Strive for strategic advantage

Stephen James, CEO|Legal 360, by SAGlobal

The legal technology industry is the key strategic focus for us at sa.global, but our practice is widely based on professional services like architecture, engineering and construction as well as general consulting and media. From this view, we have found several aspects where the legal industry lags behind other professional services industries, such as media, which has successfully aligned strategy, innovation and the supporting technology in their organisations, and embraced and adopted technology such as cloud, collaboration tools and AI.

The report sheds a lot of light on the barriers that exist and presents some interesting challenges for those of us who would wish to help the legal industry become more innovative and dynamic in its adoption of technology. A period of rapid change is impacting the industry and it’s not hard to imagine the kind of disruption and consolidation happening, which has already impacted so many other professions that were previously considered immune.

But the barriers are not just internal, they also challenge the legal technology industry itself. Our industry is preoccupied with operational efficiency and process improvement, or ‘building a better mousetrap’.

Of course these things are important, but when your competitor figures out how to really align strategy, technology and innovation, and creates new services and products that are more impactful and cheaper, being able to get your timesheet in a few seconds faster isn’t going to help. We think a broader vision for legal technology is required – one meant to create strategic advantage, not just operational improvement.

A good example is that the respondents see AI as a key technology that will be increasingly important in the years ahead, but practice management as having relatively low importance. This is a fallacy – AI depends entirely on data to drive context, which in turn drives insight and ultimately competitive advantage.

Practice management and client-engagement tools are where so much of that key data resides. This is gold dust. But consider the typical solutions landscape in a law firm today, with dozens of different tools and systems, incompatible formats and platforms, most of which reside on-premises. Imagine that the majority of operational systems resided on a single cloud platform, such as Microsoft Azure, with consistent data formats and an incredibly rich toolset available to derive context and insights.

When we have this base we can imagine leveraging machine learning to address many of the challenges the survey firms face like optimising project profitability and resource usage. The successful law firms of the future will take a holistic approach and figure out how to align strategy with innovation. They will understand that individual point systems, which neither talk to each other nor have compatible data, will be a huge barrier.

They will put strategy and technology on the same level and look at the big picture. It will be the firms that understand the connections between the systems they have, and the importance of data and context, that will derive competitive advantage and ultimately separate the future winners from the future losers.

This article can be found in Briefing report: Legal IT landscapes 2020.

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