In defence of lawyers that aren't legal tech-ing

I am a geek. Words like “Raspberry Pi” and “home automation” get me unreasonably excited. I scour tech news for the latest rumours about the FAMGA five (I also use acronyms like “FAMGA”). I make fun of preposterous AI stories with my friends. I ❤ open source. In short, I have never met a bit of technology I didn’t like. 

Raspberry Pi via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Raspberry_PI.jpeg

Raspberry Pi via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Raspberry_PI.jpeg

I have also spent a lot of time reviewing, testing and generally playing around with the latest greatest legal tech solutions. Many are superb. Almost all target specific lawyer needs and could have a significant positive impact on the provision of legal services. Suppose that tomorrow I was appointed managing partner of a major law firm, or general counsel of a significant corporation. I can guarantee that I would have completely blown my tech budget by the end of the week.

Futurama via Giphy: https://giphy.com/gifs/french-week-sDcfxFDozb3bO

Futurama via Giphy: https://giphy.com/gifs/french-week-sDcfxFDozb3bO

But I am not the primary target market for your legal tech solutions.

I work with legal teams, both in-house and in private practice. All are aware of the potential improvements to legal services that legal tech might be able to provide. All know that they should really be doing more on this space. All have seen that cartoon of the cavemen painstakingly hauling rocks while rejecting the offer of a wheel with a "no thanks, we're too busy". However, very few are actively pursuing these legal tech opportunities.

Why?

Time and budget pressures certainly play a role. There are undoubtedly a few too busy working in their business to work on their business. One or two fundamentally distrust the tech, or are so convinced as to the uniqueness of what they do that there is no chance they could be replaced (or even helped) by a machine. But I am increasingly beginning to suspect that “too much, too soon” may have a lot to answer for.

Many legal tech solutions promise transformational change. Some offer the potential to be revolutionary. A few might even be genuinely disruptive to existing models for providing legal services. And this applies both to legal tech that is customer-focussed (tech to provide legal services to clients) and lawyer-focussed (tech to help the practice of law). 

But the legal teams I work with don't want fundamental change. Most rather like what they do. What they would really like are somewhat better ways of doing it. Or solving some of the real niggles that plague their working lives. In Professor Christensen's words, they want sustaining, not disruptive, innovations. In a cynic-who-read-this-post-in-draft's words, turkeys don't vote for Christmas. And the best-performing businesses (including legal tech ones) are usually those that cater to their customer's wants and needs.

As I mentioned, I work with legal teams. One of my most popular services to date is a one hour training session on "Outlook for lawyers" (or "How to manage your email"). I can't say that this is my life's work, or that it's the basic reason why I got into this legal tech gig. And I do have an unreasonable fear of this:

Custom Tombstone Maker: http://www.tombstonebuilder.com/

Custom Tombstone Maker: http://www.tombstonebuilder.com/

But it's what my customers want, and the feedback I have received is that it provides a real benefit to their working lives.

Thinking smaller might help. Start by targeting that day-to-day issues that would have an immediate positive impact on a working lawyer's life. I've mentioned before that the success of solutions should be measured by 3 "E"s. The best solutions will make lawyering more effective or efficient. But don't underestimate the third "E" - enjoyable. Solving a niggle can be just as important to Jane Lawyer as revolutionising the profession. And it's a much easier sell. 

And at the risk of stating the obvious, also remember marketing 101.  Don't sell me features, sell me benefits. The tech industry generally often has a lot of hype surrounding latest and greatest products and solutions. If your product has the fastest, biggest, revolutionary-ist features, you have a marketing edge, particularly for a tech savvy crowd. However, that usually means very little to your prospective lawyer customers. Benefits that might be self-evident to a tech audience may not be nearly so obvious to Joe Lawyer. Speak in terms that are meaningful to your lawyer audience. Consider each one of your potential features or benefits against the "so what" test. Try and reduce your features to the simplest positive effectiveness, efficiency or enjoyability benefit. 

For example (yes, I've taken some liberties with the following):

  • Our knowledge management solution features dynamic content interconnectedness to create an organically-growing network of knowledge - might become - We both know filing sucks. If you use our system, you won't have to manually file everything and it will still be easier to find the precedent you're looking for.
  • Our practice management solution enables you to see an overview of your workflows, team capacity and matters of legal risk in real time through our interactive dashboards - might become - Yes, there will be a couple of small changes to the way you work. But if you use this properly, billing day will pretty much run itself.
  • Our document automation and review solution can draft bespoke solutions tailored to the needs of your client - might become - You won't need to painfully double check the boilerplate sections of each contract prepared by a junior. Our pre-set text makes sure everything is covered off, and we will even fix up all the punctuation.

Your product might be genuinely revolutionary for the practice of law or provision of legal services. But you are much more likely to get a foot in a customer's door if it also helps with filing emails or updating contract cross references. From there, your genuinely revolutionary features will have a much lower barrier to adoption.