Charity Appeal – Right now, all over the world, there are hundreds of legal tech orphans that need your help. Some were brought into the firm after a partner saw something at a conference. Others are the result of a very effective salesperson visiting the innovation group. And some, you cannot quite remember how they got into your tech stack. But there they are, unloved and under-utilised by lawyers and tech team alike.
Legal Tech Orphans
OK, being serious now. We all have tech that we don’t use, that we once thought was a great idea. We buy it and then it gets filed away somewhere and stays there – perhaps even having its licence renewed whenever it comes up.
This can be especially noteworthy at some larger law firms that have long lists of software that no-one is the ‘parent’ of. That no-one takes responsibility for. That is just ‘there’, gathering dust, as it were, inside the tech stack.
Although, of course, the vendors may well have your logo on their website – even if you haven’t touched the product since 2018 – (see below).
And this does definitely happen. Here’s a couple of examples. A while ago Artificial Lawyer’s founder was at a hackathon in New York. One firm’s team was building a no-code system to allow lawyers to search a directory of what the firm had on offer in terms of legal tech tools.
This was intriguing on several levels and raised a few questions. Did the firm really have so much tech that partners didn’t know what tools they owned that could be useful to them?
The answer was: yes. In fact, the team – made from the firm’s tech staff – noted that a regular problem was partners demanding they buy X or Y product only to have to tell them they either had it already, or had basically the same thing made by another vendor.
Another question was: so, if the firm’s fee-earners don’t know what software you have, doesn’t that mean you have products no-one uses? And if so, how many products do you have that no-one uses?
This elicited an embarrassed silence at the team’s table and a few nervous looks from one to another as they tried to figure out what to say. ‘Well, let’s just say: quite a lot,’ one team member eventually ventured.
And, more recently, Artificial Lawyer was talking to Tara Waters, partner and head of Ashurst Advance Digital, when the term ‘legal tech orphan’ came up. We were exploring some of the challenges of tech adoption inside law firms when she said something that really rang a bell.
‘We have hundreds of applications in our firm, but some of them become orphans. There are applications that no-one has owned or loved,’ she explained.
She went on to add that if there are not people to take responsibility for these solutions then they can languish.
‘There is so much more than onboarding [of new tech], the work is after that, having users, actually using it,’ she added.
We then moved onto the challenges around how so many of these solutions, both the ones that are used, and not used, very often don’t talk to each other. But, let’s stick with the main subject.
Does It Matter?
Does it matter that law firms, and to a lesser degree inhouse legal teams, have tech tools without any product owners? Without someone to make sure they are used and maintained? Here’s a few thoughts.
First, it’s a waste of money. On the most basic and objective level, buying stuff you don’t use is just wasting a firm’s tech budget that could have been spent elsewhere.
It’s also is a waste of the tech and innovation team’s time. To bring aboard a new product, it presumably has been through at least a security check, and likely has seen some piloting and testing.
Then there is the impact it has on the firm as they try to do what many are trying to do now: make sure that everything connects and talks to each other.
But, if you have a load of tech that no-one really uses then how do you develop a plan to make everything connect? Won’t you just waste energy on integrating products together that you don’t need to? So, perhaps another waste of time and money?
This also points to a deeper problem: fragmented implementation processes. And this is a tough one (see below).
One other issue is that it can give vendors a false sense of success. Those that operate on a pay per use model at least can see the reality of their market, (even if they are not always transparent about it). But, if you have a ‘fire and forget’ model, then how does the vendor know if the clients are using the product? They could call them and find out. But clearly this is not always happening.
Not knowing what your clients are doing with your product isn’t great for the vendors. And the fact that there are clearly a lot of legal tech orphans shows that companies are sometimes too focused on getting the sale, rather than regularly following up to check that the clients are getting value.
Artificial Lawyer has plenty of tech it hardly uses, but no vendor has ever asked this site about its use levels or if they can help with that – at least beyond a very generic and basic marketing email. But, then this site does not buy £10,000+ licences for legal tech products. It buys mass market products that may have literally millions of users. If Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, called me up one day to ask how I was getting on with their ‘Notes’ product, I’d fall off my sofa in shock. But – I would appreciate it all the same.
This is very different to legal tech startups that may only have a few dozen clients, and if well-developed companies, may only have a couple of hundred law firm clients at most. Those are not large numbers. Customer relationships can be maintained with such a relatively small group. The CEO of most legal tech companies could indeed call nearly all their clients in just a week to find out if people were using the product, and if not, why.
Maybe some vendors don’t want to know that their customers are not really using their products….?
Fragmented Implementation Processes
To conclude, what this all tells us is that the buying process is good, but the implementation process is fragmented.
This is hard to change. Lawyers at many firms are now actively encouraged to come up with new ideas and to try and innovate. Some firms also have dedicated innovation groups that spend a lot of time testing out new tech. So the door is open, and that’s good.
But, where things seem to be stumbling is in the actual use. And that gets more problematic the larger the firm is. Challenges include:
- ‘Innovation-focused’ lawyers in a practice area having tools bought for the firm that the rest of the practice group are not aware of, or not really interested in, perhaps because they don’t appreciate how it can help.
- Whole offices of the firm not really communicating about tech to the other offices. E.g. the London office is onboarding new tech at a tremendous rate, while the Paris and Frankfurt offices are out of the loop. Or, branch offices have onboarded their own tools that the main office doesn’t use. (And that makes management even harder as much of the tech team will be in the head office.)
- That the innovation team is doing its job, i.e. testing out new products that people suggest, perhaps then offloading them to the main IT team, and to the partners who wanted them, and then the tech is languishing because actually making sure regular use levels exist is no-one’s actual job.
But, what is the answer? We don’t want law firms or inhouse teams to stop exploring new tech as they may miss out on useful tools. So, saying: well, just stop buying new tech, is not really a good answer.
The most logical solution is that every product is paired with a product owner.
The question then is: who? The innovation team may already be occupied. The core IT team are making sure the firm keeps functioning and are super busy. And while some of the lawyers might like that role, their firms may want them to focus on their billable work instead – much as it would be great to have them involved in product ownership.
There is no easy answer, and that’s why we have so many legal tech orphans.
One answer seems to be some kind of shared ownership. So, a group put their names to the product. E.g. someone from the innovation team that tested and onboarded it; a lawyer who uses it regularly and so gives an hour or two a month to report on progress, opportunities and challenges; and someone inside the core tech team who is responsible for things like security and integration – and ultimately renewing that licence.
Perhaps by formally creating a volunteer team of product owners for every single item in the tech stack, then we can get over this challenge?
Likewise, maybe make a rule that unless a product can have this team of volunteer owners to share the product ownership burden, then it won’t be allowed in the tech stack?
Artificial Lawyer would like to hear how you do it. More on this and related themes in the future.
Conference News – If this subject is of interest then come along to the Legal Innovators in-person conference, Oct 21 and 22 in London – that’s in 10 days!
[ Main photo: ‘Oliver Twist’ – Richard Bentley – Heritage Auction Galleries, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7231188 ]