Sam Moore is Scotland’s first accredited legal technologist and Burness Paull’s dedicated Innovation Manager. We talk to him about why legal technology is important to the modern law firm.
1. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing law firms today?
Getting the pace of change correct. Firms need to make sure they’re not going too fast or too slow, and it’s difficult to get that right. Most law firms now recognise they need to change the way they practice, but firms can be unsure about how much change their business can take all at once. That’s the biggest challenge I think: how quickly can they, or should they, modernise without exposing clients to unacceptable risks.
2. Why do you think legal technology is important?
There are broadly three kinds of work: cheap work, fast work and good work. Traditionally you could only have two out of those three. Legal technology is about delivering all three consistently – because that’s what our clients expect of us.
Legal technology is how we can grow our businesses sustainably, and deliver excellent customer service in a changing world.
3. What do you consider as low hanging fruit in terms of disrupting legal services?
Information or requirements gathering is definitely low-hanging fruit. In my experience, clients recognise the value created by lawyers providing legal advice, negotiating on their behalf, and strategising with them. These are areas where lawyers add real, tangible value. But there are also those routine areas of practice, such as information gathering at the start of a transaction, where lawyers perhaps don’t need to be so hands-on. These are the areas that should be automated first, or at least sped up, using technology. Streamlining the information gathering part of most transactions would be an easy way to start using technology.
4. How do you think legal services can be made more relevant to consumers?
Lawyers in general need to stop thinking of their ‘clients’ as being somehow fundamentally different to ‘customers’, and instead adopt a customer-centric approach to how they deliver their services. At the very core of this is recognising that we are providing a customer service like any other business, and everything we do should be designed with the end customer in mind.
5. Applying traditional business concepts to the legal industry, how do you think lawyers can treat their clients more as customers?
By adopting a ‘user centric design’ approach in how we do things – sometimes I hear this called ‘legal design’, but I don’t believe there’s any real difference. This is how we’re going to really modernise legal practice – through learning lessons from other sectors on how they’ve improved service design to better suit their customers. Disruptor banks like Monzo and Starling didn’t gain market share from the traditional big banks just because they have a great product – at the end of the day a bank account is a bank account. They’re achieving gains because their customer service is excellent.
Law firms have traditionally sought to differentiate themselves by the quality of their legal experts, but now it needs to also be about the quality of their customer service.
6. We’ve seen through fintech other industries adopt new technology, what do you think is holding the legal market back?
I think there are several factors holding the legal industry back – some are fairly justifiable, some not so much.
One justifiable reason is that we’re a heavily regulated, high-risk industry. This means we often can’t try or adopt new ideas or technologies as quickly as we might like – we simply can’t take significant risks with client interests or data. We need to modernise certainly, but this has to be done carefully and with appropriate scrutiny.
One not so good reason holding the legal industry back is that the traditional hierarchical law firm structure can be a barrier in itself. Most law firms still operate an equity partnership model, and most will divest much (if not all) of their profits each year, not leaving much on the table for R&D. This can inherently limit what firms are able to achieve, as many transformation projects will take longer than a single year to bear fruit.
7. What more can be done by firms to help their staff adopt new technology?
There are lots of practical things that law firms can try. For example, at Burness Paull we have a ‘technology champion’ within every fee-earning and business services team. This is someone who has expressed a particular interest in modernisation, and who helps spread awareness of how technology can be used out among their colleagues. Another option might be to look at chargeable hours targets for fee-earners – some firms now count technology training and participation in innovation projects towards those targets.
8. What three qualities do you think a modern lawyer should have?
Firstly, attention to detail remains crucial. This is a timeless requirement for a lawyer, and I don’t think that will ever change. Even with a heavily automated and modernised workflow, the human overseeing it still needs to have excellent attention to detail to understand what’s going on and recognise potential issues.
Secondly, I’d say strong project management skills. The modern lawyer needs to understand how to break down workstreams into smaller deliverables, and how to plan their work accordingly recognising deadlines and resource constraints.
Thirdly, and this one is perhaps a bit more novel, would be curiosity. I think this quality is more important now than it has been in the past, as the modern lawyer needs to be more curious about the way things work. They need to invest time into understanding their client’s business, and also understanding what’s coming down the technology pipeline which will change both their own business and their client’s. Being willing to question the status quo and being open to new ideas is fast becoming an essential skill for the modern lawyer.
9. What’s your long term prediction for the legal sector as a whole?
There is a gulf emerging between firms which have genuinely invested in modernisation, and those which have not.
I think we’ll start to see some market consolidation there, where firms who are agile and efficient will snap up those who are stuck in their old ways, and who are perhaps starting to struggle to compete profitably. This may of course also open up new opportunities for new firms to emerge, which can start as they mean to continue and escape the burden of legacy systems and processes.