For as far as the legal profession has leapt ahead in technology adoption over the past three years, there is still a lot of ground to gain. Just about every practice area has a plethora of tasks that can be automated to free up time for work that is more enjoyable, more sophisticated, and more profitable.
But the billable hour model doesn’t exactly encourage efficiency, making it notoriously difficult to sell tech to law firms.
Which is why it is so exciting when a firm, especially a big one, finally signs with a legal tech vendor. It means that the vendor was able to convince the innovation team, the practice group, and IT that the product is useful, safe, and profitable.
After all that hand wringing, you’d think the next 12-months would be smooth sailing, right?
Wrong. Because often a product that was supposed to solve a major problem ends up collecting dust among a pile of other legal tech products that no one uses.
Associates have too much on their plates to learn about new tools, so they revert to the familiar – and inefficient - way of doing things. Meanwhile, the innovation team struggles to push adoption of the products that they fought so hard to onboard, partners get frustrated with mounting unsubstantiated costs, and vendors are crushed at year-end to learn that their product will not get renewed.
Which begs the question: what can firms do to enhance legal tech adoption among associates?
I took a tour across North America to gather best practices from innovation folks at some of the largest firms in Canada and the US.
My number one favourite tip was from California-based David Wang, chief innovation officer of Wilson Sonsini, who said that his firm builds “Innovation Hours” into its associates’ billable hour target to encourage them to tinker with new products. Wang also cleverly evaluates each new product according to, among other criteria, whether it is likely to have frequent usage.
Another tip from the chief knowledge & innovation officer of a New York-based global law firm was for vendors to cozy up to associates who’ve shown an interest in the product. He said that the most successful vendors give these “champions” extra attention through personalized training, dinners, and even a stake in the company to encourage them to spread the word.
Meanwhile, back in Toronto, Charles Dobson, knowledge management lawyer at Osler, urges innovation teams to play the long game and give a tool a runway of at least 2-3 years, keeping in mind that most practices do not involve cookie cutter work so the same task is unlikely to come up very often. He also notes that the most successful products are those that can adapt to, and remain reliable for, a variety of use cases because law can be so varied and unpredictable.
In a nutshell, it’s not that complicated: associates are eager to try new tech when they are given the time, space, and attention to do so, and they stick with tech that can respond to the vicissitudes of their practice.
About the author
Tali Green is the co-founder of Goodfact, a legal tech startup that turns piles of documents, including email threads, into an instant chronology. She is a commercial litigator in Toronto, Ontario and came up with the idea for Goodfact while building a particularly onerous chronology for one of her files.