[Note: This article, written in January 2003, was my first effort to pull together a set of ideas into the theme I’ve come to call “client-driven technologies. I think the ideas associated with client-driven technologies are the most important trend in legal technology today. This article gives some ideas for innovative and forward-thinking law firms. It also gives corporate legal departments some guidelines for what to ask from their law firms.]
Placing Your Bet on Client-Driven Technologies
From application service providers to knowledge management, we hear a lot of buzzwords and predictions for the future of legal technology. How should you sort out each of these options? Where should you place your bet as you allocate your legal technology dollars today?
A large portion of your bet should be placed on the spot on the wheel labeled “client-driven technologies.”
Recent surveys of corporate legal departments show some statistics that all law firms should consider carefully. Lawyers are hired for factors such as “expertise” and “familiarity with the client and its business.” Lawyers are fired primarily for “lack of responsiveness.” A stunning 62% of corporate legal departments considered firing one or more law firms in 2001. The trends toward cost cutting and reduction in number of firms used have been well documented.
Consider this, though. Over 90% of corporate legal departments would be willing to respond to client surveys from law firms. Most would like to have more contacts from their firms. Finally, and not surprisingly, most would respond very favorably to a firm’s efforts to find creative solutions to billing, fees, and delivery of legal services.
Many companies are also looking at the success of Dupont’s efforts to control costs and improve legal services. All lawyers who have corporate clients would be well advised to study what Dupont and its law firms have done.
The best firms servicing this market will make changes in reaction to the current and future market. In the Dupont paradigm and in other examples, a major driver has been technology.
How, then, do you move into the world of client-driven technology?
1. Study History. To put it mildly, the legal profession is rarely a “first mover” in technology. Just a few examples, fax and e-mail, show how clients tend to push reluctant law firms into new technologies. The sea change of law firms moving from WordPerfect to Word was almost completely driven by client wishes. With a few exceptions, clients, rather than firms, have pushed for extranets, electronic deal rooms, electronic billing, collaboration and other technology evolutions.
2. Learn What Options You Have. You cannot move very far toward implementing client-driven technologies if you do not know what technologies and capabilities your firm has or can obtain. It is rare to find a firm that is using or is even aware of all the capabilities of its software and systems, let alone to find lawyers and firms who have a good understanding of all the new developments in legal technology. Becoming a member of the ABA’s Law Practice Management Section or Technolawyer.com are two good starting points, but it is very difficult to stay current. You may find that you have capabilities that you did not know you had.
3. Learn What Technologies Your Clients Use. Once law firms found out that their clients hated getting documents in WordPerfect, firms began to move to Word. It is vital to understand what software and technologies your clients use for their own work and how they would prefer to interact with you. Today, many law firms underestimate how commonly PowerPoint is used in many businesses. You might use surveys, meetings with the client or meetings between IS people to compare notes on what software and systems are used.
4. Find Out What Bothers Your Clients. Clients are willing to answer surveys. What about your software and technology irritates them? Do they have difficulty with the program you use to redline? Does your use of GroupWise cause irritating little problems for Outlook users? Do clients want to use Excel or PowerPoint?
5. Ask What Would Help Your Clients. Involve your IS people. At this stage, knowing what your capabilities are will not only be helpful, but also should impress your clients. Look for significant concerns, such as scrubbing of metadata out of Microsoft documents, security or encryption. Search for approaches that can be done easily but create great results. These could be small things like changes to your web site or extranet to make it more usable, new features on extranets or web sites or more complex items such as movement to new programs or common platforms. Consider the 80/20 rule that 20% of your efforts will give you 80% of your results and try to identify that 20%.
6. Suggest Items Your Clients Have Not Thought Of. You should have the advantage of knowing what is now available in legal technology. You should also consider ways to address the key client concerns you have been alerted to by the available statistics. Are there ways you can suggest to show clients your expertise, cut costs or improve responsiveness? What is the potential benefit of having a client say “Would you believe that my lawyer came to me with a way to save money of legal fees”? A few simple ideas: CaseMap offers a way to present very useful information about the strength of litigation cases to decision-makers; EZClean is an inexpensive tool to scrub metadata out of Word, PowerPoint and Excel documents; and virtual deal rooms and electronic document repositories are valuable solutions. Full-blown extranets, collaboration tools, common databases and content management may make sense in some cases, but, for most clients and firms, it will be best to build those projects after building momentum from a string of small successes.
7. Identify Priorities. Apply the 80/20 rule again to the ideas you have generated. Which ideas make the most sense in your current context? From your point of view, which initiatives will best address the common reasons law firms are fired (e-mail problems all but certainly will lead to “lack of responsiveness” issues) and hired (how can you show your expertise and understanding of the client’s business?)? Do these initiatives cut costs or enable creative billing approaches? Do these approaches connect the client to you and make it harder for the client to leave? Are these approaches useful to other clients? Finally, are they responsive to your client’s own list of priorities?
8. Make a Plan. Your technology initiatives will fall into one of three categories. The first category is things that you can do internally and on your own. The ball’s in your court. Start the effort to get them done and get the right people working on them. The second category is things that your clients can do internally. The ball is in their court, but you can provide assistance, resources or tools, as appropriate. The third category is things that you must cooperate on. Here, too, the ball is in your court. How can you make it happen? Is a joint “task force” that meets regularly the right approach? How can you make sure that the right people are working together to get things done? Are written plans and timetables appropriate?
9. Keep the Momentum. Talk is cheap. If you are the one who did the talking, you need to be the one who makes sure that the work is getting done.
10. Finish Projects. The technology landscape is littered with the wreckage of uncompleted projects. Finish some projects. Celebrate their completion. Reward accomplishment.
11. Measure Results. How do you know whether this idea worked or not? Can you measure results? Communicate the results to clients.
12. Take It to Other Clients. Some of the initiatives you take can be reused. Some might even be licensed as moneymakers for your firm or even sold as products. Be alert to opportunities to implement similar projects for other clients.
Then, repeat the process, over and over again. Get the word out on what you have accomplished, but focus your articles and press releases on what benefits you bring the client. As a result, you will address the leading reasons clients hire and fire lawyers, help clients contain costs, cement client relationships and position your firm well for the future. And, that is not a bad return on investment. Client-driven technology initiatives are a great bet to place in today’s legal market.
Ten Practical Tips for Client-Driven Technology Initiatives.
1. Educate yourself. My web page at https://www.denniskennedy.com/resources/legal-tech-central/clientdriven.aspx is a good starting point. But it takes a lot of work to get up to speed on technology alternatives. Hiring appropriate expertise may be desirable in many cases.
2. Ask your clients. Surveys show that most are willing to respond.
3. Listen to your clients. Enough said.
4. Give your clients new ideas to think about. Clients cannot know everything that is available. Give them some great suggestions.
5. Get the right people involved. Are you the right person for this initiative? Who is? What role will your IS department play in the initial phases? I suggest that a high-level IS person be involved at the earliest opportunity.
6. Facilitate relationships between your IS people and the client’s IS people. Here is a simple test. Ask the head of your IS department how many of the heads of clients’ IS departments are in his or her contacts list. I bet it is too small a number. Are there ways you can get IS people to get together on a regular basis. Presentations by your IS group to client IS groups may make sense.
7. Find creative ways to control costs. Clients like law firms that are creative. They are also under pressure to control legal costs. Technology may allow you to show you are good at both.
8. Use great results as a way to publicize your client, not yourself.
9. Use technology initiatives in ways to increase the costs for a competitor to steal your client away.
10. Lead, follow (closely) or get out of the way.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (https://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
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