We experience a growing unbalance of technology we have at home and technology we have at the office. At the office it feels like you’re warped back in time, but at home we have it all: smart tools, connected apps and all within our phones. It used to be the other way around, remember? So why is it important and what can you do about it?

The expectations of a new generation

We all know what technology can do: we use it in our day-to-day life. The next generation uses technology as a second nature. They buy and try new tools or apps every day to make their lives easier. The younger generation of lawyers also expect their employer to have technology that can make their work easier. They do not like to do manual or repetitive work, as they know there is technology that can (partially) automate it. They do not like to review documents one by one, as they know there is technology that can sift through piles of documents in a minute. They do not like to work late or in the weekend to get the exhibit list right after final adjustments that are send by email as they know technology could do it at a click of a button and from home. They do not like to create a closing bundle manually as they know there is technology that can do it for them. I can go on. But the important message is that lawyers will expect their employers to have technology that works for them. It will become hygiene.

And let’s not forget the clients: they also expect their law firms to use all technology that they know is available. They do not like to pay for administrative work, sending email updates and having status report meetings with lots of lawyers present as they know more and more parts of the project management process can be automated. They do not like to wait for responses on data rich requests as they know data scientists can help to do it over the weekend. They do not like to see the scope of a review limited to a small set of data as they know a review tool can handle as much data as there is. These clients will start pushing for their firms to have the technology that is available, just like the lawyers in a firm will.

What can you do about it?

At home, you live the “Buy, Try and Divest” way: you buy new technology easily, try to see if you like it and divest it quickly if you don’t like it. For example on your phone, you buy an app that you think will help you do something, often for free. And then you use it, sometimes only for a very short while and if you don’t use it, you delete the app again. Or on your own laptop (if you even have one), you can get the greatest tools for free, for a limited time or for the basic features only. If you want more than the free trial or basic features, you will have to pay for it. But at that time, you will probably know if you like it and if it represents value for you. At home, you are experimenting. But at the office, you are not.

To bring this Buy, Try and Divest way to the office, it gets a bit more complicated than you are used to at home: often it is not your money, not your time and not your data. You aren’t even authorised to sign for the trial agreement or you don’t even know what your data security options are. But what you can do is mimic home as much as you can. It takes the following three steps.

  1. Create an Experimental Culture
  2. Build a Clear Process
  3. Tackle Data and Security concerns

Create an Experimental Culture

You need an experimental culture at the office. This means, creating an environment where your employees feel safe to experiment with technology and other new things. Let me illustrate what this could look like: At board level you make this experimental culture part of your strategy. Top down, you encourage people to be experimental and communicate about the importance of being innovative and you make this part of a series of meetings or town hall sessions. You can even set targets on it, if you wish. Your employees should be challenged to come up with ideas for experiments, as innovative ideas will need to come form the bottom up. Arrange for brainstorm sessions, or innovation challenges that one or more of your role model partners facilitates. And in the middle you meet: you connect employees that have ideas with sponsor partners and give space for the team to work on these experimental projects.

A Clear Process

An experimental culture does not survive without a clear process. Sure, you need to be free to be creative, but a clear process will not kill your experiments: it will help you stay in control. So what should a process look like? You start by creating guidelines for doing these experiments, connected to your strategy. What is in scope, and what not. Then you create a process to do these experiments in a structured way. You decide how your employees can buy technology (or do a free trial), how they can try technology (with dummy data or real data), and how they should ask for investment if they think it is of value to the firm (pitch for an investment decision). It might be wise to appoint someone who has time and expertise to guide your lawyers in this process as they have never done this before.

Tackle Security Concerns

At home, it is super easy to buy and try new tools. There are no real security issues as a private person, or at least you can make a sensible decision about it by yourself, for yourself. Security in general will be covered by the supplier of the app, and for your private information you can set your own privacy settings. But at the office, security is an issue. Experiments will often run in the cloud of the tech provider. And for a good trial, you will need to upload data to that platform, hence, the data will sit outside of your organisation, with all risks involved: privacy, legal privilege or sensitive information. To make the experimental culture successful, you will have to tackle these security, data and privacy related issues. One of the things you need to do is to get permission from your clients to try and use technology platforms with their data, that enable you to do your work more efficiently. You can do this either in general or for every use of a cloud technology. You will also need to facilitate your employees with a (automated) process that they need to follow when setting up experiments in the cloud with client data, so you can show clients you are in control. The appointed expert might be useful here as well to make this process as smooth as possible.

Just like home

I you can create a more experimental culture at the office, guided by a clear process and where security and data concerns are tackled, your firm is capable of running experiments with new technology, just like your lawyers and your clients do at home. With this experimental culture, you will be able to repair the unbalance of technology in your favour and make the office as technology savvy as your home is.

Tjeerd van Ginkel is a freelance innovation consultant who is on a mission to help to change the legal industry. Curious to find out more? Schedule an introduction call via the button below, or fill in the contact form.

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