Legal vendors role in the changing landscape of modern law firms?

 

butterfly

(with apologies to Malvolio) ‘…some have change thrust upon them.’

Change has always been with us, but it feels like the pace of change in the legal sector just keeps accelerating. How are firms supposed to keep up?  Andrea Foot here reflects on the factors that are evolving the sector with dizzying speed, and looks at them from the view of the vendors who support them.

So very much is written these days about how the legal sector is changing. Clients have become more demanding; pricing models are continually revisited; pressure is being put on costs – all of which puts a premium on efficiency and the innovative application of technology. None of this is new to the law firm community around the globe.

I constantly hear about the pressure on law firms to change but I rarely hear discussion around the impact on the vendor community.  I’ve worked in the technology vendor world in Europe, North America and now Asia Pacific for more than two decades and things have definitely moved on. Comparing technology vendor attitudes from then till now, I’ve seen dramatic changes and now we’re in the middle of the next big shift. Back in the day, vendors could be territorial, uncooperative, isolationist and demanding. They could be like that about the servers, technologies, integration and implementation approaches.  It was a very ‘flat earth’ view.  Vendor attitudes have changed substantially since those days, but is there further still to go?

What today’s firms need

Today’s law firms, whether large or small, need more and better responses from their tech vendors. Client’s buying processes are transforming the purchase of legal services. A clinical view of the value of legal work is in play, splitting the ‘bet the farm’ from the ‘churn’ matters. One industry analyst estimates that only around 15 per cent of legal work is critical, with the remaining 85 per cent perceived by clients as business as usual and therefore up for commoditisation. This all impacts on law firm needs and attitudes towards suppliers. Now, with the advent of the cloud and disruptive new competitors a changing vendor landscape is emerging.

This landscape is characterised by more and more agile solutions, especially SaaS (Software as a Service) offerings, which can be ‘dialled up and down’ to meet the changing needs of firms. Also the focus has shifted to making interfaces more user-friendly. And these things happen for a reason.

For instance, at Tikit they happened because we listened to the market and as a result developed our own intuitive web accessible products such as Carpe Diem Next Generation (CDNG) for time capture, which is based on HTML5 as is our eMarketing v6 which uses a simple intuitive web interface. Our partners are responding too, examples being Mimecast and Workshare offering SaaS solutions which can be easily downloaded while adhering to the strictest security. Meanwhile integration across devices and systems is a given rather that a concession.

At the same time, we recognize that vendors (like firms) need to become defter. They especially need to respond to the disruptive providers who continue to enter the market. (A sign of the times is that the Legal Technology Insider has just launched a dedicated ‘Legal Tech Start-ups’ section on its widely read website.)

Some things don’t change

Meanwhile, the more things change the more some things remain the same. Technology, for all that people talk of intuitive interfaces, integration and ease of use, is still an intricate world.

Just as law firms benefit from an intimate knowledge of their clients, markets and legal topics; so too do they continue to benefit from suppliers with an intimate understanding of the workings of law firms, legal business models and the technology they rely on.

For example, it’s still true that firms continue to rely on time capture technology such as Tikit’s CDNG. In a consultancy time capture is important, in a law firm it’s typically an essential. A law firm that can’t capture time, for all that there’s a push to other ways to charge for work, is probably going to be a pretty angry business.

Firms rely on technology that manages document production and retrieval. If a document can’t be found, that’s going to be a very high level business owner who will let the firm know their acute discomfort and dissatisfaction with the mute button off.

Vendors need to bring this intimate knowledge of the impact of their technology to bear on their service and support approaches.

The challenge in front of us

The challenge for vendors now is to know where they provide value; what it is that they bring to the market. Is it a business critical product – say a practice or document management system? Is it expertise with systems’ integration; or the ability to help clever new start-ups scale to meet a wider market? Are they curators of the new and the useful? Do they have the capacity to be outsource service providers who can reduce operational costs? Do they have the requisite access to technical expertise as well as sector and product knowledge?

As more and more clever ideas appear, there are blossoming opportunities for knowledgeable vendors to pull them together into solutions that can meet the evolving needs of today’s firms. I feel that vendors who benefit from this time of epic change, will be the ones who have choose to see themselves from the perspective of their clients and adjust their businesses to map to their new needs. Just like the law firms are having to do with theirs.

Andrea

By Andrea Foot, General Manager at Tikit Australia

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