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AUTEUR : Dirk Maertens

DATE : 23 janvier 2017

Going digital is just business as usual

Over the holiday season I found some time to read through a series of interesting books and some “saved up” articles on the legal industry and the digital age. After reading through some of it I realized that it felt somehow as a déjà-vu as I remembered the doom and bust messages from leading authors such as R. Susskind claiming the gradual commoditization of legal services already back then in 2006.

I had only entered the legal industry the year before that after a career of 15 years as a consultant in various industries on client relationship management and organizational transformation, where the impact of IT had helped bringing benefits and value instead of the downturn of businesses. Nevertheless back in 2005 I was amazed by the limited use and investment in IT tools by law firms. In fact many legal industry articles and opinion makers such as the above mentioned author definitely seemed to confirm that the legal industry was lagging behind and risked being erased all together by newcomers or by artificial intelligence. I could not agree with many of their gloomy conclusions except that the use of IT would increase as law firms increasingly started to rethink their strategy by putting their clients first.

The use of IT has effectively increased in many law firms since 2006. The impact of using IT tools has mainly been driven by client’s needs and by the need to become better in servicing these client. Most importantly however it has been changing how law firms work and interact with their clients.

Recently there is a lot of talk about law firms going digital and of digital disruption in the legal industry. In the eyes of many senior lawyers and in house counsel the perception continues that this is only about technology or IT tools. Think about the use of tablets, smartphones, cloud services for access to documents and collaborative working tools. Fewer of them think of going digital as looking for new ways of engaging with clients and prospects, and only a small number think of it as reviewing the way law firms and legal departments will do business. We think all these definitions hold some truth in them. In fact if you wish to think about going digital you will actually need to look at all three of these at the same time.

If we look at what digital transformation has actually meant for most of the professional services firms it came down to this: identifying new ways of growth for their business through connecting with their clients in meeting their shifting needs and more so their increasingly evolving expectations in the context of new technology and digital outlook of this new era. As a result most professional services firms have become more agile, faster in taking decisions, more connected and more profitable.

So, a law firm going digital should be about unlocking new or more value for your clients, not for the firm itself. So how can you prepare for this?

If value is the starting point then one could focus on ensuring that value is created in all client experiences with the firm, the other option could be that you deliver value by being leading edge in your legal domain, and last but not least value can be created by organizing your firm or legal department to be highly effective and efficient in its client service delivery. These are known strategic choices and digital offers some fantastic new angles on them.

So this leads me to the conclusion that going digital or digital disruption is indeed really not just about IT tools but it is about identifying what you want to do as a law firm and how you wish to interact with your client in this new context of digital tools in an ever more connected world and an increased number of ways to get your services delivered to your clients.

So what should you consider to do if you wish to engage on a digital step up ?

First, you should revamp your internal tools and systems to create connectivity, deriving useful data and insights on clients and understand who in your firm is driving growth, this implies that you wish to work together on clients as a firm.

Secondly, you should invest in business development aids and ensure that you push content rich publications through digital and traditional channels. This will ensure you reach out to your clients and prospects.

And finally, if you are bold enough, evaluate which of your services can already be digitized such that you can lower costs or consider those services that will benefit from technology to provide improved client experiences. This will engage your knowledge management processes and search technologies but more so push you to think who else you can cooperate with to deliver a better client experience.

All three steps do imply a focus on processes and by default it will lead you to thinking of how to become more lean as a law firm. However that is a topic entirely of its own whether you go digital or not.

My learning from this is that there is nothing revolutionary about going digital for the legal sector, as moving away from paper, but, rather as with all tools and challenges, the adoption is gradual as an evolution. Keep your eyes open and as in the past year be prepared for change after serious evaluation of your strategy and the new threats and opportunities in the market. Simple but hard or business as usual.


Dirk Maertens