Innovation for Law Firms

It is a doing word.

There is a song called Teardrop by Massive Attack. The song starts off with the beating of a heart, before leading into the following lines – 

“Love, love is a verb
Love is a doing word
Fearless on my breath
Gentle impulsion
Shakes me, makes me lighter
Fearless on my breath
Teardrop on the fire
Fearless on my breath”

Of course, the band is not referring to Innovation. Obviously. The song is quite evidently about love. And whilst we at AJS, are romantics at heart, this article is not about the romantic type of love. 

This article is about being fearless. It is about feeling your heart beating inside your chest as you make the changes in your life that you need to make. Scary. Filled with uncertainty and doubt. Changes that indeed shake you to your core. A gentle compulsion leading you to accomplish the things that you never thought you would be able to accomplish. 

What we are talking about is Innovation. Necessary innovation. A gentle impulsion to be great, despite the surrounding circumstances. Loving every minute of it.

And as is obvious, to innovate, you need to do. So innovation in and of itself is a verb. 

It too is a doing word.

Let’s mambo

We have been regaled with countless colourful tales about how the pandemic (that we will try not mention by name again) has resulted in companies changing their entire service offerings, changing their working environment to work-from-home, changing their attitudes and becoming more “tech savvy”. 

We have applauded firms and companies who have been able to adapt to difficult situations, sort of like taking their lemons and getting out their bottles of tequila (who has time for lemonade in difficult times?) making it all work for them. And that’s amazing.

Seemingly “pumping their veins with gushing gold”…

Taking that tequila and having a little party.

But not all of us know how this dance routine goes….

So here is the question – “do you take a back seat or play pharaoh?”

Or do you…“dance with me and shake your bones”

Let’s explain what we mean. 

We can sit back and let everything unfold, we can do the absolute bare minimum to get by or we can dance (not walk) the talk and do what we need to. 

Which is innovate. 

But not just for innovation sake. Innovate because it is sink or swim. 

And I am not sure about you, but those waves look rather tempting and I want to do far more than just swim….

Learning the dance steps

The alarming thing is, in an article titled Here’s how much money lawyers earn in South Africa, the managing director of Robert Walters for the Middle East & Africa said the following – 

“the pandemic and global crisis naturally resulted in an immediate downturn in hiring, with a shift from functions promoting growth and expansion, towards functions supporting stability, cash flow, and essential services. Cost-saving measures, reallocation of current resources and critical hires, which promote the streamlining of business operations have been evident”. 

Adding that – “professionals looking to increase their earnings most likely would need to seek new opportunities

And that is a little scary. We will admit. But if you break it down into a one, two cha-cha-cha…. Anyone can dance.

We can tackle the scary things like streamlining of business operations and how to seek new opportunities together.

A group dance class if you will…..

Streamlining business operations

Finding your expertise

This is a key opportunity for law firms to start reinventing themselves and the first step is really to look at your practice and decide whether you are actually doing what you are an expert at. What you love doing. 

Have you undertaken the process of streamlining your service offerings to only offer niche services?

Finding a niche service isn’t just about differentiating yourself. Finding a niche allows for a more efficient practice that offers more value to clients and captures premium rates because of its targeted knowledge. In an article titled Targeting an Industry Niche, authoress Sally J. Schmidt states that –

“Some studies show that clients care more about what you know about their business than what you know about the law. That’s largely because your knowledge of the law is an assumption — table stakes, as they say”.

And that is an extremely interesting point. If knowledge of law is indeed an assumption, what is the key take away? Lawyers need to be more innovative. Lawyers need to be more forward thinking. They need to develop industry expertise or position themselves as subject matter experts within a specialised particular industry. They need to stand out from the crowd. And they can actually do this by making a living in a field that they love. 

So dig deep and ask yourself those hard questions.

What to do about the work that is not in “my area”?

The word “outsource” is often used here. Something we discussed in our article The Alternative Legal Solution, many law firms and in-house legal departments are looking to the Alternative Legal Service Provider (ALSP’s) sector for assistance. In fact, according to the Thomson Reuters survey, 79% of law firms and 71% of in-house counsel now engage ALSP’s for legal work. This work includes areas such as electronic discovery, legal research, litigation/investigation support (including that of regulatory risk and compliance) and document preparation such as smart contracts (an area where law firms and corporations have used ALSP’s the most, seemingly bringing order to various legal documents). With the addition of 30% of law firms also admitting to increasingly turning to ALSP’s for consulting on legal technologies.

