A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Don't Automate - Obliterate!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

by Gene Turner, Managing Director, LawHawk

In a recent LinkedIn post, Tim Boyne (a founder of legal tech company LawVu) made a deliberately provocative statement:

“On average, less than 5% of the tasks lawyers do every day require a law degree. In some areas of law it's less than 1%. That means ~ 95% of the $Trillion NZD legal industry is up for grabs. There’s gold in the streets. Right now that bounty still belongs to traditional law firms and they're reaching for their trusty clubs and slingshots ready to go to war for it. The problem is that the venture backed LegalTech industry is building a high tech, robotic arsenal of weaponry the likes of which the world has never seen. There have been over 700 LegalTech startups created in the last few years. Each one of them looking for a piece of that action. Interesting times, and well worth everyone in the industry spending a little time thinking about how they'll maintain relevancy moving forward.”

Tim wanted a response, and he got it, including the following: 

  • Derision from a young lawyer, because Tim was not a lawyer, and therefore shouldn’t presume to comment on the topic of law; 

  • A comment by a partner of a law firm that her firm can already do whatever the legal technology (any of it apparently) does, better, and at a lower cost; and

  • Requests to know where the 95% figure had come from, and doubts as to whether it was accurate. 

  • There were assumptions that legal tech suppliers are looking to take work away from lawyers, rather than work with them; that legal technology is primarily for the high-end legal market, given that they have the most money; and that legal technology is still something that is coming, rather than here and available today. 
In response to these points, I would say: 

  • We should never dismiss an idea just because it did not come from a lawyer.  In this case, Tim has 10 years of experience managing IT for a law firm, and knows very well how law firms work.  But would it matter if he didn’t?  As ALPMA members know very well, non-lawyers such as practice managers and IT specialists already add a lot of value and ideas to the legal profession.  In the legal tech space, many vendors are looking to bring improvements to law which have already been proven in other sectors and we should be encouraging those ideas. 

  • Legal technology and law firms should not be mutually exclusive. Most of the legal technology suppliers I know would prefer to partner with law firms and help them use the “robotic arsenal of weaponry” to provide better services at better value, but many law firms don’t want to know about them.  Why? 

  • Law firms need to continuously try to improve the way they work, as any business does.  Everything can be done better – often dramatically so. Just a small amount of curiosity would allow law firms of any size to trial many of the technologies that are now available, and to see how much they can help to save time, reduce risk, improve quality, and win more work.  

  • It doesn’t matter where the 95% figure came from, or if it is totally accurate. As Warren Buffett has said, “It is better to be approximately right than precisely wrong”, and I bet it is approximately right. Even if it was only 50% that would be substantial.  But take a minute to imagine if it is as high as 95%.  If new technology means that up to 95% of what the organisation does could be done at least as well – if not better – at lower costs, wouldn’t that be awesome?!  Any business owner should be excited by those type of opportunities for their business. 

  • Let’s not forget all the “legal” and “non-legal” (whatever that distinction means) work that law firms currently do not get, and never will if they keep working as they currently do, but could if they provided services clients wanted at a price they were prepared to pay.  Technology will enable law firms to understand and respond to their clients’ real problems and integrate into wider business processes in very profitable and enduring ways.  The potential market for lawyers’ services is far greater than what lawyers currently serve. 

  • Legal technology is absolutely not just for the large law firms, and you don’t need a lot of money to start using it today.  In fact, many of the solutions are cloud based and as available right now to small firms as large. Some legal technology such as document automation are far from new, having been available (but largely ignored by lawyers) for 20 years. 
Automation is essential for law firms.  It is already happening – with or without law firms - and those who adopt it will be able to offer profoundly different services to those who don’t.  Instead of cautiously seeking incremental improvements to the traditional ways lawyers work and focussing mainly on risks, lawyers should embrace the opportunities it provides to completely transform what lawyers can do. 

In September, I spoke at the 2017 ALPMA Summit on the topic “Don’t Automate – Obliterate” where I looked at the opportunities legal technology is opening up for lawyers, and how they can use it to reinvent the services they offer to their clients.  

Despite many lawyers’ ongoing resistance to change, I was pleased to be able to point to progressive firms like Page Seager, who recently launched Page Create, as examples of firms who are looking to use technology to create better ways to deliver legal services and greater value to clients through innovation.  I also enjoyed meeting a number of lawyers and legal technology vendors who are excited by the potential to re-engineer the way legal services are provided.  

As Tim says, “Interesting times, and well worth everyone in the industry spending a little time thinking about how they’ll maintain relevancy moving forward.”

Editor's Note:

Want to know more about legal technology opportunities for law firms? Watch Gene's presentation "Don't Automate - Obliterate!" session from the 2017 ALPMA Summit On-Demand for just $99 (incl GST) or purchase the whole package for just $395 (incl GST), thanks to the generous support of our Summit Live and On-Demand partner, BigHand.  

About our Guest Blogger

Gene Turner
Gene was a corporate & finance partner of Buddle Findlay from 2009 until retiring from partnership in 2014. In 2011 to 2013 he was ranked as a leading lawyer in both M&A and banking as a result of leading a number of substantial transactions such as the very successful $700m acquisition by Infratil and the NZ Super Fund of Shell’s New Zealand business.

Gene is now managing director of LawHawk – a ‘new law’ venture providing advanced automated legal documents via the HotDocs cloud and helping lawyers provide better quality services to their clients, faster, at lower prices that are more profitable. In March 2017, LawHawk and Wellington law firm Succeed Legal released a free online will that anyone in New Zealand can use.

Gene is on the advisory board of The College of Law Centre of Legal Innovation.

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