corporate legal departments to assemble the people and processes needed to complete the solution. Requiring that kind of change means customers will be less successful using the technology and it will be more difficult to get them to adopt it in the first place.
The kind of legal technology company I’ve described – a place that combines world-class engineering and a deep understanding of what lawyers do and how they work with a commitment to invest in simple, elegant user interfaces that feel magical to lawyers and practice teams and with services that turn technology into a complete solution ready to apply today to real-world problems – is difficult to build, but it is what is necessary to deliver legal technology that law firms and corporate legal departments can and will adopt.