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At the intersection of law and technology

Exploring innovation within the legal culture.

Culture sign and arrow

The modern business of law has its roots in many centuries-old institutions, beliefs, regulations and customs, all of which have created a culture that is resistant to change. In a study by Altman Weil, 69 per cent of law firm partners saw themselves as the biggest obstacle to change – even when they understood that change is necessary. Luckily, law firms are starting to understand the importance of innovation. In a 2019 survey, 26 per cent of firms saw technology adoption and implementation as a top concern for their business. However, changing the deep-rooted culture of law to see innovation as a priority is a difficult task. The most effective starting point can be found by combining an understanding of the culture of law with deep business and technology expertise to create innovative solutions that suit the framework of traditional law.

The issue with change

Alternative legal services providers (ALSPs) frequently work with corporations to provide legal services, and are increasingly providing outsourced support to law firms. With the industry projected to grow by 24 per cent in 2020, ALSPs are expected to continue to be a popular option for legal services support. Unfortunately, because these providers function outside of the firms they work for and outside of the legal profession, many ALSPs lack the necessary understanding of the culture of law firms and the profession to make innovation thrive in law. In other words, they can provide new services but ultimately can’t change the DNA of the legal profession.

With the global law technology industry worth $3 billion, there are a multitude of options available for firms looking to integrate technology. Unfortunately, the variance of business processes and culture by firm means that solutions that work well for one firm may not integrate as successfully in a new firm. Another major barrier to successful adoption of technology is the culture of law itself, which is structured around rules and regulations. This makes it difficult for technologists to understand clearly what the firm needs and how to integrate solutions successfully. To implement technology is to embark on a new path away from the norm of law, which makes firms reluctant to take the first step until they have seen other firms do it successfully. This creates a vicious cycle of a culture that is reluctant to change and unable to innovate successfully without help.

Creating change

Millennials are causing disruptions to how traditional industries typically operate – and law is no exception. In the next ten years, 75 per cent of law firm staff will be millennials or Generation Z. This cohort is more technologically savvy, which will shift how a traditional law firm functions. That’s why a new type of law firm is emerging as a response to these changes, one that merges a deep understanding of the practice of law with new innovations and leading technologies. For more traditional law firms to stay competitive and to attract new talent, they will need to change how they view innovation. It can no longer be a luxury - it’s an imperative.

Although the culture of law is steeped in tradition, lawyers have diverse backgrounds. Using today’s pool of talent, firms that want to succeed need to create a multidisciplinary team composed of legal and technology experts. The first step is to seek out individuals who have a background in law, but a passion for, and understanding of, technology. Next, the firm must dedicate adequate time and resources to ensure the success of the team. If this talent cannot be found within the firm, or the level of investment doesn’t make sense for the firm, there are innovative firms emerging that can consult to ensure that solutions will integrate with the culture.

A major issue facing technologists who work in the legal space is that they do not speak the same language as lawyers. To gain support for innovation within the law firm, forward-thinking lawyers need to ensure that they keep their messaging in line with the firm's priorities and are not solely focused on technological benefits. Instead of framing goals through business objectives only, they need to ensure that the solutions also help the firm to meet its own legal obligations or assist its clients in meeting theirs. Focusing on legal obligations will help lawyers and support professionals better understand how innovation can support the practice.

The future of law

With demand growing in the law industry but productivity decreasing, law firms must start fusing innovation and technology. To create effective innovation within traditional firms, the focus cannot be on changing the deep-rooted culture of law. Instead, the objective must be to create solutions that work despite these traditions by combining a deep understanding of law with technology expertise.