By Jack Halprin
Law firms are struggling with technology upgrades, whether it is adoption of new software or hardware, the move to cloud computing or the use of advanced technology to manage data and improve the firm-client relationship. Technology has advanced quickly, but adoption is often a slow process because change does not come easy. Whether due to technological aversion or budget issues, firms are missing out on opportunities to distinguish themselves from their peers by not adopting advanced technology.
Advanced technology, including conceptual search and contextual analysis that can understand the meaning of data, can help the firm better manage information and increase efficiency, often more than 300 percent. Moving data to the cloud can reduce IT budgets and burdens, and these technology advances, combined, can remove the weak links in the chain that binds firms to their clients.
Change comes slowly to law firms. For example, even in the early 1990s, the firm I worked for didn't provide computers for attorneys. We had to fight to use a computer, even though computers were standard in most professional environments at that time. Even today, change is slow and programs and software that are no longer supported by the manufacturer are still in use. Just look at the continued use of TIFF images, even though the format has not had a major update since 1995, and compare that to the PDF format, which offers much greater flexibility.
The aversion to technology also relates to a generational rift between lawyers who have grown up with technology and those who did not and are reluctant to change. This rift helps to explain why some lawyers don't want to adopt new technology when they're comfortable using legacy methods that are adequate for their needs. There are still many lawyers who would rather print electronic documents to review them.
New lawyers are often more comfortable with technology because they have grown up in a mobile, always-on, socially networked world. While many lawyers have adapted to the rapid advances in technology, new lawyers' comfort and understanding of its benefits can help firms adopt technology.
Many firms are beginning to move forward and adopt advanced technology by outlining clear business goals that are designed to distinguish the firm, make it more competitive and reduce risks and costs both internally and for their clients. This also has the benefit of enhancing the quality of life for the lawyers and staff.
Unfortunately, the dynamic of the law firm structure often makes budgeting more difficult, because the partners are the shareholders and the outlay of funds for technology can affect personal income in the short term. This personal decision can often make an impartial evaluation of the long-term benefits more challenging. Oftentimes, the firm's CIO or CTO is in the difficult position of trying to balance budget priorities with the need to bring in new and advanced technology.
The financial downturn has propelled the idea of change to the forefront. As corporate customers look to reduce litigation costs and the number of law firms they work with, firms must distinguish themselves through better service, better collaboration and the ability to proactively reduce costs and risks. Firms that adapt quickly will survive. Those that don't risk extinction because they can't meet the evolving needs of their customers.
As a way to reduce costs, firms are looking toward alternative-billing methods and the use of technology to speed the process. This is why an action plan to adopt new technology is essential: Those firms that embrace advanced technology will find that efficiency and the ability to provide counsel to their clients will be a key competitive advantage.
As firms seek to strengthen relationships with clients as long-term partners, advanced technology will enable lawyers to proactively analyze and manage clients' data in-place. These capabilities eliminate the weak link in the chain that binds the firm to the client, enabling clients to provide faster access to information and reducing costs, risk and duplication of data while enhancing security.
On the firm side, use of advanced technology to speed the review process will allow the firm to handle additional matters for their clients while maintaining cost control.
Though many firms have taken a piecemeal approach to technology, addressing a single pain point, they need a long-term view.
First, they should establish that technology is a top priority and competitive advantage for the firm going forward. Second, they should evaluate strategic benefits and create a committee of stakeholders to review technology, make decisions and, above all, give that group the power to implement their choices.
A holistic approach is also important. The firm needs to meet clients' demands now and in the future.
Though the challenge of adding new technology and retiring old technology will remain, the key stakeholders need to be committed to moving forward because the benefits of advanced technology are clear.
Autonomy Inc. was founded upon a vision to dramatically change the way in which people interact with information and computers.