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Growing up in the UK during the 70s and 80s I, like many, were fascinated with the future promised by Tomorrow’s World - one of flying cars, automated homes and jet-packs. I would overlook that fact that experiments would often fail and saw technology as the answer to everything – it would genuinely make life better. The issue of the “leisure premium” would often be raised – what we would do with all this free time when the majority of our work would be done by machines?
We now live in a world of email, smart phones, automated document production and Nespresso machines. We have better technology than Roger Moore’s 007 (although there are meetings I would have dearly loved access to his exploding pen) yet, we are working harder and not necessarily smarter.
For in-house lawyers, there should be a “thinking premium” (unless they can negotiate better hours with their CEO) which the technology proffers them, to allow observation, analysis, reflection and strategising – to lift in-housers up from the tyranny of case-by-case reactivity but to think on a proactive basis at an enterprise level.
Instead of the “silver bullet” technology promises, in many cases IT would appear to add to the burden of legal teams, requiring them to extract reports, manipulate into excel, collate additional data manually or, in some cases, do and enter everything twice.
This, of course, isn’t only an issue for the legal function. A recent report in the Harvard Business Review argues that we expect too much from IT.
In truth, we are sold IT as a panacea – the answer to all our many woes. Well choreographed presentations are whizzed through but smart tech-types, demonstrating how their solution is the key to unlocking our efficiency.
It could be, there is some amazing technology out there. Commissioned and implemented correctly, it can make any department more effective and able to serve their business better. However, too often the wrong technology is bought in the wrong way and set up wrongly – all of which creates a greater burden on the legal teams it is supposed to serve or, worse still, ends up going unused. How many of us still store our own precedents and documents on our local drive, in spite of their being a document management system?
With the legal function being such rare recipients of legal spend, it is doubly important that they buy the right technology for the right reasons.
To assist, here are some common mistakes to be avoided:
1. Panic Buying
- too many departments buy for what is a symptom rather than addressing the root cause – good technology, alone, will not solve a deeper organisational issue. It is better to work on organisational change and only then source tech to support that initiative.
2. The Emperors New Clothes
- buying technology, or upgrades to technology to deal with problems that the salesman tells you are common place but you’ve never experienced can happen when the busy/stressed/tired/technology-unsure in-houser meets the slick presentation.
- off the shelf may work for you, you need to have system that suits your business – invest time (before you buy) in understanding those needs, buy the closer solution to them and tailor where necessary.
4. Over Tailoring
- but there’s a balance. Adapt a system too much to the way you need it today and you will have two legacy issues: (i) as your needs change, your technology will hold you back; and (ii) you may limit your ability to benefit from system upgrades. In practice, “over tailoring” happens far more often than under tailoring and builds obsolescence into a system that you should be looking to future proof.
5. The Cost of Everything and the Value of Nothing
- the legal market’s obsessive occupation with “more for less” puts the cost of delivery to the fore. The market is focussing mainly on reducing cost and invests very little in addressing value – whilst a subject for another blog (or maybe a book)- if the only focus is cutting cost, any technology will only detract from a legal function’s value today, and will certainly not add to its value tomorrow.
IT can be game changing – just make sure you know the game your playing and that you’ve got the tactics mapped out.
Calling Legal COOs……
A very interesting article appeared this weekend in the Harvard Business Review around supply chain risk: HBR Article
Many in-house legal teams on reading this article, may feel compelled to forward it to their procurement colleague. Some may set it aside as a reminder to look at some of the “risk” or “contingency” clauses within the standard supply purchase agreements, when they get time.
For Legal COO’s, there is a far more pertinent question that should be asked: “What is the health of my legal supply chain?”
High-profile collapses of legal market stalwarts such as
are seen by ‘big-law’ naysayers as the “tip of the iceberg” and written off by law firm traditionalists as “market outliers”, defined by poor management.
The truth, as ever, sits somewhere between these polarised views. Law firms, are precarious structures consisting off transient partnership, no fixed or guaranteed annuity revenue and with monstrously poor cash-flows.
Even in the UK, where LLPs have to publish their accounts, financial data is limited. In Canada and other jurisdictions, there is no data at all. Therefore, what to do?
Here are some questions you should be seeking the answers to:
Cash In Bank
Partnership Churn Rate
Average Debtor Days
Insurance Claims History
This should be done during RFP and annually thereafter. As soon as their is a “sniff” in the market of issues, you should reserve the right to ask the question again.
Some firms may baulk at supplying this information and it needs to be collated and retained in a way that makes the comfortable. It is not unreasonable, however, given the value of “relationship” most firms point to as their value add, for your business to ask for this.
Organisations with a long history of using a particular law firm will, over the passage of time, become hostages to those law firms in relation to “institutional knowledge or history”. How to change that is the subject of a whole different post – but given that it is the case – ensuring the sustainability of your legal supply chain on a regular and timely basis is critical.
I’m hoping to post, again, each Monday.
Guest Blog: James Swede, Darlingtons.
The concept of Know Your Client (KYC) is well known to most lawyers in the context of money laundering and other identity and bona fides checks, but lawyers should maybe spend more time, when writing on the web, on Know Your Reader (KYR).
There has been an explosion in legal blogging in the last year, but as with many aspects of legal practice, a sheep mentality is perhaps too apparent.
Reading legal blog posts can be painful – many strike us as attempts by 1 lawyer to prove how clever he or she is or knowledgeable about a very specific niche. Many write on the basis they are writing for other lawyers.
In some cases and on some blogs that is the case, but in the vast majority of cases, readers will be non-lawyers looking for an overview, some practical tips and experience which answers their needs. If the blog post is written in that way, it offers an insight that the lawyer understands the readers needs and may then lead to the reader getting in touch.
As lawyers (on the basis that lawyers may be reading this particular blog post) how many of you check the levels of engagement with your blog posts ? This is very simple to do, just by accessing google analytics or any other web analyticsprogramme.
If you do so, you will find that the average amount of time readers will spend on any legal page or post is around 90 seconds.
Remember the old story that if you can’t explain a new business proposition to a potential investor by writing it down on the back of a cigarette packet, your investor is unlikely to invest ?The same holds true for writing on the web.
For any non-academic writing, we suggest that when writing, lawyers remind themselves of who they are writing for and that, if the post cannot be understood and the main points easily absorbed in 90 seconds, it’s unlikely to have the impact you want from it.
Darlingtons home page, http://www.darlingtons.com