A recap of our conversation from the panel, “Digital Transformation in the Legal Industry” during the October 2020 The Changing Lawyer LIVE! Conference.

Before the pandemic hit, legal organizations recognized the importance of technology in their operations. Two-thirds of law firms reported that they had invested in new technologies to support firm operations and client work, according to The 2020 Wolters Kluwer Future Ready Lawyer Survey Report, which spoke to lawyers in January. However, not all organizations and lawyers were quick to adopt new technology – until COVID-19 forced them to find ways to work efficiently and effectively at home.

The driving force of digital transformation

The pandemic opened many people’s eyes to the opportunities that technology provides users to improve productivity and client relationships. However, as Litera Evangelist Curt Meltzer explained, progress at delivering legal services has been halting at best over the years. Could the pandemic be the catalyst for a digital transformation in the legal industry or will we continue to see limited advancements in most organizations?

Digital transformation is moving faster because of COVID, said Jeffrey Marple, Director of Innovation at Liberty Mutual, pointing to virtual meetings and conferences, like Litera’s The Changing Lawyer LIVE! as one example. He also mentioned that his department is printing documents far less now, which is another form of digital transformation.

However, COVID isn’t the only driving force of a digital transformation. Marple said that it also has a lot to do with the number of products that are coming online. Plus, users of technology are becoming more accustomed to it, “either because they were brought up in a digital age or because, like me now, we’ve been using digital tools in the things that we do and there’s less cultural pushback.”

The available bandwidth to people at home, the advent of cloud providers, and the use of algorithms in new or different ways also factor into digital transformation, allowing legal organizations to operate and provide services in a manner that may not have been possible even a decade ago.

“We are really operating in a different competitive environment,” explained Michael Mills, co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Neota Logic. “Our clients are far smarter, far more aggressive than they use to be in pushing us to do things in a smart way.”

The impact of technology for organizations and clients

While digital transformation may be occurring in law firms and corporate legal departments slower than some would like, the panelists each pointed to concrete examples of how technology has made an impact for their organization and clients.

Judi Flournoy, CIO at Kelley Drye & Warren LLP, shared her firm’s recent implementation of robotic process automation (RPA) for an extremely large class action. Without using RPA, the firm would have had to go the old-school route of having many people review documents and transcribe the information into a database. By using RPA, the firm has processed more than 100,000 letters in a little over six months.

“That’s an example of a technology that is serving the client in an effective and efficient way where we would have not been able to do that previously. That’s a game changer in my mind. It really fundamentally changes the landscape of how we can do the work in a way that is actually faster, better, and more cost effective, and I think has a higher level of accuracy.”

Technology can give clients the power to answer their own legal questions. Mills’ Neota Logic and Littler Mendelson P.C. teamed up to create Compliance HR, a tool that allows businesses to quickly find answers to common labor and employment issues, such as whether someone should be paid overtime or is being properly accommodated under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“[These] questions come up over and over again, and the cost of answering them in a full lawyered way is much too high but the cost of getting the wrong answer is not zero. From a general counsel’s perspective, you’re injecting legal expertise down into the daily operation of the business in a way that without technology, without digital transformation, you simply couldn’t do.”

Abraham Lincoln said the best way to predict the future is to create it. What future do the panelists see for the near future of digital transformation? Mills predicts machine learning will continue to transform the legal profession, creating more understanding of documents and automation of processes.

Marple notes that his organization thinks about litigation a lot and sees opportunities in that area to use data-driven techniques to make educated decisions on anything from which motion should be filed to managing a panel for the next five years.

Flournoy believes we will move from adapting to and adopting technology to being more of a digital native that is part of the ecosystem. That change is directly tied to the importance and value of the connection between the client, the business partner – companies like Litera and Neota – and the law firm, where there’s a partnership with the law firm and the client, and how that can complement the expertise that the legal mind brings to the conversation.

“I think there will be some type of evolution around that that will drive the way firms operate and how they interact with clients. It’s going to be different than what we’ve been doing for the better part of my career.”

Watch the full conversation here.

Key Takeaways
  • The pandemic, the number of products available, and the comfort level of users with technology is spurring the digital transformation in the legal industry.
  • Technology is allowing legal organizations to serve clients more efficiently, more effectively and more accurately.
  • As more people enter the profession who are digital natives, the industry will move away from adaption and adoption of technology to tech being part of the organization’s ecosystem.