By Chris Pucci, CEO of Legal Futures Associate Osprey Approach
Now, more than ever, SME law firms must take a cost-conscious approach to their legal operations, which includes ensuring their legal software is helping them achieve their goals – everything from reducing time spent on daily admin tasks, to ensuring they are able to provide clients with the best possible service.
This is why the expected value and return on investment needed from legal software solutions is higher than ever.
Current challenges facing legal professionals
With Solicitors Regulation Authority fines for non-compliance rising, heavy workloads and clients expecting an Amazon-style client service, legal professionals are feeling pressure from all angles.
The promise of legal tech had firms believing they could free themselves of manual and time-consuming processes and improve the profitability of the tasks they carried out.
Yet 53% of firms believe their investment is not driving efficiency and productivity to the level they expected, as reported by CTS and Legal IT Insider. Plus, in the latest Thomson Reuters law firm financial index, profit-per-lawyer fell 3.6%, which is only increasing the need for legal tech to help firms operate in a more cost-conscious way.
So why are the digital tools and software solutions that promise time-saving features and process automation not translating into added value for many SME law firms?
Why legal software projects don’t succeed
There are two main reasons. First, tech is not seen as a priority or focus and second, there’s a lack of clear, firm-wide strategy and communication.
Digital projects aren’t a priority
It’s important that legal technology projects are prioritised within firms. Training is an essential part of the digital process and yet it is often overlooked, meaning staff never really get to grips with it. If there’s no time for training, then no one will feel confident using the software and the new processes are never implemented.
Without legal technology projects being treated as a priority, the software isn’t adopted; no one is responsible for ensuring it’s utilised; and no one is held accountable when it’s not a success. The software is classed as a failure, as it no longer makes commercial sense.
Lack of a digital strategy
You may be asking employees to change long-standing habits, so it’s important you devise and communicate a digital strategy outlining the goals, aims, and reasons for the investment in technology. As humans, we’re pre-programmed to be fearful of change. That’s why clear communication and preparation is key to success and eliminating fear. A digital strategy will help to improve buy-in and adoption.
Make the most of your legal software investment
There are five ways your firm can ensure successful adoption and utilisation of legal technology, enabling you to reap numerous rewards from your software investment.
Define and communicate your operational strategy
It is important that what the firm wants to achieve from its legal software, and how it intends to get there, is communicated right across the firm.
Having an operational strategy will also help you make decisions on what legal tech to invest in, how it should be implemented, and what should happen if things do not work out first time. Without a plan or reason why, people will fallback to ‘easy’ or ‘the way we’ve always done it’, which is not usually the most effective option.
Foster a culture for continuous improvement
For continuous improvement to thrive, firms need to focus on iteration rather than perfection. The cumulative effect of 1% improvements across processes, systems and behaviours have a great impact to overall performance over time.
A culture of innovation promotes experimentation and sharing ideas, avoids blame, and turns ‘failure’ into valuable lessons. Crucially, continuous improvement culture needs consistent leadership signals and actions that reflect what you are trying to create, to ensure it filters and is replicated throughout the team.
Without the expectation or belief in continuous improvement, the team will not strive for it and will instead settle for comfort.
Define metrics for success
When choosing to invest in a new software solution or in digital tools, ensure you are clear on what you want it to achieve and assign metrics that can be tracked over time. This will not only provide you with a direction to move in but will also ensure you can track and celebrate progress, or revisit if it’s off track.
This will help to motivate your team because they will understand what they are working towards, whilst making it clearer to understand how to get there. Continuously registering small wins is a big motivator.
Assign responsibility to improve accountability
Ensure the software project – from implementation to day to day management – is the responsibility of someone in the firm, ideally a legal operations manager.
Ultimately, the success of the project is everyone’s responsibility, which is why an innovation culture should be encouraged, and trackable metrics are needed to ensure everyone is participating in the software’s success. This will avoid individuals falling back into old processes if their performance is measured through the success of the software.
Invest in a tech partner for support and guidance
Bridging the gap between your people, processes and tech is what will ultimately lead to reducing the cost of your legal software investment. Having a supportive software partner will help make this easier, as they can provide the expertise and advice on using the system effectively.
The quality of your firm’s tech partner is just as important as the product itself, and the accessibility of support and training will enable your firm to get the most from the system and maximise your return on investment.
Making your digital operational strategy a priority
Prioritising your software utilisation and digital strategy is always going to be the answer to making the most of your legal software investment. No matter what solution you buy, if your team is not using it effectively, then you will never reap the rewards, and the associated costs of the system will appear too high.
For further help and advice, you can download Osprey’s latest guide – How to reduce the cost of legal software.