Normalizing Disruptive Technologies

Until I went to work for an electronic discovery company a few years ago, I never understood the concept of disruptive technology in the legal profession. It never occurred to me that lawyers would perceive as a negative something that has the potential to improve the way they do business.

Coming from a background in law firm client relationship management, I saw—and still see—an opportunity for law firms to adopt electronic discovery on a firmwide (“enterprise”) basis and use their ability to streamline document review as a client service strategy.

For a host of reasons, that didn’t happen. Instead, corporate legal departments saw how discovery technologies could provide them with more control over their documents and help them better manage outside counsel.

That’s not because general counsel are any more innovative than their law firm counterparts. Most GCs, if given a choice, would focus on the legal issues their company faces and ignore operational issues altogether. But corporate counsels don’t have a choice. They receive outside pressure to cut costs from the C-level suite and their boards. Technology is a normalization factor.

Law firm partners don’t have the benefit of that outside party looking in and applying pressure. It’s not that they don’t know the benefits technology has to offer. They just lack sufficient pressure to take the proactive steps. The sense of urgency hasn’t been there. They perceive the technology as disruptive.

Whether it is a document review platform, time-and-billing software or any other piece of technology, law firms need to start viewing technology the way their clients do.

Here are a few suggestions:

Incorporate technology into your client development strategy. When a client announces they are implementing a new piece of technology, find out why. Use the announcement as an opportunity to get client feedback. Ask why they chose the product; why they chose to bring it in house; whether the technology is part of a broader strategy and what that strategy is.

Ask for a seat at the table. If your client has a technology committee, ask if you can participate. It will give you the opportunity to better understand your client and the issues their executive or legal team faces. It will also give you an opportunity to provide value back to your firm.

Stop playing defense. If you think your client is making the wrong decision about their use of technology, play offense. Develop your firm’s technology value proposition and ask for an opportunity to demonstrate how you and your firm can do it better. There is not a GC in the world who wouldn’t listen to that conversation.

To me normalizing disruptive technology is as much about client relationship management as it is about matter management. There are only upsides for law firms in being part of that change.

Posted on June 30, 2010 in Client Teams, Disruptive Technologies, Law Firm Management, Legal Technology

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