Lawyers often view advances as a threat to some imagined creative utopia. But they should embrace IT to survive.
Technology is a word that can set some minds racing with excitement and send others running for the hills, with a doom-laden vision of the end of some imaginary utopian era. As with society, so with lawyers.
Technology is sometimes talked of as if it is some alien self-sustaining being, but for me it is one of the marvels of being human; the ability to take the materials given to us and through the power of thought and creativity, make something new that takes us forward in great leaps rather than the tiny steps of our ancestors.
Both the practice of law and the management of a legal practice are about knowledge, process, documentation of events and communication. It is a profession uniquely placed to take advantage of the continuing advances in information management and the technology associated with it.
As is the case in most large, modern practices, we have well-established case-management, document-handling and financial management technology. In a multi-disciplinary practice such as ours, this has involved many iterations and much fine-tuning, but we now have a common and integrated platform working across all areas of the business.
Recent innovations have meant we now have almost real-time financial and management information that is enabling us to make decisions more quickly and identify problem areas before they become a significant issue.
Marketing is a fascinating area in which the adoption and exploitation of innovative technology is enabling us to extract more value from our marketing budget. There is the now commonplace use of social media, of course, and we are now developing a series of apps to help our clients in different situations, but it is in the targeting of advertising in both online and traditional media that some of the greatest advances are currently occurring.
One example is some work we are doing with our external partners to understand the browsing behaviour of our clients and prospects, which through sophisticated analysis allows identification of the most effective sites for banner advertising and communication of our services; in markets such as personal injury and clinical negligence, where pay-per-click advertising on Google is some of the most expensive in any market in the world, this new approach is expected to deliver a step-change (downwards!) in the cost of driving visitors to our website.
With many more clients now shopping around when they are searching for a legal service provider, we are also introducing new software into our legal help centre. This software is more commonly used in fast-moving highly commercial environments. It will enable us to respond more quickly and effectively to enquiries, whilst retaining the personal touch. We believe you have less than two minutes to get back to people before many have moved on to the next firm on their search; innovation is helping us move towards the day when this will be achieved for every enquiry.
The next challenge for most firms, particularly given changes in legal aid funding, which means many people are now looking for much greater value from legal service providers, is to provide online and telephone services and advice at a fraction of the cost of traditional methods – without compromising on quality or customer service.
Some areas are easier than others and in some there may never be a replacement for traditional methods of delivering service, but we can still use innovative online tools and expert systems, in combination with more tried and tested approaches, to deliver ever greater value to clients.
We recently worked with professor Andrew Chesher, professor of economics at University College London, who modelled the probability of winning or losing personal injury cases from information we gathered at the initial enquiry stage. This use of sophisticated economic modelling has given us a tool that means we will take on fewer cases where the case may ultimately be abandoned.
This is obviously commercially advantageous to us, in a market where ill-thought-through government reforms have meant margins are very tight in some types of personaI injury cases, but in the long term it will mean we can offer better value to those clients we do take on, knowing they are much more likely to reach a satisfactory outcome.
The law will always be a profession built on a foundation of great minds and great people. But, it is through marrying great minds with leading-edge innovative technology that will increasingly make a successful legal business. In my next blog, I will look at a greater challenge than introducing new innovative technology into a legal business – taking our lawyers with us on the innovation trail.
Patrick Allen is senior partner at Hodge Jones & Allen