The legal field is one of many industries disrupted by the pandemic. Practically overnight, lawyers and their colleagues had to change a lot about the ways they work—from collaboration tools to virtual court proceedings. Sure, it’s a field that might be guilty of a slower digital transformation in some areas, but the shifts of recent months have kept the wheels of justice turning.
Join me in a conversation with Mike Ferrara, a Director for Legal Management Consulting at Kroll to talk about everything from Microsoft 365 governance to zoom cab filters.
Let’s get to it.
In this episode:
The legal industry during the pandemic
Law firms are traditional. You think of a law firm, it’s musty libraries and books and boxes. But in reality, law firms have spent a ton of time modernizing. It’s not quite that they haven’t done anything in regards to modernization, but I think the issue is certainly how lawyers collaborate with one another and with their clients.
During the pandemic, things were upside down in a huge way for law firms. Courts are closed, client work was being put on hold, staff was being furloughed, and there was part pay cut. There were lots of law publications tracking this and checking how they would deal with collaboration.
If you talk to partners, their biggest complaint is this perception that productivity has declined in a big way since working from home. This has never really been needed in law. The culture wasn’t there, the tech really wasn’t there. And so now it’s like, “Okay, well, how do we actually do this?”
Now, if you contrast that to corporate law departments, it’s completely different. Corporate legal is a function; a subset of an enterprise. And so, they’re pulled along in a different way. When tech is rolled out and cultural facets are just happening, naturally, they just kind of get pulled along. So, I think the adoption is totally different. It can be more spontaneous versus law firms.
The change that has to happen
Within law firms, the change has to come from a cultural perspective. Tech within legal is very mature. It’s tailored. Its purpose fit to how they work. That means there’s been quite a lot of resistance to the Microsoft platform agnostic kind of approach.
It’s funny when you think about it way back in 2010—the golden years—when we were young and fresh. In the legal community, I think everyone thought, “Oh, wow. SharePoint is just going to significantly take off”. But it never really did.
And I think we could go back and talk about why that happened within legal, but the difference now is that the tech is there and law culture is more modern. It’s still baked in some of these old concepts, but it is definitely more modern. And because of the cloud, that’s caused everyone else to shift in the way that they’re doing things.
Technology and the cloud: the shift that transpired
Investment in technology to support remote court proceedings has been tremendous. And there’s actually some interesting discourse about, ‘Should that continue?’ and ‘How will that continue?’. Because you have to think, there’s a lot of people that actually will struggle with remote proceedings who don’t have access to the same tech that someone else might have.
But at the sudden onset of this, everyone had to say, “Well, we have no choice. We really have to shift to this.” A lot of firms jumped to Zoom.
And so even for firms, that was an easy way to kind of jump into this shift. Now, Teams has been the most talked-about product that has hit us in this industry in years. The discussion has been like, “How do I use this?”, “Why should I use it?”, “When should I use it?”, “Do we need to develop policy around this?”. And it’s really flipped everybody’s thinking on how to actually engage using some of this technology.
Rolling out Teams: the challenge of governance
But the crux of one of the biggest challenges with Teams within legal is governance. I think out of the box, Teams is a fantastic thing. It lets you just get in there. It’s a business dashboard. I’ve got access to cool stuff and I can create things.
But the governance and compliance angle is the biggest concern right now within legal. Because, going back to legal technology being mature, there are already platforms that have all the features that legal has asked for 20 years on keeping things secure and compliant. Then, all of a sudden, we’ve got this new thing and everybody wants to use it. Nobody knows how to use it. Not to say that IT doesn’t know how to use it either, but with any new tech, you just miss things like allowing people to kind of explore.
Legal work is work-centric. I have a deal, a transaction, something that comes in the door, all the content surrounding that has to be containerized in a way. It has defined rules around how you manage it. So, if all that stuff is now in Teams in messy way, that doesn’t work. And so, we certainly need better tools. And I know there are some great third-party tools out there and platforms, but the big need right now is tools to automate this so that the lifecycle is managed and we’re not missing anything.
Providing legal services through the cloud
The cloud has totally changed the perception about how legal processes should work. I know we’re pretty far along in that now, but that was really the first domino that needed to fall to get to this point. Before, it was always, “Well, the cloud is not secure.”
And so now of course, the question is, “Well, the cloud is actually the most secure. Can your internal SOC and risk team catch up and manage their own infrastructure well enough to prevent outside threats?” So when that fell, I think it made it a lot easier to say, “Okay, if we’re working from home, if we’re remote, if we have all these disparate services, can that change the way that we actually provide legal service and actually function within the legal ecosystem?”
And it’s here to stay…
And I think it’s here to stay. It doesn’t mean that we’re not going to go back to some traditional aspects of legal services, but this whole thing has caused the industry to rethink how they provide service and how they support their clients.
If you think about it, the ecosystem is fairly simple. Law firms are providing services to their clients. Those clients generally can be corporations, and there’s a distinct difference. The law firm wants to make more money and the corporates want to save more money. And so how do you do that? Well, you can really only do that by automation or making things more efficient.
If you look at the Microsoft 365, Teams, all the solutions that are baked into it, that’s what it’s all about. It’s all about being more efficient and collaborating in a better way. If you really want to make a lawyer happy, reduce their inbox, convince them that they don’t have to be stuck in an inbox to get work done.
Digital transformation—the secret to efficient legal ecosystem
You have to convince lawyers—and I know there’s more people in legal ecosystem than just lawyers, but we’ve got to get to them first—digital transformation is the idea that you’re taking processes and improving upon them.
You’re looking at people in technology and you’re trying to apply those things in a smarter way. So I think that first step is finding what are the inefficiencies within how these people practice and what they’re doing, and save them an hour. Save them 30 minutes. You’d be surprised.
Legal industry for the new normal
I think as time goes on, we’ve seen that more and more firms have realized that this is going to be the future. There’s a lot of polls that suggest that, just like other industries, the legal industry really wants remote work to be here.
When we look at the numbers, there’s very high requests for people to work from home. Partners, associates, leadership—they’re not going to work from home 24/7 like they are now. But support, administration, help desk, even a lot of IT, why not? Why should they have to be strictly in an office?
And I think now that people have left, in bigger ways, the urban centers where traditionally that is where the big law firms are, they have to do this. Because the best people aren’t always in the cities now. That’s hugely important in legal.
How to make #ShiftHappen
As I’ve said before, the key to any lawyer’s heart is to help them save time. Help them get out of their inbox and show them that the more that we build experiences around some of these modern technologies, the better they will be able to help their clients.
The whole thing right now going forward is partnership. Within law firms, trust has always been the moniker, maybe it should be partnership. It’s times like this where collaboration and tools should be at the heart of how they deliver services. Ultimately, the point is to save everybody money and being more efficient. I think that is where we ought to be looking forward to.
Today’s takeaway from Mike:
“Take away any simple thing that adds up to a typical lawyer’s day. If you can find those ways to get them more efficient, and of course technology is the only way to do it, I think that’s what makes that happen.”
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