Legal ops experts weigh-in on the evolution of legal technology

David Chai | December 13, 2018 | Articles

What a night! SimpleLegal hosted a panel discussion at our headquarters in Mountain View, CA to discuss Where Legal Technology is Headed (for better or worse). We brought in local legal operations experts Mary O’Carroll (Google and Corporate Legal Operations Consortium), Stephanie Lamoureaux (Square), and Nathan Wenzel (SimpleLegal). Moderating the discussion was James Maguire of Datamation. While a mountain of knowledge was indeed dropped, here are the five things that stood out.

Insight 1 – Legal Technology Has Far-Reaching Impacts Beyond Legal Teams and Law Firms

The role of technology will continue to grow and there’s a lot of change coming ahead of us – especially with the growth of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Mary shared insight from a recent study that stated, “50% of the work that junior attorneys do is going to be replaced by technology.”

While legal tech is emerging to streamline processes for corporate legal, its impact can be felt by law students and future lawyers, as “Law schools now are even offering legal operations as a role and [even] legal technology,” shares Stephanie.

This dedicated concentration opens up many doors for corporate legal departments, who now have a pool of candidates who have been educated on the value of legal operations and legal technology. “I just hired someone specifically for a technology-focused role… and can’t wait for them to start,” adds Stephanie.

Insight 2 – Technology is Not (and Will Not Be) a Magic Button that Will Solve All Problems

One mistake that legal teams make is thinking that technology is a fix-all magic button for the problems they face. However, you should never think about how technology can solve problems. “A new set of golf clubs is not going to make you a better golfer. There are fundamentally other things that need to change and it’s not just the tools that will magically fix that for you.” shares Mary.

Instead, think about the problem that needs solving and determine what needs to happen to change and optimize the processes. Then, you can ask yourself, “How can technology be integrated into this process to help achieve greater results?”

To streamline this process, the panel recommends leveraging communication with every team early on, even if the technology won’t have a direct impact on them. By giving people context on the why (the problems you’re trying to solve) and helping them understand how it will help them in the short- and long-term, you can create early champions. Learn more about cross-functional collaboration between legal operations and other departments in our whitepaper, Legal Operations 101: A Blueprint for Modern Legal Departments.

Insight 3 – Change Management Will Continue to be Key to Technology Adoption

Many legal teams are risk averse and change, especially in regards to introducing new technology, can be uncomfortable and even intimidating. A thorough and well thought out change management plan, as well as upfront communication, is key to successful adoption. Stephanie adds, “If you haven’t taken the time to actually build out a change management plan and [understand] the full scope of the technology, adoption becomes a challenge.”

Another critical component of change management is a robust implementation plan. Nathan explains, “Implementation is a big part of our customers’ future success. You need to get the implementation right. Otherwise, as soon as you lose that initial credibility, it goes south from there.”

How new technology rolls out is where legal teams can gain or lose credibility, and in turn, make or break the project. You should include other departments, like finance and IT, early on – people shouldn’t hear about implementations right before they’re about to happen. Finding early adopters that are willing to test and provide unfiltered feedback will promote product adoption and help increase the success rate for the overall project.

Insight 4 – The Bells and Whistles of a Legal Technology Solution Shouldn’t Determine Whether You Purchase

Seeing a demo of potential legal technology is a must in order to understand its functionality and how it can help solve the top issues for your department. Stephanie builds on this and shares, “When you go into a demo it’s hard not to get dazzled by all the bells and whistles. But, the bells and whistles aren’t typically what you need and when you roll out the technology, it’s not what you actually wanted.”

Before attending any product demo for legal tech:

  • Really understand what your department is trying to solve
  • Scope your absolute necessities and requirements as well as the “nice to haves”
  • Speak to multiple vendors, and use this criteria as your baseline for evaluating features and functionality

Following this advice helps ensure that your team avoids being hypnotized by features and functionality that isn’t needed and may never be used.

Insight 5 – Software Configurations Over Customization

Stephanie also commented on her approach to sourcing legal tech. “I’m good with configurations, but anti-customizations.” She explained that it should never be about customizing a solution for your needs today. You have to think about where your department is going to be years down the road and how a technology solution can scale with your growth.

Nathan also added, “Highly-customized legal tech can take a long time to implement.” He shared one example of a legal team that was involved in a 3-year implementation, only to realize that the solution they wanted to build 3 years ago no longer met their needs or aligned with their new processes. What’s more, is that upgrading to the appropriate plan would erase all the custom work that had been done.

Stay Tuned for More Insights into Legal Ops and Legal Tech

These are just some of the insights uncovered during this panel discussion. It was a privilege to host such a knowledgeable and experienced panel of legal operations experts and we learned a great deal about the state of legal technology and its future. If you want to learn more about legal technology, as well as keep a pulse on industry news, subscribe to our blog.