Is adoption the new disruption?

Law firms are focusing their efforts on the changing demands of clients, as well as the threat of alternative legal services. The swing to improve efficiencies and boost competitiveness following the global financial crisis and the digital transformation within the legal industry has meant that BigLaw firms are desperate to keep up.

Legal tech incubators are commonplace now, and new jobs are being created specifically to help more traditional companies drive disruption from within—or at the very least create a coalition of like-minded stakeholders collaborating to create innovation.

But if innovation has become the norm, what will differentiate law firms in their legal technology strategies? It’s unlikely to be the choice of technology itself, as we see the usual tech suspects addressing the same use cases across the industry. Of course, some firms will identify or invest in the next big thing, but over time, it’s likely that the legal workplace will settle into a common technology pattern.

So rather than disruption being the differentiator, it could, in fact, be adoption. Law firm leaders have identified over recent years that adoption is crucial for making the changes necessary to sustain the future success of their business. And we know that deep-rooted, wide adoption of technology-led change is a challenge. It has always been difficult.

As specific tech departments take a deeper dive into deciding how to move forward to keep up with the pack, perhaps identifying new and exclusive solutions isn’t the main challenge. Seamless delivery has always been a vital component of a smooth-sailing company, and law firms are no different.

Hogan Lovells recently refreshed their legal service delivery through their partnership with Elevate, showing that offering partnerships with LPO providers, who help to deliver consistent, cost-effective and high-quality outcomes every time, is just as effective as being the first to buck a trend and try something new.

Adoption is the new disruption - blog image

People are the last piece of the puzzle. Whilst getting all relevant components right is essential for success, the history of technological change demonstrates to us that often the consideration of people sits at the bottom of the pile, and receives the least attention. Perhaps the importance of qualified personnel is less understood, but this in turn leads to disappointing adoption outcomes for technology-led change.

So if we take a step back, away from technology-led change, and look at people-led change instead, maybe we’ll start making inroads into the most effective way to succeed in the legal industry. The people that we work with, employ, and work for, shape the culture of the business. By putting people front and centre of our thinking, surely we’ll be more likely to successfully deliver the transformational changes needed. That is, at least, the consensus that appears to be emerging.

At law firms across the world, we’re seeing a rise in new digital-specific roles, often with a focus on culture, and associated with innovation. The roles have the explicit objective of understanding how our habits and behaviours shape organisational cultures. This will change the mindset of employees and clients, helping to drive future services expected from clients. Gail McNaught, knowledge management e-services manager at Pinsent Masons LLP, has done just that with her team.

“Every single individual within Pinsent Masons can have an idea, and it’ll be pushed through the Global Innovation Hub; no matter what the idea is, and whatever the solution is. This has been driven by our Director of Knowledge. With people like him behind us, as well a large team of SmartLaw delivery champions within the business, we’re very fortunate.”

Where a focus on culture as a key driver of change is established, we can see firms organising people and teams around agile methodologies, so that the think-act-respond capability is decentralised across the organisation, and not somehow the preserve of a single team.

Would this be a huge shift from our largely unchanged and stubborn post-industrial-revolution organisation structures?

Yes. But boy, it’d be worth it.

Mark Dibble

Director of Legal Innovation at HighQ
Prior to joining HighQ, Mark was Head of Online Services at Allen & Overy for 15 years where he worked on their Advanced Delivery Programme to transform the way legal services were constructed and delivered to clients. Mark has extensive experience designing solutions to meet complex clients needs and joined HighQ in 2017 as Director of Legal Innovation. Mark's focus is to drive digital technology adoption and innovation with our legal clients.
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