Legal firms have traditionally followed firmly set, deep-rooted practices in how they operate. After all, the system of law is one of the longest-standing establishments in the governance of society.
But with digitization happening rapidly across most industries, some customary legal processes may well be considered outdated. That is not to say the system itself or its rules are out-of-date – it’s more about improving the best practices of how law professionals serve their clients.
As a profession and practice, law is built on rules and traditions: statutes and codes, case laws, norms. Until recently, the legal sector has largely relied on trusted tools and methods outside of technology. Yet the industry is increasingly looking to technology and digital thinking to enhance how lawyers solve problems and make decisions.
We recently began working with an international law firm based in Cambodia that was looking to redesign and redevelop its website. In the process of auditing their website and conducting the necessary market research, we discovered some trends in how legal firms establish their online presence – trends that our client wanted to move away from.
Legal firms’ websites often follow a similar format. The interface and navigation are fairly straightforward (a good thing), but setting up an appointment via call or emailing for inquiries can be intimidating (not so good). The websites typically act as databases of information about the services the firm provides and collections of pages on other subjects or news. It’s standard practice to list areas of expertise and show off some clients. Because the range of topics and sections tend to be broad, there can easily be an overload of information, making the website less user-friendly from a design perspective.
Our client aspired to stand out. They wanted to build an interactive platform for their customers – not just a collection of links and text-heavy pages. So we set out to create a modern website tailored to their needs and optimized for new and existing clients.
As a professional service firm, we emphasize human-centered design in our products and services. Likewise, legal firms need to have a human-centric approach. Law exists to serve people (and is operated by people) – so legal business practices should be aligned with these principles.
Of course, a website is only one of the aspects of digitization that legal firms need to consider and update. But it’s also a good indication of how firms use other digital solutions internally to streamline their workflows.
The first step to differentiation is, unexpectedly, to follow everyone else. But not how you think.
Diverse businesses in even more diverse industries across the world have been eagerly immersing themselves in digital transformation. We frequently mention this term because it is one of the main services we offer as a consultancy. But it’s helpful to have a definition of what this process actually entails.
IBM defines digital transformation as follows:
"Digital transformation takes a customer-driven, digital-first approach to all aspects of a business, from its business models to customer experiences to processes and operations. It uses AI, automation, hybrid cloud and other digital technologies to leverage data and drive intelligent workflows, faster and smarter decision-making, and real-time response to market disruptions. And ultimately, it changes customer expectations and creates new business opportunities."
In short, digital transformation is the process of adopting and integrating technology across an organization to work more efficiently and better serve customers.
So, to begin differentiating in a typically traditional sector like law, legal firms should embrace digital transformation. This instantly gives them more means to make themselves stand out and more opportunities for growth in the long term.
Digital transformation does not have to be sudden and all-encompassing. Law firms can start by automating day-to-day tasks: enabling remote work and meetings or using an online document storage platform.
Moving a step further, the legal field has also seen an expansion in legal technology (Legal Tech) development in recent years. Legal Tech includes specific software and platforms that are built to simplify the elements of the legal profession by digitizing them. These digital solutions can help individuals, law firms, and businesses with tasks like document automation and storage, billing and accounting, client management, and knowledge discovery.
Legal Tech is not meant to replace lawyers and their judgment but rather to enable it. By taking over processes that can be easily automated, these solutions save time for lawyers and ensure they can use their skills efficiently to solve more complex problems with clients. Firms can explore innovations for secure document sharing, notarization, and managing contracts, agreements, and invoices – notoriously time-consuming tasks. In fact, Legal Tech can digitize the entire lifecycle of contract management: from negotiation and creation to signing, compliance, and renewal. Document sharing solutions also make it easy to share data with all relevant parties while keeping everything up-to-date.
