Who are the real innovators in the legal profession?

Posted by Nick Hodges, managing director of Legal Futures Associate Oyez Professional Services

Hodges: Implementing new ideas in business is often thought to be risky

Hodges: Implementing new ideas in business is often thought to be risky

Steve Jobs once said that innovation distinguishes the leaders from the followers, but in the legal market how many firms are true innovators, and how many are just following the pack? How many really understand the needs of their clients, and are prepared to innovate to meet those needs and offer a top-class service?

Clients require a high-quality, value-for-money service from their law firm, with good communication across multiple channels. However, past research has shown a lack of understanding by the legal profession on the relative importance of the different forms of communications.

Two-thirds of law firms thought their clients preferred online communication, but only one third of clients said this was their preferred way of keeping in touch. Clients wanted to be able to track the status of their cases online, and for routine communication to be electronic, but still placed great virtue on face-to-face interaction, something clearly not fully appreciated by many firms.

Regarding value for money, the cost of creating forms, documents, e-mails and correspondence is a necessary cost, but one with a real impact on efficiency and productivity. It is hard for a firm to impress, and compete with the fixed-price offerings of local, national and online competitors, while using inefficient office systems that can take many times longer to complete a task than necessary.

Spotting valuable new ideas and implementing them quickly is vital for any successful business. However, one of the reasons that law firms fail is by not grasping the nettle quickly enough to make changes when needed. Most firms put a lot of time into creating and perfecting their business models, so when things get tough the natural reaction is to ‘wait and see’ rather than acting quickly and making changes.

There are many reasons why ideas don’t get off the starting block and many of these have to do with avoiding risk. Implementing new ideas in business is often thought to be risky; naturally, many people do not wish to back taking risks that might make them look bad if they fail. This is especially true in law firms where the professionalism of the brand could be seen to be threatened.

Suppliers to the legal industry are aware of these trends, and the natural wariness of the profession to embrace change, and have been leading the way in supply side innovation and investment. Data-centric CRM (customer relationship management) systems are becoming widely available which allow staff in a firm to quickly access the information they need to ensure good-quality communications with clients.

On the cost side, speech recognition systems are generating a lot of interest, becoming part of our everyday lives, greatly reducing the time taken to produce letters and file notes, with a significant impact on costs. A wide assortment of documents can now be produced by fee-earners by using only their voice.

Digital dictation, one of the fast growing cloud services on offer, provides a service which was previously inaccessible to many firms due to the cost and complexity of deployment. Now dictation can be completed while authors are on the move and are instantly accessible from any location. It’s a great solution for firms of all sizes because it is flexible, secure and completely scalable to match the size of the practice.

But how quickly has the legal industry been taking up these new technologies? The pace is quickening and those who have made the move to future-proof technologies report that they really are reaping the benefits of greater efficiency and savings.

The process will accelerate as the economy continues to strengthen and more legal firms look for the new technologies that will allow them to move service and efficiency to the very centre of their approach.

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