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Kickstart your digital transformation without breaking the bank

30 June 2017 - By Matt Farrington

There are a great range of new tools and technologies available to lawyers. We’re being exhorted to “innovate or die”. But some law firms and in-house legal teams haven’t even begun to think about the benefits that technology can bring to their practices. This may be due to lack of time. It may be due to lack of budget. But often, it is due to not knowing where to start.

But starting doesn’t have to be hard, time-consuming, or cost a lot of money. You can start your digital transformation for a few hundred dollars and with just a few hours of work.

Find a digital champion

A digital champion (or several champions in larger teams) is most likely to be the digital natives – the ones other people ask for tech advice. They don’t need to be software engineers, just reasonably confident in trying out new technology.

If you are a digital champion, pitch a plan to your boss to start a digital transformation project. If you’re the boss and don’t have the time or expertise to be involved, shoulder tap one or two likely candidates in your team to get started.

Set a budget

This doesn’t have to be much. One of the great things about internet-based software-as-a-service technology solutions is that you usually don’t need special hardware or software, and won’t be locked in for long-term or expensive contracts – many even have free trials. Subscriptions are usually per-user so, with your small team of digital champions, a few hundred dollars will be enough to make a great start.

Start small

A rider starting a motorbike
Photo by Brian Lin CC-By-NC-ND

Identify one discrete need or problem (or even just a really annoying niggle) that could be fixed with technology. Bear in mind that law firms and in-house legal teams aren’t monolithic; the needs of one team are likely to be very different to the needs of another. And even within teams, the issues faced by partners and general counsel are very different to the issues faced by junior solicitors, and different again to the issues of practice managers, legal executives and support staff. But they are all still problems. Right now, you’re not trying to digitally transform your business overnight. Yes, the identified issue might be relatively small and only affect a few people, but those are probably the quickest, easiest and cheapest to solve.

There are some great resources online to research possible technology solutions to your problem. But sometimes the best approach is to simply try them out and see if they work for your particular issue.

Report back on “the three E’s”

After a trial period (say one to three months), the digital champions report back to the team whether the solution is a success or not. I think success should be judged by “three E’s”: am I working more efficiently, more effectively, and/or more enjoyably?

Revenue-generating solutions are great, but that isn’t the only measure of success. Take a simple filing solution. No, I can’t charge for it, but if I can file all my emails easily, then I have more time to spend on legal work, the files will be more complete, and I won’t hate filing (as much). Then you simply ask the question “does the success justify the cost of the solution?” If it does, consider implementing it permanently or rolling it out more widely across the team or firm.

But don’t be afraid to fail fast. If the solution doesn’t work for you or causes its own problems, don’t hesitate to discard it and try something else or go back to your original way of doing things. You’re still further ahead than you were before – if nothing else, you now know that solution X won’t deal with that particular need or issue. Try again with a different solution. Or maybe that solution is better suited to solving a different problem.

And that’s all it takes to start your digital transformation. Think of it as a rolling series of smaller improvements rather than a single break-the-bank initiative.

Data security and the cloud

A note of caution: obviously, any solution needs to fit in with existing IT policies and IT teams. Involve them from the start. Think about what data (if any) you’re sending to the cloud or software provider and how the provider holds or manages that information. Particular care is required with client information. Digital champions do need to read the terms and conditions and privacy policies of cloud services. But, while some thought is required, the cloud doesn’t automatically have to be scary or a “no-go” zone.

Matt Farrington is a lawyer and legal technologist with Juno Legal. Matt specialises in working with legal, project and IT teams on technology projects, including deploying new systems for legal teams.

Pick a problem

Pick something small and discrete. You will bite off more than you can chew if you start by trying a new practice or document management system. I’ve included some suggestions of basic tools that can be easily deployed without huge up-front investment in time and money, but there are many others (a Google search for “alternatives to [product X]” will always produce fruitful results). Many of the following are New Zealand-based and doing some really innovative things.

Our large projects don’t go well and cause internal stress. Information is only in people’s heads, deadlines aren’t mapped out, and things become urgent that shouldn’t be.

Our contracts have multiple signatories. They can be signed in counterparts, but this involves lots of printing and coordination. Inevitably, someone doesn’t sign in the right place, is overseas, or doesn’t have a witness and we need to scramble to sort it out.

I waste a lot of time looking through previous advice and documents looking for suitable precedents / a clause to use / a template to start with.

I’ve got great precedents but I can spend hours just cutting and pasting counter-party details, much less actually tailoring the contract to suit the transaction.

It takes me forever to put together all the company /property / PPSR searches I need for this transaction / case.

  • Information search and aggregation tools like InfoTrack and data visualisation tools like ClinkID

This client has 37 different companies. You want me to update her address for each one!? That’s a lot of form filling.

We don’t work well together / we work in silos / I really wish I knew what that other team was doing / my inbox is drowning in reply-to-alls and CCs.


Last updated on the 30th June 2017