£1.8m grant to help SME law firms “make sense” of tech market


Spring:

A project to help around 60 SME law firms navigate a “confusing” market and adopt digital technology has been launched with £1.8m in government funding.

The Technology in Professional Services (TiPS) accelerator, which will also work with SME accountancy firms, is backed by cash from Innovate UK and the Economic and Social Research Council.

It is being run by academics at Lancaster University Management School and project head Professor Martin Spring explained that one of the main barriers to the adoption in technology by legal services was the “immature nature of the technology market, making it difficult to know where to start”.

He said the project wanted to make it easier for law firms to navigate: “The market is not in a form where people can make sense of it. There is not enough information, understanding and expertise to allow firms to work out what they need.

“We want to change the world slightly and move away from a world where there is too much uncertainty and risk.”

Professor Spring said another barrier was the problems law firms had in understanding the value of technology.

“Is it just about cost reduction, or does it bring many other benefits, such as releasing professionals to spend more time with clients? It’s difficult to put a value on that.”

Professor Spring said the help would come in three “paths”, depending on how advanced the law firm was in its use of technology.

The first would be for smaller firms which were “really starting at the beginning”, and help them adopt technology that was “under their noses” and easy to adopt, such as Microsoft 365. Training and support would be offered for around 50 law firms, mainly online.

The second path would be for a smaller group of around eight to 10 law firms which were “a bit further on” in adopting technology, using “industry-specific” technology, such as a document review system.

The aim was to give firms a “fairly short time” of several months to deliver the application, with “quite a lot of peer group working”, so they could learn from each other and “perhaps put pressure on each other to complete projects”.

The third path would be for two to three “more advanced” law firms, where researchers would observe them rolling out technology to a different office or practice area, or customising technology for a particular sector or client.

Professor Spring said law firms wanting to join the first two paths should contact the project through the TiPS website, but the law firms for the third path were close to being confirmed. The project is due to begin in the autumn and run for two years.

“We are hoping to learn what works, whether firms are beginners or advanced, so the market works better.”

The professor said the Law Society would be involved in recruiting firms, publicity for the project, and running workshops. The project is also working with the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.

The Lancaster team, led by Professor Spring, includes Professors James Faulconbridge and Katy Mason.

They are joined by Professor Tim Vorley, Dr Tzameret Rubin, Dr Francisco Trincado Munoz and Hilary Smyth-Allen from Oxford Brookes University and one-time Gowling WLG partner Derek Southall from the Hyperscale Group, a professional services consultancy.

Professor Spring estimated that the project would provide around £500,000 in support for law firms and accountants.

“It’s surprising how similar the issues are for accountants and law firms when it comes to technology.”

He said managers of accountancy firms showed “a bit more willingness to direct people to adopt technology”.




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