Image [cc] Gail

A recent post on how law schools need to embrace technology (#1), along with a recent overblown debate on the law firm business model (#2), combined with a conversation with a colleague on “disruptive” technology for law firms (#3), got me thinking. So this time, it was three events instead of three beers that lead to higher thinking.

Bluntly – Technology is not the answer.

Re: #1 – Does the legal profession need to embrace new technology.? Duh. But it is not where change will come from. For years I have watch law firms attempt to recreate the “email killer app” event. The thinking is that good technology will be adopted by lawyers – just like email was. “The next upgrade will remove all of the objections to this application and our lawyers will start using it.” Right. Stop doing that.

Just like the prior debate (#2 – which I won) about blaming the business model for law firm woes, I think blaming the lack of innovation on the absence of disruptive technology is bass-ackward.*

The conversation with my colleague (#3) focused on which disruptive technologies firms should pursue. This brought back memories from a former firm. There we pursued what I consider to be the most disruptive technology available for law firms: KMStandards (formerly KIIAC) from Kingsley Martin. This technology displaces lawyer effort. Done – lawyering disrupted by technology. Of course – at my old firm, no one really used it.

And now, for once, I will not use a car analogy: The thinking is that by deploying these cool new technologies, it’s like placing a bowl of chocolate in front of a group of people. They will start eating it. Isn’t that what happened with email? (Well … not really.) Following the ‘chocolate’ analogy, I propose we are really putting out a bowl of brussel sprouts. A few people may grab one when no one is looking, but the vast majority will walk by, casually notice (and smell) them, and keep on walking. Until we make eating brussel sprouts an integrated part of our business, they will sit in the bowl and the smell will grow (OK – now I regret not using a car analogy).

For lawyers to adopt change, they need to start with Change. Then they can identify the technologies that will enable and drive that change.

In an irony of sorts, at the former firm mentioned above, there was one partner who truly understood this. One day he said to me: “Toby, if we wait until we have the right technology in place, we will never make this change.”

* Ask me how long I have been waiting to use that word in a post.

  • Awesome. Finally someone, anyone, who gets it. Technology is enabler in law firms. What do lawyers want to do differently? The technology will help them. Not vice versa.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Toby – I assume your former firm did not embrace KMStandards because, at the time, the product was not ready for Big Law. I have no recent experience with it so that may no longer be the case with that particular product. New Technology may fix Big Law, but Big Law won't be, nor can it afford to be, the BETA tester of any such New Technology.

  • I see a technological disconnect between the newly minted "tech-savvy" law graduates and the firms that they ended up practicing law in.

    Being tech-savvy means keeping abreast of available tools/services that help with practicing law. It also implies that you already know how to use basic productivity apps such as MS Word and Excel in an efficient way. The reality is that lawyers have difficulty using even basic functions (styles, numbering, formulas, to name a few). After all, word processing and spreadsheeing are tasks relegated to someone else other than the lawyer.

    From an efficiency standpoint, clients demand change. But change does not come easily when it's not stemmed from necessity nor urgency. When clients demand competitive pricing and efficiency, law firms have to respond in a way discernible to the clients or risk losing business and/or productivity.

    Quite often "disruptive technologies" in law firms do not represent innovation but disruption in workflow, either in perception or actuality. That said, I consider legal project management (LPM) a disruptive technology but it's also a golden opportunity to help firms to improve the business process. LPM can provide great insights into the workings of a practice group and at the same time serves as a roadmap for change. Now is the time to recruit the library, accounting and marketing folks and everyone in between to join in the convergence of KM and LPM.

  • Anonymous

    OMG! I'm remembering the Leave it to Beaver episode where he wouldn't eat the brussel sprouts.

  • Toby, How long have you been waiting to use that word in a post?

  • In response to various comments:

    Re: Anonymous #1 – You appear to be arguing "The next upgrade will remove all of the objections to this application and our lawyers will start using it." Right.

    Re: Anonymous #2 – Wow. I didn't know that.

    Re: Ryan – June 3rd, 2009.