Modern Law: Retaining your workforce and clients through technology enablement, August 2016

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Skill shortages are escalating, according to a recent resourcing and talent planning survey by the CIPD. Over four-fifths of respondents felt that competition for talent has increased over the past two years. Forward thinking law firms have come to realise that technology will be a key differentiator when it comes to attracting and retaining the best talent in law firms – and to embedding clients firmly within the business.

Law firm clients are driving demand for collaboration underpinned by technology. Clients want information on time, in real time and they want to know what is going on all the time. They expect cloud collaboration and shared access to data. They do not want to have to spend time calling their lawyers and asking them for simple information and updates. Law firms who want to keep these clients will have to meet their expectations.

Alongside the changes in the relationship between the law firm and the client, a new user persona has emerged relating to personnel within the law firm. This persona describes younger professionals entering the workplace. These individuals are digital natives who have used technology throughout their lives. They expect technology at work to be at least as good as the technology they use at home and college. Law firms are having to respond to this and ensure their technology setup is at least on a par with widely used consumer technology. Recent graduates simply do not have the skill or inclination to use antiquated technology or adapt to manual processes and if that is what’s on the menu they will soon go elsewhere.

In addition, many law firms are moving away from traditional training models and implementing training in the form of learning environments. Essentially learning environments are ingrained as part of the fabric of the firm in that training is delivered “just in time” as needed and as part of daily work.

Traditional Classroom learning is becoming less common as technology is enabling more effective, on-the-job learning that is far more engaging. Employees who are offered the opportunity to gain new skills and competencies as part of their daily service delivery to clients will retain more as they experience the benefit of highly relevant training in real time with direct impact on client results. Ultimately this type of environment will make them more tech proficient more likely to stay in their jobs.

Client assessment of legal technology

Client due diligence processes in line with getting “value for money” from their legal services provider are becoming ever more stringent. They are no longer prepared to pay for inefficiencies that arise from the failure to implement and use technology and use it effectively. In the US, pressure from clients to be able to measure the level of technological competency at law firms resulted in the formation of the legal technology assessment (LTA). Not only do clients want law firms to be tech-savvy, they want proof that law firms are tech savvy. Firms who have LTA certification in the US are using this as a competitive advantage – a trend that looks likely to travel beyond US borders in an era of international litigation and globalisation.

This storm of demands from both clients and employees is driving an inevitable transformation in the legal and professional services sector. In some law firms, burdened by legacy organisational structure and governance, this change has been late in coming. The individualistic partner-based structure of many law firms has resulted in difficulties in getting everyone’s buy-in to collaboration on a technological platform. Law firms have historically been very successful in generating profits and there is an attitude of, ‘if it is not broken, don’t fix it’. The reality now however is that clients are demanding change and law firms who failed to deliver it will see a clear decline in business.

Legal services firms are traditionally conservative. Most are simply looking to what peers are doing with their technology. A minority of firms uses technology as a differentiator – there is a real opportunity in the market at present for innovators to take a lead in the market. Here are some top tips to embed technology for staff and client retention:

1. The first question to ask when making every technology decision is, “how does this impact my employees in their work?”. Then consider the impact on the clients – how will new technology make a difference in the service delivery. Often the latter (clients) is a by-product of the former (employees) as employees are the gateway to improved service delivery to clients. Happy employees result in happy clients.

2. Assess which technologies will have most impact on service levels to clients and staff in the short-term – these are the technologies to prioritise. This might include technology that helps with the production process around document creation, collaboration and management. Most law firms have a lot of inefficiency around document processing and the ability to share work product with clients represents a low hanging fruit opportunity for many. Once a solid technology infrastructure is in place the temptation is too often to apply technology solutions to back office systems and like accounting systems, but the real opportunity lies in introducing customer-facing technology that adds value and make the firm more competitive.

3. Consider implementing artificial intelligence (AI) where possible. This is not as futuristic as it may sound. Many law firms are already benefiting from AI technology that automates high-volume, routine processes as well as supporting highly complex tasks. AI contributes massively to making processes as cost-effective as possible and addresses the “value for money” demands of clients. Staff are able to focus more on high value work rather than repetitive commodity work better addressed by technology. In the end retention rates should rise with this type of work environment.

4. Improve the firms brand through next-generation marketing. Law firms have boosted their marketing capacity greatly in recent years as the sector has become increasingly competitive. Next generation eMarketing combines greater personalisation in traditional push marketing supplemented by pull-marketing that offers rich and personalised content delivery that will engage and retain target contacts. Highly personalised communications and special access to content for key clients is key.

5. Create a digital client experience and enable self-service. Offer top clients via key account programmes the opportunity to access services and information for themselves wherever they are in the world. Perhaps only around 5 percent of law firms have made this leap, so there is real opportunity here.

Create a digital brand

The legal sector is at a transformative stage. For decades it hardly changed, then the pace of change in the past five years accelerated enormously. In the past clients hired lawyers irrespective of the “Firm” but more and more the “Firm” offers massive value to clients in the delivery of legal services with technology as the backbone that contributes to the “Firm” value. Only those law firms who demonstrate clear value and prioritise customer-facing technology with high client impact will be best placed to attract and retain customers. The creation of an innovative digital brand will also go a long way to attracting not only new clients, but also top performing legal staff, enabling law firms to keep ahead of the pack.

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By Peter Zver,  President Tikit Inc, North America

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