It’s time for law firms to embrace legal tech as a force for positive change - Janette Speed

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the pace, magnitude and complexity of change that businesses of all shapes and sizes have seen has never been greater.

Janette Speed is Head of Scotland, Shoosmiths LLP​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Although many businesses have faced significant hindrances, many of the most innovative professional services businesses – such as law firms and large accountancy practices – have redoubled their focus to develop tech solutions that help their clients’ businesses to thrive and be better prepared to achieve their goals in the new normal.

According to The Lawyer Portal, legal tech is defined by “technology and software to provide and aid legal services”. Undoubtedly, legal technology is playing a key role in this product development, driven in part by innovative law firms seeking to bring greater efficiencies to in-house processes and add further value to the client experience.

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It simply isn’t enough for law firms today to provide just ‘legal advice’. From General Counsels at leading banks, to HR Directors at FTSE250 companies and owners of family businesses – they all require well thought-out and holistic, integrated solutions to take to their boards. These must demonstrate how time and money can be saved while simultaneously delivering effective client advice and the results they seek.

Law firms are in a unique position to be able to operate as an extension to an inhouse legal team or business. In a close working relationship, lawyers can gain invaluable insight to identify a product that in tandem with sound legal advice can support the client to achieve a strategic goal.

Shoosmiths is among leading law firms that have firmly embraced legal tech. In 2020, we launched the New How, our long-term strategic project that through innovation and people-focused tech gives the business and clients a smarter, better, faster and new way of operating.

In recent years, the firm has worked hard to develop innovative products, time efficient processes and working practices. These include matters+, Live Working and most recently Cia, a new artificial intelligence (AI) driven contract review platform. Collectively, these contributed to the launch of Shoosmiths8 Connected Services in March 2021.

Of course, there can be an obvious paradox for legal firms when considering investment in legal tech. Firms may be torn between embracing technology that delivers new ‘improved’ methods of operating and sticking with a ‘tried and tested’ traditional approach that until relatively recently arguably underpinned law in Scotland for decades.

Many clients will be drawn to law firms with an appetite to adopt innovations that enable the business to be nimble and more cost-effective. Legal tech can improve the client experience and when adopted effectively, add value to the firm’s market offering and be impactful when many people work remotely.

As a firm on this legal tech journey, we’ve learned how crucial it is to carefully consider colleagues and other stakeholders before implementing tech. Tech is best when it’s about people and tech. Not people or tech. Before rushing to implement what can be an expensive investment, it’s imperative that colleagues understand the rationale for adopting particular legal tech systems and software.

In particular, it’s crucial for lawyers in some roles not to be under the impression that AI and related tech will somehow replace their legal expertise. It should complement it. For in law, legal tech is a significant tool for positive change, particularly when informed decision making and understanding of its benefits to the firm and client are front of mind before its implementation. Indeed, it’s prudent to run new tech on a trial basis, giving teams and clients a chance to sculpt the final product, ensuring its implementation into the business is as seamless as possible.

Finally, while the pandemic has perhaps accelerated innovative working practices and investment in legal tech with the aim of providing solutions, firms should be wary of seeking to innovate using tech for tech’s sake. It must always be to achieve real transformation in the business.

We should embrace legal tech. Over centuries, lawyers have moved from quills to pens to the utilisation of manual, electric and electronic typewriters and more recently computers. With every innovation, the profession has evolved and lawyers have always adapted.

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