Legaltech lessons from the smartphone boom

Guest post by Rachel Broquard, partner and head of service excellence at Eversheds Sutherland

Broquard: We have to be open to change

When the first smartphone came to market, it blew the competition away and, like so many, I jumped in and bought one. I remember experiencing, for the first time, the power of a computer in my pocket. Then apps changed the rules of the smartphone game.

However, as the smartphone boom took hold, alternatives came to market and some of my friends made different choices, with many being seduced by rival providers.

Whilst I was loyal to my choice, others stuck to their own. A certain tribal allegiance took hold, with some eco-systems notoriously less open source than others. And the more we invested in these systems, the more stubbornly attached to our own choice of device we became.

However, looking at it objectively, one was not necessarily better than the other. It was simply that we became used to a specific way of working and when, it came to upgrading our phones, determining which option was best became a complex decision matrix.

Often the easiest option was to stick with what we knew, even if that hindered our ability to move to alternatives with better suitability.

Comparisons to today’s legaltech

When at ILTACON – the conference of the International Legal Technology Association – recently, I was reminded of the smartphone allegiances when discussing barriers to adoption of ‘best in breed’.

An early-stage legaltech vendor brings a product to market which displaces the incumbent way of doing things. The law firm or in-house team purchases the product and invests time and effort in configuring that solution, developing the requisite skill set and driving adoption.

In time, other (perhaps stronger) alternatives come to market. But, as with smartphones, deciding which solution is best in breed becomes more complex with the proliferation of vendors in that space.

The well-documented barriers to adoption can become even more acute when looking to switch from a vendor with early-mover advantage to a best-in-breed solution.

When a lawyer moves organisation, they bring with them their own perceptions of the best legal technology, based on their prior experience. They may have invested time in developing skills in a particular type of technology. Their new organisation may have similar, but different solutions.

Bringing in a fresh perspective can help the organisation determine whether their incumbent tech stack remains best in breed or there is a need to seek alternatives.

For the transferring individual, they may experience frustration in being required to use lower-grade solutions or having to invest time in learning a new system. Lack of inter-operability may also be a source of frustration. The natural tendency may be to stick with what they know rather than explore new options.

The flood of vendors and similar legal technology solutions into the market has meant there is more choice, but with that comes greater complexity in selecting best in breed, and a tendency to stick with a known quantity with the risk of missing out on opportunities to progress, for example through greater inter-operability and functionality.

What can be done?

As users of technology, we have to be open to change. Just as a lawyer joining a new organisation has to be open to a cultural shift, they also have to be open to a technological shift.

Selecting and pivoting to best in breed may be difficult and require outside perspective to prompt a shift in approach, as well as an openness to explore and step away from long-standing allegiances.

But vendors also play an important part in helping their customers make smart choices by communicating clearly their unique selling points and ensuring openness and inter-operability with other players in the market.

In the same way that a phone user is unlikely to switch mid-contract, a customer is unlikely to look to switch unless approaching contract renewal, and so timing is also critical in the sales cycle.

In the time-pressured environments of the legal profession, sticking to long-held preferences of technology can be easy, but it can mean progress is hindered. As we experience a legaltech boom and seek to adopt the best in breed, we have to remind ourselves to remain open minded throughout and embrace the fact that difficult transition is sometimes for the best.

The smartphone boom was an exciting and fast-paced time. We all enjoyed the new technology then, as we do now. We saw how the competition drove more sophisticated features and better user experiences. I, for one, will be taking a closer look to compare options when I next upgrade.

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