firm’s infrastructure from tablets and phones
previously reserved for personal use, for example,
Clash of Clans, Minecraft – you know the score.
Fresh thinking
But innovation doesn’t have to be about
identifying bleeding-edge technologies and
then finding the question to fit that particular
answer. The best innovations often come from
simply looking at things differently – we call it
‘fresh thinking’.
This is what an increasing number of firms are
doing with their legal processes, and I don’t just
mean the traditional high-volume, low-margin
work that has been the staple diet of case-
management vendors for at least two decades
(although there is still room for innovation here as
discussed below). The real innovation for legal
processes is in the review of niche work previously
thought to be the preserve of artisans and, in some
instances, although it is by nomeans a
prerequisite, the application of technology to
provide consistency, reduce inefficiency, increase
profitability and the like.
These reviews can help the lawyers to think
about their work and their clients in different ways
to those that have been established and evolved
over decades without sacrificing the values that
are the hallmark of each firm…although some
values may need to challenged, especially if they
are not aligned to those of the client.
It may be that some newer technologies or
approaches only work when combined with
innovative thinking. For example, the use of
hosting or cloud technologies appears to be
fraught with all sorts of reputational and risk issues
when you are a law firmwith a duty of care for the
information you hold for a variety of clients.
The bogie men trotted out to scare lawyers off
change include data protection and, in the US, the
Patriot Act, but what in reality could a law firmdo
to stop its on-site data being sequestered by a
government body?
And why do somany firms think they are
better at managing hardware than specialist
companies which have invested £millions in
state-of-the-art facilities to run and protect their
A concession to some of these facts could result
in a different way of thinking about the problem
– possibly ensuring that systems and data could be
available even if a copy is seized.
So, looking at Bill Gates’s underestimated
changes of the next ten years, maybe the real
innovations here could include the application of
technology to those parts of the legal process
that will benefit from it most.
Just this month, the
Daily Telegraph
reported on
an artificial intelligence system called Amelia that
learns both from the written word and from
observing its human counterparts to take on
roles previously associated with highly trained
individuals working within a limited framework of
reference such as IT support desks.
Imagine this as part of a legal triage system, as
an online PI support assistant or a case handler,
while recognising where experience enables
lawyers to differentiate themselves from the rest of
the field. Or consider the awful term‘big data’
which refers to the observation of distinct patterns
in large volumes of data.
This might not find an immediate application in
the relatively limited data of niche matters, but
volume matters could present a whole new
opportunity to spot those cases where effort and
costs could be saved to the client’s benefit which,
in turn, could reward the bravest law firms with
more work (yes, at lower rates but overall more
profit, given the increased quantity).
First steps
It could (should?) also be that true mobility is
delivered, securely, to lawyers via any number of
devices where the device and the data are entirely
disaggregated. That is to say that a firm’s data and
applications could exist independently of the end
user’s devices until required in the same way that
somany of us now access music, and increasingly
video, via streaming rather than downloading.
This would not need to be the giant leap that
it currently appears, but rather an evolution
following on from a number of logical steps that
include the hosting or cloud computing points
made above, along with the use of tools like Citrix.
So, should we expect all of these innovations
within the next two years? No, but ten years?Well,
consider what was news in 2004 – an online
application was launched that, in the intervening
decade, has introducedmillions (to date, 1.32bn)
to the wonders of social media as Facebook took
its first steps.
However, I see the biggest innovations coming
from a change in the approach of law firms to the
ways in which technology can assist their lawyers,
allowing them to unlock the potential of IT inmore
meaningful ways.
This will require a major change in thinking from
lawyers who, as a group, are often deeply
suspicious of technology, andmaybe ABSs will
provide the catalyst here as they start to introduce
competition unfettered by traditional partnership
structures and conservatism.
In-house teams are also applying pressure by
looking at a broader range of products and
services rather than simply deferring to their
existing panel firms – this increasing sophistication
of clients, allied with pricing pressures, may prove
to be the mother of innovation in this arena.
Technology Focus
Much of what we
label as innovation
in legal is already
standard fare in
other sectors
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