In 2011 Marc Andreessen said, “software is eating the world.” Nearly a decade later, the digital world is also “eating” or consuming legal services. How can lawyers, traditional law firms, and company legal departments address the digital transformation of their services?
Author: Ana Burbano Villavicencio, specialist in legal tech, blockchain and digital transformation of legal services. Legal Support Lawyer at Garrigues. Alumni IE Law School.
Knowledge, information, and data
We’re living in a time in which information is the “oil” that powers the digital world. Digitally mature businesses are responsible for collecting, analyzing, and transforming information; they exploit it in such a way that they become exponentially profitable businesses, leaving certain “analog” competitors behind. In the legal sector, services have traditionally been based on information, and the digital information wave is affecting the sector in at least three ways: changing customer expectations (via reduced fees and a greater demand for client experience), the incorporation of new competitors (ALSP, New Law or LPO), and the digitalization of justice. Therefore, the digital transformation of traditional law firms and legal departments becomes the key to the future market in online legal services.
But this digital transformation can only come from changing the way we work and do business; above all the way we manage information. In the advice for lawyers given below, I will emphasize three key aspects to make this technological change more likely to succeed: change in leadership (management), change in the way services are provided (delivery), and awareness of the implications of incorporating technologies into digital processes (technology).
Advice for lawyers: New leadership paradigms
The first of these aspects tells us that the digital transformation to develop best practices for lawyers essentially has more to do with changing the mindset of employees at all levels. Senior leadership and middle management who promote incorporating new strategies and processes, and who are willing to change the way they do things, is a great start. Without change there is no transformation, and without leadership change there are no opportunities. It also can’t be understated that, in order to allay potential fears, it takes a lot of work to train professionals on new business methodologies and technologies related to digitalization, as well as opening controlled testing spaces where lawyers—in conjunction with other profiles—can experiment and innovate (in much the same way as employees in software companies).
“Delivery,” beyond an art
Changing the way that services are provided is another key to success. As previously stated, information and how you work with it are crucial. Although consolidated organizations and law firms have computerized information management systems—at least for critical issues—which complicate the task of adopting other forms of work or migration, it’s important to review the processes and verify whether they’re actually complying with the digital requirements that make them competitive. In this case, we can analyze three relevant aspects related to how services are provided: how information is obtained (through methodologies like project management), how they’re analyzed and the data reported (with methodologies such as lean, sigma or legal design thinking), and how information is managed to improve the productivity and competitiveness of services (legal tech resources).
Best practices for lawyers: Empowerment through technology
Last but not least, another key to the success of online legal services is related to how to incorporate technology into legal proceedings. It’s imperative that we pay attention to how each technology changes, transforms or influences the processes. In order to know which technology to use in a particular process, as well as having information management as indicated previously, we must delve into the case study (in the details of the case) from a technical and user experience point of view. For this, we can use our organization’s expertise, and if that’s not available, we can consult further legal advice online or try to acquire the services of professionals who have the said expertise. As an example, I’m going to study three technologies: document automation, information extraction, and the launch of reports and interfaces for the provision of digital services (online).
Document automation is related to standardization and automation in generating draft documents. Much of the traditional work of a lawyer is related to developing different deliverables for the client or the authorities, in order to complete the service they have to provide. Document automation makes preparing such documents exponentially more efficient, in some cases reducing the time spent on the document by 90%, causing a drop in the number of hours dedicated to the task. This reduction in document preparation time means that lawyers will be able to adjust their fees or add more value to the service. In this sense, document automation will create more competitive prices and delivery times. But it can also transform the way traditional firms invoice clients and the services they provide by turning the automated part of the work into a basic component and demanding more value-added, multidisciplinary services from lawyers. To facilitate legal advice online this can include: legal tech support related to development and implementation of API, custom software, collaboration platforms or databases adjusted to avoid inefficiencies (for example, avoiding using emails to exchange files or information available in a client API).
The next legal technology that I want to address is one that enables automated information extraction and reporting. Such technology is usually made possible by implementing Machine Learning (ML) or other forms of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The information extraction systems are more advanced in English, a language in which there are more possibilities for unassisted AI, than in Spanish. Most of them need training by lawyers so they can use that knowledge in future projects. In this sense it’s advisable to have a large number of assumptions with which to train artificial intelligence, otherwise the cost-benefit of using such intelligence may not be in the lawyer’s favor. Therefore, rather than creating individual intelligences for each law firm, it’s better to create a consortium of legal providers as a source of advice for lawyers and to train an AI or collaborate with a legal tech supplier with a dominant market profile.
Customer interfaces and user behavior reports
Finally, I will talk about the technologies that allow for developing an online legal service. These are primarily web technologies that enable lawyers and clients to interact, collaborate, and exchange information. These tools should allow lawyers to access information about user behavior, and therefore make adjustments as well as establish both a fixed and adapted communication channel with the client.
In conclusion, it is particularly important that lawyers who provide digital services and offer legal advice online consider the information flow in their internal processes, and use the methods and technologies related to software development that allow the most cost-effective service performance. Also, keep in mind that, to develop best practices for lawyers, none of this is possible without executive managers’ full and open commitment to change, as well as promoting training in new methodologies, businesses and technical knowledge for all members of the organization.
Ana Burbano is a specialist in legal tech, blockchain and digital transformation of legal services. She currently works as a legal support lawyer at the law firm Garrigues, and is working towards her doctorate at the Autonomous University of Madrid on the impact of incorporating new technologies in societies. She also has degrees in Law and Political and Administrative Sciences from Complutense University of Madrid, a masters in Entrepreneurship and Startups from the Garrigues Center of Studies, a masters in Ethereum, blockchain technology and crypto-economics from the University of Alcalá, and a masters in International Relations and African studies from the Autonomous University of Madrid..
Note: The views expressed by the author of this paper are completely personal and do not represent the position of any affiliated institution.
 Andreessen, Marc. “Why Software Is Eating the World” Available in 2020 at https://a16z.com/2011/08/20/why-software-is-eating-the-world/