By: 22 June 2016
Innovation: Law firms can’t afford to ignore change

Dan Taylor, head of systems at Fletchers Solicitors, explores how firms can embrace new ideas and ways of working, and how tech innovation is a major solution that can help make firms more efficient

Innovation takes place across all business sectors around the world as companies strive to gain competitive advantage and survive in the ever-changing marketplace – and law firms can no longer ignore the need to embrace change, or they risk being left behind.

As technology advances and society becomes more fast-paced, clients are demanding better quality and more efficient levels of service. Not only this, but legislation changes, such as the Jackson reforms and the rise of fixed fees, have forced firms to change and adapt.

This means cutting out waste and making savings through efficiencies, but without sacrificing the quality of service. As a result, firms are having to adopt new systems and business processes that will give them advantage over the competition and make them more cost-effective.

However, traditionally, the legal sector hasn’t been known for its innovation and has been quite set in its ways for a long time.

So how can firms become more innovative and improve the quality of service they are offering to clients?

Improve internal case management processes

Gone are the days of manually searching through endless piles of paperwork, and we no longer have to wait for members of staff to come back into the office to get an update on where a case is up to.

With the gravitation towards the paperless office and the development of e-Discovery, staff can communicate and share documents quickly and easily. Important documents can always be to hand, and data can be stored safely and securely on the firm’s network, a huge benefit given that lawyers frequently handle large amounts of sensitive information.

In today’s increasingly competitive marketplace, efficient handling of cases is now even more crucial, making paperless solutions and digital storage tools extremely valuable.

Firms need to move away from traditional methods of case management and start opting for bespoke options. Investing in tailored solutions suited to the specific requirements of the firm and its clients will help to deliver more personalised levels of service and efficient ways of working. But not only this, taking the bespoke route opens the door to future innovation and adaptations so firms can easily incorporate new ideas or changes that will occur further down the line.

Build stronger relationships between client and lawyer

Making the legal process simpler and quicker for clients should be at the top of the agenda for all firms as a way to improve the quality of service they provide.

The legal process is often complicated and can be overwhelming for clients, so any efforts that can be made to ease some of the stress will help to position a firm ahead of its competitors. For example, enabling clients to have better contact with their lawyer or the team handling their case will help to keep them informed at all stages, but will also make it easier for lawyers to obtain important information about the case.

Greater collaboration and knowledge sharing can be established between lawyers and clients through the use of specialist workflow systems and processes.

At Fletchers, we have developed a revolutionary new online interface platform, which enables clients to submit details and receive information about their case from anywhere and on any device.

As a result, this has dramatically simplified internal processes and significantly improved the client experience, as work can be started on claims within minutes of information being received.

Automate time-consuming tasks with Artificial Intelligence (AI)

There is another area of emerging technology that is slowly making its way into the legal sector.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is receiving a lot of attention right now and various sectors, such as finance, travel and medicine, are already using this technology to improve their businesses.

We are all using AI-based programmes every day with our tablets and mobile devices and in fact, a small number of legal innovators have started to pick up on how this intelligent technology can be integrated into the legal profession. Lawyers handle enormous amounts of data and, in order to improve efficiencies, they need to find a better way to analyse and sift through this information.

Although still in its early development stages, this is where AI could be extremely valuable and a few innovators (including us) are looking into systems that can address multiple legal challenges and automate a number of time-consuming tasks.
For example, assisting with the analysis of current and past casework in order to help lawyers make quick and accurate decisions and reviewing large collections of documents. This means lawyers can focus their time on more complex and bespoke tasks like the core legal analysis.

Evaluate the business structure

Disruptive innovation is not just about embracing new technology, but also adopting new ways of working. In the legal sector this means starting to think more like a business, rather than just a profession. After all, each firm is a commercial business.

One particular way firms are starting to operate more like a business is by opting to become an Alternative Business Structure (ABS). Adopting this structure allows firms to appoint non-solicitors as directors, adding new skill sets to the management structure of a business, and enabling the business to bring in senior talent from outside of the legal sector.
Professionals brought in from other industries often approach situations in a different way and can offer knowledge and expertise to help grow a firm that is beyond the training or skill sets of a lawyer.

For example, they could provide expert assistance with strategic direction and growth, or give skilled insight into areas such as marketing to increase brand awareness. They are also likely to be more susceptible to innovative thinking and will suggest new ways to drive the business forward, especially if they have come from a sector that is more familiar with innovation.

Today’s clients are becoming increasingly knowledgeable about legal services and are demanding better quality for their money. As a result, competition within the legal market is more intense than ever before, and firms need to find ways to differentiate themselves from the competition in order to survive.

Innovation is the key to developing a legal offering that sets a firm above the rest, but the legal sector needs to embrace change and recognise the wealth of opportunities available in order to move into the 21st century.