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Lawyers, know your tech

Don’t get hung up on product name, focus on the match to your business requirements, writes Roy Russell, CEO of Ascertus Limited

Given the amount of technology systems corporate legal departments and law firms deploy, the actual use of those solutions are often limited by organisations’ apparent understanding of the description of the systems or indeed the functional requirement they implemented the products for.

There are so many point solutions that law firms and in-house legal departments deploy – document management, records management, case management, matter management, customer relationship management, and so on – the list is endless.

In doing so, they are pigeon holing the solution based on their perceived understanding of what the system can deliver. A better approach would be to focus on the business requirement and then optimise the use of the solution, beyond the preconceived notions of their potential.

Business requirement trumps product name

A Swiss investment bank is a good example. This corporate is utilising its document and email management system to leverage knowledge, enterprise-wide. To elaborate, the legal department at this bank was looking for a central repository where lawyers could share precedents, law firm news, legal advice, and so on with colleagues across the globe.

At the same time, the department wanted the ability to establish a taxonomy that would easily classify and store documents, redact information when loading documents into this repository, and even raise alerts if a document contained questionable legal advice.

Additionally, the department wanted the capability to track old and outdated documents using workflow so the librarian could be alerted when a document was close to expiring, to facilitate records management. Last, but not least, it wanted to reduce the amount of expenditure on external counsel and measure savings.

So, the traditional approach would have been to deploy point solutions for knowledge management, records management, document management, and possibly legal spend management, to meet all the above business requirements. However, the bank’s legal department, following an evaluation of the functional technology applications available and its business requirement, deployed a solution that is typically branded as a ‘document management’ solution, as a veritable knowledge management system.

The legal team figured that document management capability is fundamental to knowledge management. The document management functionality would allow the department to securely store documents, help maintain the accuracy of the data in the repository, facilitate authorisation-based access to information – especially as the repository would be available to colleagues in EMEA, APAC, and the US, and holistically enable information lifecycle management. This would then enable knowledge management across the teams. It’s an astute approach as the return on investment from this single platform is far greater than numerous point solutions.

Not to diminish the capabilities and value of point solutions, but there can be considerable ‘bloatware’ in single functional applications. Consider the features available to us as individuals in office productivity applications such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. It isn’t far-fetched to say that potentially, the majority may only be using 20% of the functionality available in these applications, if that. The same applies to the specific functional applications.

A platform approach

The secret lies in taking a platform approach to technology adoption – and the business requirement should drive system adoption. This will ensure that the functionality capabilities are comprehensive, and the security and governance management components are taken care off, which in today’s environment are crucial.

From a user perspective too, working within a single environment enhances productivity and efficiency. Flitting between different applications is time consuming, which is possibly one of the biggest reasons for poor user adoption of many functional applications in organisations. People tend to work with applications that offer a work environment closest to their needs.

A platform approach also allows the solution to be better configured to the needs of a wider set of users. This in turn enables organisations to undertake things like change management, which facilitates user adoption. As an example, one law firm made significant investment in a document management system, but only had five users because the solution simply did not meet the requirements of their fee earners. Network file shares worked better for them.

Business requirement drives solution deployment

Additionally, far too often, law firms and in-house legal departments purchase solutions based on price, which is false economy. Consider the case of a legal team at a major European public infrastructure and transportation company which purchased a low-cost case management solution when its main requirement was a document management system.

After years of struggling, the company eventually replaced the case management system with a document management solution, which was configured to provide ‘light case management’ capability. This has proven to be much more suited to their business requirements and user adoption, and satisfaction has been much better. Correcting the mistake a few years later, of course, came at a significant price, which was highly avoidable.

In short, technology adoption must be driven by business requirement, not common nomenclature and product-name driven perceptions.