Digital Transformation in the Legal Industry An Updated Approach Using a Traditional Model
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Digital Transformation in the Legal Industry An Updated Approach Using a Traditional Model

Colleen F. Nihill, Chief Knowledge Management & Practice Services Officer, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius
Colleen F. Nihill, Chief Knowledge Management & Practice Services Officer, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius

Colleen F. Nihill, Chief Knowledge Management & Practice Services Officer, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius

Colleen Nihill is the firm’s chief knowledge management and practice services officer. In this role, she leads a multidisciplinary team of business professionals who support the firm’s 15 diverse practices and internal business functions to optimize the way that work is accomplished through matter planning, process design, and document automation technologies.

The legal industry, like many of the sectors it services, has witnessed large-scaleoperational disruption in connection with the pandemic.The combination of shuttered offices, a dispersedworkforce, an increase in client demand, andmyriad digital advancements has law firm leaders rethinking the way they practice law. There is a greater appetite for change and an explicit recognition that digital transformation isnot only acompetitive differentiator, but a true business imperative. To successfully drivethis model forward, law firms must execute a strategy focused on people, process, and technology. The reality of this new environment, however, requires a fresh approach to this framework and a reordering of the importance and emphasis on each factor.

• Technology

Law firms previously sought out legal technology vendors overthose with a broader focus because of a belief that law firm needs were unique.But the pandemic highlighted many uses for technology that law firms shared with other industries. For example, the need to collaborate with peers, co-author papersremotely, automate commonly used documents, sort through large quantities of data,andproduce high-qualitydeliverablesexists in all business sectors. Accordingly, vendors that have not previously been part of the legal ecosystem have begun courting law firms to tap into this$150billionindustry. Many of these “new” vendors for law firms are established companies with stablefinancials and mature operating models thatsignificantly reduce the risks associated with imbedding new applications directly into legalworkflows. Since these technologies are not as wellknownas the suite of Microsoft tools with which lawyers regularly interface, they require more “care and feeding” to be properly adopted. Regardless of which technology is being employed to address a particular use case, there will be no transformation without qualified people to guide the implementation, adoption, and maintenance of new technology offerings.

• Process

Lawyers tend to work autonomously and perform tasksin nuanced ways even when working in the same practice area or on similar matters. So, it’s not easy to document a legal workflow with standard operating procedures.But when the lawyers involved in a specific matter can identify who does which task, how that task is done, and which, if any, digital assets are being used, a law firm can make the most of a piece of technology. The idea of stepping back and engaging indesign-thinking sessions to envision how to make improvements is not something that is traditionally taught in law school, noris it commonly embedded into the practice of law. Additionally, it is not a billable activity—thebuilding block of every law firm’srevenue structure. To successfully move forward with these types of initiatives and help advance practice, law firms can bring on a set of highly trained and multidisciplinary professionals that work sidebyside with the lawyers to ensurethat lawyer time is managed efficiently and thatthere is governance around the exercise of process improvement.

 Regardless of which technology is being employed to address a particular use case, there will be no transformation without qualified people to guide the implementation, adoption, and maintenance of new technology offerings 

• People

Law firms have a proven track record of hiringtechnology teams thatoversee back-office operations such as information security, application maintenance, networking, systems architecture, andincident management, among other functions. These roles have grown in importance and created a subset of specialized professional staff.Butindividuals who work directly with lawyers to help change the practice of lawmust possess a different set of skills compared to their traditional IT colleagues. They must have a strong understanding of the business of law,an ability to understand discrete areas of practice,and specialist pedigrees in certain areas of technology. Most importantly, they must have soft skills to garner the trust and respect of law firm leaders since they will be invited “behind the curtain” to help drive and support change.Four personas are emergingthatshould beadded as new roles that exist in addition to other technology-oriented positions:

• First is “the interpreter,” anindividual who can work with groups of lawyersat levels of seniority and engage in unfamiliar discussions centered on how the work is done.

• Second is “the visualizer,”an individual who develops an intuitive user experience and user interfaces with reduced training timeframes to help drive adoption and reduce barriers to usage.

• Third is “the proceduralist,”an individual who is organized and disciplined to ensure that documentation is completed, data governance standards areinstalled, and routine process auditing occurs.

• Fourth is “the integrator,” an individual who can work with more traditional technology teams to scale and oversee the applications imbedded in legal matters.

It is an exciting time to be part of an industry that is eagerly embracing change. When new voices with different skills join law firms and are deployed correctly, they are able to create solutions to modernize the practice of law, improve client relationships,and push engagements to more successful outcomes.

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