What If Your Law Firm Had A Blank Page For Legal Tech?

By Anthony Widdop

If law firms had a blank page for legal technology and innovation, what would they do?

While organisations across all sectors are getting to grips with the opportunities and risks posed by genAI, forward-thinking law firm leaders are considering what it means for their businesses – today, tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow.

But some firms remain constrained by yesterday, due to legacy processes, ways of working and mindsets. To create the conditions for change, firms need to adopt a ‘blank page’ approach and review all areas of their businesses by asking: if we were starting afresh, how would we design the organisation to future-proof it to achieve transformative growth with genAI at the core?

Change is changing…

The way in which we deliver change is changing. Traditional approaches to change management have been turned on their head. Principles such as hyper-personalised change, crowd sourcing and short sprints have replaced conventional change programmes that reflected a simpler world.

In the current environment, by the time you have finished that two-year change programme, what you will have delivered will likely be out of date. Take a moment to consider that. This is extremely relevant to the implementation of genAI tools. Their implementation can’t be viewed as an activity with a clearly defined start and end point. Rapid technological advances and the changing nature of the competitive legal ecosystem mean that continuous reinvention is the new norm. If the pace of change outside the organisation is faster than within it, you will be left behind.

Legacy systems, processes and ways of working can inadvertently define your future success. The relentless nature of this can be challenging at a personal and organisational level. A sobering thought to consider is the sector in which we work will probably never be as slow as it is today. Adopting novel approaches that help you gain an edge and differentiate your service is key.

Identifying transformative opportunities through genAI

Going back to the blank page analogy, we should look at opportunities right across the organisation. Some take the view that genAI tools are great at disrupting low value tasks and processes. While this may well be the case, this is too conservative a starting point and provides a limiting frame to the potential possibilities.

What we need to do is to look at all services and processes and be bold in our ambitions to identify new drivers of growth. Tools that can ‘create a great first draft’ will not move the dial. What will be transformative is reviewing all areas of the organisation – from top to bottom and horizontally across organisational silos.

Changes to a few discrete tasks may drive modest change at a local level, but they will not be transformational. However, lots of small changes will make an impact, which is why we need to build understanding, fluency, and capabilities in use of these emerging tools. This requires experimentation and a healthy curiosity to challenge the status quo. Many small changes can make a big impact at scale. If we have not baked in genAI capabilities into how law firms perform routine daily tasks within the next few years, we will have missed a trick.

Some organisations have commenced programmes and workshops to identify use cases for genAI. This should be commended. With the right structure and process, a significant amount of knowledge can be ‘crowd sourced’ to identify a long list of opportunities – by team and function. Tools such as ChatGPT can help this endeavour.

While some see ‘hallucinations’ as a risk, others see this as a key feature of the system rather than a bug. This is no different to the offline version of brainstorming, where the purpose is to generate lots of ideas at an early stage. A subsequent task is to validate those ideas. But if the aim is to generate many ideas, law firms can also learn from how organisations across all sectors and markets have streamlined tasks across back-office functions. There are also significant, sometimes untapped, collaboration opportunities between law firms and their clients given this is an area that all organisations are exploring in parallel.

Assessing and scoring opportunities

Once specific opportunities have been identified, we need to assess and score ideas along three dimensions: desirability, viability, and feasibility. Firstly, we need to consider the desirability of the idea, including how well aligned it is to the firm’s strategy, identify and values.

There will be many potential ideas but those that represent a significant departure from the firm’s brand or core will likely not pass the strategic fit test. Secondly, we need to look at the viability of the idea, including whether this is a problem that people have been crying out to be solved, how likely it is to stick within the organisation and whether it fits within the current operating and business models. Finally, the question of feasibility brings a highly practical lens. This includes an operational assessment of how realistic the idea is, including the availability of the necessary resources, capabilities, and investment to make it happen.

A framework to consider ideas within existing ways of working

Once a long list of improvement opportunities through genAI has been narrowed down, we need to consider how these could be integrated within the organisation. By viewing a law firm through the lens of its operating model, i.e. the enabler of how work gets done, we can identify enablers and barriers to successfully embedding genAI tools. This draws upon behavioural science and subtle changes to the environment to embed sustainable change.

The time for change is now

For genAI tools to become a transformative driver of growth, firms need to take an enterprise view. This will require more focus on tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, and less on yesterday. These ambitious change interventions will be challenging as many of the costs will be borne today, including time commitment, resources, and investment, with the opportunities realised tomorrow and the day after tomorrow.

However, firms that are successful in taking the leap in identifying significant opportunities through genAI tools, and integrating them within existing ways of working, will position themselves at the forefront of the next era of innovation in this changing ecosystem.

About the Author: Anthony Widdop is a management consultant focused on leading global change and transformation initiatives in professional services firms. He previously worked in change leadership roles at US law firm Shearman & Sterling and KPMG.

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