Build a successful tech-powered practice with these tips from industry experts
When it comes to legaltech, the term can have different meanings to different people. At its most fundamental level, it means technology used by attorneys and other professionals in the legal industry to get work done. At Priori’s recent webinar, “Building a Tech-Powered Legal Practice: Myths & Questions About Legal Technology,” our Marketplace Network Director, David Drew, Ashley Carlisle, Corporate Attorney & Head of Marketing at HyperDraft, and James Sherer, Partner, Co-Chair Emerging Tech Team at BakerHostetler, dug into the different ways technology is used in the industry and shared advice for attorneys interested in streamlining their processes using legaltech. Here are some of the highlights from their discussion.
Understand the Options
Legaltech falls into many different categories, from tools that are not legal specific such as Calendly, which automates the administrative work of scheduling meetings, to highly specific document automation or practice management software.
Sherer explained that he thinks of it as three layers:
The technology you need to understand because clients use it to do their business
The technology clients and other industry professionals use to work together
The technology lawyers use to streamline processes
Carlisle broke down legaltech tools she sees lawyers in using in their practices into five main categories:
Practice management tools (e.g., billing, client communication, CRM, task-tracking)
Document automation generation
Payment & accounting tools
These types of tools should be on the radar of all firms, since they have the potential to improve efficiency for billable tasks as well as reduce the time spent on non-billable functions.
Make an Implementation Plan
While legaltech can make the way your firm works easier and more efficient, that doesn’t mean the implementation process is easy. Implementation can often be confusing and if you don’t plan carefully, timelines can double or triple in length or the implementation may fail altogether.
Carlisle shared a key piece of advice for attorneys setting out on a new legaltech integration project: Know your limits. Attorneys are often adept multitaskers and problem solvers, but just because lawyers can do many things doesn’t always mean that they should.
For a smooth integration, it is key to include others who can support the legal team through implementation where possible. If you don’t, it is likely you’ll likely need significantly more time to get the project done—or it may even stall—because pressing client needs will come first. Carlisle recommends including an implementation liaison for your team in the process. Ideally this is someone in your organization who knows all of the stakeholders but isn’t solely dependent on billable hours as part of their job, such as a paralegal or office manager.
Drew added that looking at options that are additive to and help you build out your current tech stack is important to successful implementation. When adopting new tech, there will likely be friction, but it’s also possible to reduce some of that friction by choosing tools that work well with others. For example, Priori Marketplace has its own invoicing and billing tool built into the platform, but lawyers can use it in combination with other practice management systems such as Clio or PracticePanther, so it doesn’t disrupt your workflow if those are already part of your tech stack.
Drew explained that lawyers are (understandably) skeptical by nature and it’s not always clear how tech will improve business in the long run. He recommends looking at tech options that are transparent about what they do and how they work.
If you’re working with a vendor and you’re not sure what implementation looks like once you’ve signed a contract, ask. Ask all of your pricing and implementation questions up front, including what it looks like if you decide to break up with the tool. Even though no one plans to stop using a new legaltech tool they want to implement, sometimes the project won’t work out.
Ask questions like, “If we’re not satisfied, what does the migration look like?,” or “When can I get out of my contract?” Sometimes people want to avoid asking these questions, but the reality is having a confident implementation plan requires you to know the answers and any vendor with confidence in their tool won’t have anything to hide.
Embrace the Long-Term Benefits
Drew noted that looking at the big picture of integrating new technology into your firm’s tech stack can be overwhelming: It takes time to research, make a choice, learn the new system and implement it; it potentially costs money to purchase or subscribe to a product; and it often means changing aspects of your current processes. While all of these concerns are valid, when done correctly, implementing new legaltech can help firms of any size—even solo practitioners—come to market and be competitive by providing the professional end product that clients expect.
For many attorneys, it might require a mindset shift to truly embrace legaltech. Focusing on the upfront time and cost commitment to implementing legal technology can feel daunting when finding time and the billable hour are of the utmost importance. However, Carlisle notes that when it comes to firm economics, this is not the best way to think. When considering process improvement through legaltech, you need to focus on delivering value to clients rather than the details of the process. When the client receives value from your services, the benefits conferred to the firms both through internal time saving but also client satisfaction and retention make the upfront time and financial investment worthwhile.
Don’t Gloss Over Data Security
With new technology implementation naturally comes questions about data security. Drew pointed to the ABA’s 2022 Cloud Computing report, which shows that most attorneys are thinking about cybersecurity for data in the cloud, with 62% saying they have concerns about confidentiality/security and 40% saying they have concerns about lack of control over data. That being said, more attorneys than ever are using the cloud in their work, with usage by survey respondents increasing from 60% to 70% from 2021 to 2022 (including 84% of solo practitioners and 75% of small and medium-sized law firms).
Clearly data in the cloud is here to stay, so the question becomes how should attorneys treat legaltech that uses the cloud to store client data? Sherer explains that possession of client data should be a key consideration for firms. Think about the effort firms put into segregating client money from other places money is stored and its importance to the firm’s processes and reputation. Are you extending that same amount of care to client data? If you’re not, you should be.
As part of the implementation process of a new technology, ask questions. In particular, Sherer says you should ask questions about where the data lives and where it flows, for example:
Where is client information stored?
How are you bringing it in?
How are you managing the data once it’s in?
If you’re using more than one tool, how is it being stored in those tools?
Regardless of the type and scope of the legaltech tool you’re implementing in your firm—whether it’s a simple communication tool or a complex practice management system—you want to think about how you’re doing it. Using these tips will make the process smoother and put you on the path to legaltech success.