If law firms have to change, don’t law firm vendors have to change too?



If law firms have to change, don’t law firm vendors have to change too? – TikitTikit

By Andrea Foot, General Manager at Tikit Australia

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If law firms have to change, don’t law firm vendors have to change too?

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 suggests what firms and their vendors can do about it.

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.

So how are the legal sector’s technology vendors responding? Well I’ve worked in the technology vendor world in Europe, North America and now Asia Pac, for two decades. Comparing technology vendor attitudes from then till now, I can see dramatic changes and 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 ‘one world’ view. It’s not one you see any more.

What today’s firms need

Today’s global law firms need more and better responses from their tech vendors. Cyber security has rocketed up the critical list. 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 supplier landscape is emerging.

This landscape is characterised by more and more SaaS (Software as a Service) offerings. 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. We also provide partner products such as Mimecast and Workshare that are also SaaS offerings and 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 Legal Technology Insider has just launched a dedicated ‘Legal Tech Start-ups’ section on its widely read website.)

Some things don’t change

Meanwhile, reassuringly, some things remain the same. Technology, for all that people talk of intuitive interfaces and ease of use, is still a complex world.

And 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.

Firms certainly continue to rely on time capture technology such as Tikit’s CDNG. In a consultancy it’s important, in a law firm it’s 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.

They also continue to rely on technology that manages document production – such as iManage. 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.

The challenge of the future

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 think more and more that the only sensible way for vendors and firms to proceed in the face of relentless change is by working together.