The outsourcing of these legal services by separating out all repetitive tasks, or those which do not require technical legal knowledge and skills, from those that require full legal training and experience, can be more convenient for law firms than providing the services themselves. This results in a reduced cost for the budget conscious client, improved efficiency which allows the ability to take on more work and ensures quality on labour intensive and repetitive tasks (something often times overlooked by over-worked support staff managing the workload manually).

A seemingly win-win situation.

Working globally

With firms around the world still working from home on a now more permanent basis, it makes it easier for firms to hire lawyers around the world that are able to advise clients on specific areas of specialization and in their particular jurisdiction. Making the boundaries between countries very blurred. Hire the right person for the job, regardless of where the lawyer is situated, instead of referring work elsewhere. This “globalisation” in order to keep pace with the requirements of their multinational clients, offering specialist advice in many different countries, as well as centres of excellence in specialty areas has certainly opened up business for law firms that were on the brink of struggling. In fact, the South African legal market has also experienced the entry of a number of international and multinational law firms in recent years.

Who needs a passport at this rate?

Virtual law firms

Again, by reconsidering how talent is drawn into a particular firm, the long standing idea that all the practitioners in a law firm need to be based in the same office in order to service clients and generate fees is changing. In fact, that idea is stale. Many practitioners now work off-site and even more so work more efficiently on a flexible basis. This, however, requires an investment in technological solutions to enable the legal practitioners to service their clients from wherever they are (even if that is on the beach – or more realistically in the back of their garden). This will involve firms looking at online, cloud hosted legal accounting and practice management systems that allows its users to work from anywhere on almost any device. Such as the products offered by AJS.

Web-based legal services 

Legal practices need to evolve in order to meet the expectations of their existing (and potential new) clients, which includes not only the need for integrated multi-disciplinary services across borders and beyond just legal advice i.e. needing to be more than just a lawyer

But more importantly (and even more increasingly) law firms need the improved use of technology in their practice. Clients expect legal practices to use technology at the same pace that they do.  Online marketing, service provision and the use of social media are now regarded as a priority for many firms. Being able to work seamlessly on all of your matters, accounting for the work you have done wherever you are and collaborating with your colleagues regardless of what time zone you are in has become absolutely key. Using technology to enable easy access to documents, case management, document automation, legal accounting and practice management, has the corresponding impact that the practice of law has started a wave of change that shows no signs of dwindling. It is time to incorporate legal tech into your practice, for the betterment of your practice. But it has to be the right technology. Technology that will be customizable to your practice whether it is the size or area of specialty that dictates how you structure your legal tech.

You see, its quite simple – legal tech provides essential tools to help legal professionals in their pursuit for efficiency. And there are a variety of both stand-alone document automation tools and process automation tools in addition to practice management software suites that incorporate everything, you may need to enable cost reduction and efficiency in your legal practice. By having reliable software to manage your labour intensive products, you are able to deliver more work, with less time spent on time consuming work and still earn whilst doing so.

See AI is not out to get you. It’s there to help you! The future of law is (undoubtedly) technologically driven.

Seeking new opportunities 

Many may be asking how do we catch that next big fish? Where to from here? How do we gain more/different/new opportunities?

And we believe it will be by being more than just a lawyer. Where many legal services will morph into products, and others will be automated. This may erase some legal jobs but it will create new ones, too. Legal knowledge will be a plus, but additional skills will be required.

Most legal practitioners will (and must) engage in a mix of practice and the actual business of law jobs. They will have multiple positions and/or side gigs during their careers. Agility, fluidity, flexibility, the ability to collaborate, and cultural awareness will become key attributes, because the legal function will be more closely aligned with the businesses, individuals, and society it serves. 

As such, we believe that law will cease to be an insular, static profession whose career paths have been dictated by the traditional law firm model. As that “old school” model erodes, it will impact career paths, education and training, and the perception of what it means to be a lawyer.  

Legal practitioners will need to be more than just lawyers. And this will involve collaborating, offering more than just legal advice. Being flexible and open to new possibilities. Partnering with ALSP’s, collaborating with businesses.

The future is bright. And new. And exciting. And that’s innovation. 

See? With an open mind, being fearless and listening to that beating heart in your chest, innovating is as easy as one, two, cha-cha-cha. 

What’s more, whatever new ventures or opportunities you pursue, AJS will be flexible enough (and willing enough) to make the absolute best of it for you! Your legal tech partner that will help you navigate through this brave, new, fearless world that is legal innovation.

Innovation, we are sure you will agree is a verb. It is a doing word.

So do it!

Written by Alicia Koch on behalf of AJS

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