LegalTech: Impressive salaries aren't the most important thing for attracting talent
Jenny Hotchin argues the right technology can help newly-qualified lawyers adapt to the workplace and avoid burnout
A talent war is raging in the legal world and firms are responding with salaries that would catch anyone’s attention: the starting pay for newly-qualified (NQ) lawyers can be north of £160,000 at some London offices.
Impressive as those numbers are, however, they might not be the most important thing for attracting talent.
While money certainly matters to these up-and-coming legal practitioners, it’s far from the only factor that interests them. They want jobs that provide intellectual stimulation and meaning, with a minimum of repetitive and unchallenging grunt work that quickly burns them out and sends them searching for the nearest exit.
This is why technology is more important than ever when it comes to finding and holding on to key legal talent. By making sure the tools and processes are in place to allow people to work in the most efficient and effective way, legal organisations can ensure their professionals are more fulfilled in their roles, helping firms to survive the talent war as it continues to heat up.
There must be a better way
The connection between the underlying technologies that a firm relies on and its ability to attract talent becomes more apparent when considering the following all-too-common scenario.
As a trainee, it isn’t unusual to be given a heap of documents – hopefully digital, but quite possibly printed, depending on how ‘old school’ the firm is – and asked to go through those documents painstakingly extracting certain key pieces of information and putting the data into a separate Word document or Excel spreadsheet.
The lawyer who has been given this task might be looking for the value of a contract, the termination date, or whether a certain change of control clause or other identified risk exists within a contract, but make no mistake – the task doesn’t always involve sophisticated legal interpretation or reasoning. It involves looking for certain items and then copying and pasting those items into a separate document – again and again.
At this point, certain dark thoughts start to creep into the lawyer’s mind. Thoughts like: “Given the technology that is broadly available today – and given the technology I use in my private life as a consumer – surely there is a better way?”
This frustration can become downright demoralising as an individual starts to focus on the fact, they’ve dedicated years of their life to studying the law and spent thousands of pounds on their law degree and are now spending vast chunks of their day doing fairly mechanical copy-and-paste chores.
Removing the mundane
Now, imagine this same task with technology that automates the chore of reviewing documents and extracting key pieces of information. This frees up the lawyer to focus on other activities that are higher value in nature.
Notably, this technology doesn’t mean lawyers will be twiddling their thumbs and not generating any billable hours for the firm. They have plenty to do – they just get to spend more time on the tasks that matter rather than on glorified ‘busywork’. They might even get to go home at a reasonable hour and spend time with their friends and family instead of being stuck in the office overnight, becoming intimately familiar with the Command/Ctrl-C and Command/Ctrl-V keys.
For firms worried about burning out employees, what could be more valuable? It's not just about removing a mundane task from the lawyer; it's about giving the lawyer the feeling they're doing things in an efficient and effective manner – that they’re on the cutting edge, rather than working in the Stone Age and their time is respected and valued.
Without tech: a multitude of tasks
Document review is hardly the only task that can create an unhappy workforce if professionals aren’t supplied with the proper tools. Think here of verification. When a company is going to be publicly listed in a jurisdiction with stringent disclosure requirements, lawyers can spend months of their life going line by line through documents, verifying all of the information provided to the market is accurate and has been verified as correct.
Verification tools such as Atticus now make this task a much simpler – and much less wearisome – proposition than in the past. These tools allow the lawyers to focus on the key issues, rather than the 'busywork', giving the partner and client greater confidence in the accuracy of the disclosure.
Alternatively, consider repapering exercises, which have become an increasingly frequent occurrence in the age of General Data Protection Regulation, the LIBOR transition, the covid-19 pandemic and the otherwise ever-shifting environment in which law firms and their clients do business.
Some repapering tasks might involve a degree of legal interpretation – for instance, reviewing people’s contracts to make sure they’re in accordance with the latest GDPR laws, or examining force majeure provisions in response to the covid-19 pandemic. Yet, lawyers often are called upon to simply create amendments without even reading or interpreting the originals, due to time constraints or other factors. This quickly becomes another copy-and-paste exercise of copying material from the original contract and then pasting it into a new Word document, which becomes the amendment to the original contract.
Document automation tools such as Avvoka remove all the ‘boring’ parts of this process – opening up the original contract, trying to find the relevant provisions, selecting relevant precedent laws, pasting them into a new document and then saving it into a specific workspace. These aspects are automated via technology, freeing up the lawyer to focus on the more enjoyable aspects of legal practice.
Competition is heating up
It's worth repeating that as the talent war rages on, the more that firms can take these technological steps, the better. Any lawyer who is just now entering the workforce has grown up steeped in technology and has an expectation that firms will be actively looking to take advantage of the latest technology to operate in a state-of-the-art fashion.
Imagine how disappointing it would be for a newly qualified lawyer – who despite being offered a highly competitive salary – realises a few weeks into the job that the firm is still using manual, repetitive processes for much of the legal work?
Also, law firms aren't just competing against other firms for lawyers anymore. The legal career landscape is exploding and people who have an understanding of the law are increasingly in demand at a variety of ‘non-traditional’ organisations, from alternative legal service providers to LegalTech providers. Many of these non-traditional entities are more agile and responsive when it comes to technology adoption, too – a factor that can only work in their favour in attracting talent.
More than just money
While dangling bags of cash in front of lawyers might have been a sure-fire recruitment strategy in the past, today’s legal professionals care about more than just money. They want a fulfilling and stimulating experience that leverages their intellect rather than just treating them as workhorses for performing repetitive tasks.
This shift suggests when it comes to personnel, law firms might get just as much of a return-on-investment by paying attention to the technology they’re employing as by paying attention to the salary charts that come out every year. In the ongoing legal talent war, throwing money at the problem no longer guarantees success if the firm hasn’t undertaken a deeper review of the tools and technologies they have in place and how they enable their lawyers to get work done.
Jenny Hotchin is the Legal Practice Lead at iManage imanage.com