A great example of using Legal Tech to simplify workflows is the digital knowledge-management platform created by McKinsey. Its legal department built a Legal Playbook– an online portal for the company’s legal professionals that serves as a library of documents, templates, and resources on various law subject areas. The platform offers an intuitive interface that ensures users find what they need quickly and efficiently. It has helped McKinsey lawyers save time, making their jobs more streamlined.
Another example is LexisNexis – a leading global provider of legal, regulatory, and business information and analytics that help customers increase productivity, improve decision-making and outcomes, and advance the rule of law worldwide.
Legal Tech by itself is not the complete solution to digitizing the law and its practices. Rather, it’s a tool to manage, coordinate, and implement tasks to streamline the job that a legal professional performs.
Introducing digital solutions can help accelerate overall innovation in law and digitize routine processes.
About a quarter of the work done by lawyers could be automated, like filing papers, composing contracts, and reviewing documents for errors. Legal Tech minimizes these tasks by providing firms with ways to improve workflows for individuals and organizations, optimize procedures, and make their outcomes more accurate.
LegalTech Hub, an online database of Legal Tech solutions, offers a variety of apps and software for different use cases. It helps clients (both law firms and in-house) to discover and select the right option and even aids them in connecting with consultants and implementation partners. The apps range from platforms to manage documents and contracts to legal research software and compliance solutions, among others.
Developing Legal Tech solutions can improve access to law among a diverse client base.
Having the option to receive legal services via digital means bridges the gap between the body of law and lower-income groups or those limited by geographic distance. Some people may be unaware of their options and feel too intimidated to seek information directly from professionals. So providing an alternative means of inquiry and gathering information can help legal firms meet those in need where they are today.
Additionally, customers who have embraced online channels in other areas of their lives may often prefer a firm that has adopted digital solutions. For instance, they’re likely to choose to share documents digitally and have meetings online rather than in-person. As firms encounter unique client needs, they also need unique digital solutions to match them.
Legal Tech that is built as SaaS (Software-as-a-Service), or a digital platform or product, is scalable – unlike traditional legal services that involve close work with a lawyer.
Working with humans requires a lot of time, coordination, and strict timelines, and this can slow down case progress. The cost of legal services is another factor that often makes them out of reach. But scalability means that it’s possible to drastically reduce both time and costs – all while increasing access.
In addition to accessibility for clients, Legal Tech also benefits lawyers by providing them with insights beyond what they can gather from documents alone. Current digital developments have made it possible to build AI-powered legal consulting solutions that can aid lawyers in their jobs. This sophisticated software can help lawyers build cases while strengthening privacy and security and keeping client information safe.
It can be challenging for traditional, risk-averse law firms to release certain beliefs and practices and be open to embracing digital transformation. But adopting a digital-first perspective can significantly improve operations and expand reach and access, allowing for a better level of service for more people.
Digital transformation and differentiation are mutually inclusive – and legal firms can use that to their advantage. While embracing digital solutions like Legal Tech, firms can evolve to serve a more contemporary and diverse customer base. Adopting such solutions also helps reposition legal services as more inclusive – because law is, above all, a human-centered service, it only makes sense to adopt human-centered solutions.
Legal Tech solutions streamline work, saving time and resources for both lawyers and their clients. The convenience of digital platforms for sharing documents, composing contracts, conducting research, and supporting other tasks makes legal services both more accessible and more efficient. The COVID-19 pandemic, for one, has proven that legal processes and communications can be done via online channels (and even using AI-powered software).
In the long term, law firms could start experimenting with their own SaaS products that allow clients to connect with a lawyer virtually and conduct the necessary interactions and procedures via a uniquely designed platform. In fact, the rise of digital has also revolutionized unique firms that exist only as SaaS providers instead of offering traditional legal services (find some great examples here).
Embracing some of the solutions outlined here enables a broader shift in the legal sector as firms engage in digital transformation and use it to leverage their offerings and positioning in the market. Modern law firms can and should use technology to their benefit and to benefit their clients.