No-code or low-code app development platforms can revolutionize how legal firms approach their internal innovation and automation of key tasks
Increasingly, the collective of legal technology forecasts, experts, and law firm innovation units are identifying trends towards (and actual examples of) automation and refinement of common processes in the legal profession with contract management, blockchain, and AI being among the most prevalent. Yet, there is another area that’s often spotlighted — no code or low code development platforms — that can be applied to improve workflows and case management in the legal field.
A quick prerequisite
Let us begin by quickly defining no/low code technology. Admittedly, this is a concept which likely is not understood by everyone in the industry. Here is a common definition:
Low-code/no-code development platforms are types of visual software development environments that allow enterprise developers and citizen developers to drag and drop application components, connect them together, and create mobile or web apps.
In plain English, no/low code technology allows non-programmers to develop applications which streamline and improve business functions. How is this done? The most common elements include features such as a drag-and-drop interface and preconfigured building blocks. The use (and re-use) of common templates — think a template for document generation or case management to use as a starting point for a related work task — generates development efficiencies as well.
To frame this for the legal profession, think of the ways in which certain tools allow attorneys as non-developers to create websites or easily publish written posts using blogs. No/low code is in the same neighborhood, just taking the concept of empowering non-technical citizen developers a tad further down the road (e.g., building applications).
A quick example of a no/low legal process opportunity
Litigation is one of the numerous functions within the legal profession with a fairly defined, repeatable process, as this ABA primer or common trial steps illustrates. Traditionally, skilled practitioners and legal teams collaborate to expertly guide matters through their chronological work processes. However, you can see that if technology assistance were to be interwoven within the process. It could add great value by integrating recommended next steps, generating follow ups where needed, or distributing status or exception reports. At a minimum, this technology serves as a valuable quality assurance backstop while freeing up a firm’s best legal minds for more important and cognitive client requirement.
For those grappling to digest the concept of how technology infused into legal workflows helps, let us consider the transformational changes seen over the past decade in discovery document review processing or e-discovery. Similarly, there is surely potential to see parallel productivity and service improvements via no/low code technologies in the years to come even if the scope and impact have yet to be determined.
Types of legal applications where no/low code tools can deliver value
Complete simple automation applications
Within the broad business world, process areas such as document processing and workflow automation are in the sweet spot for no/low code technology.
For example, functions such as the filing of initial claims (allowing for future evaluation), client intake processes, the generation of non-disclosure agreements, and selected types of legal document creation could all benefit. It is important to note there is an upper limit in terms of application sophistication for systems completely generated by no/low code engines, and for those challenges we turn to software engineers and company IT professionals, of course. But the possibilities are certainly voluminous for those with the time, inclination, and imagination to automate fairly straightforward processes.
Complex, highly customizable case management systems
For more complex needs, there is another role for no/low code to play. This is the area of empowering system configurators (who often work within the IT function) to become builders rather than power users (typically members of the legal function).
This is executed using a development philosophy known as Model View Controller, which is a strategy allowing technically minded individuals to use preconfigured development platform tools to create new tables, fields, forms, reports, security controls, etc. This methodology is the key in deriving maximum value from the no/low code concept when applied within complex applications. Specifically, in this flavor of no/low code tech, the benefit is not in creating ground-up applications, but rather in modifying application functionality, executing data loads, deploying reports, altering security settings, and many other common, day-to-day needs — all at a lower Total Cost of Ownership.
A typical example of this use case (and something I do within my own professional life) is how within our law firm we build and configure customized mass-tort or product liability types of case management systems that track tens of thousands of claims with hundreds of fields. These systems help satisfy the legal management and tracking requirements of corporate legal departments, defense counsel, insurers, and other stakeholders. Plus, the ability to nimbly execute feature and data changes for clients is an essential element of our client service model.
Types of no/low providers
Many technology studies have published findings on the roles of legal software specialists vs. general purpose providers. Not surprisingly, no/low code deployments and vendors exhibit the same blend of approaches as observed in other legal technology areas.
Many of the available commercial platforms all fall under the umbrella of core underlying technologies that are empowering the no/low code revolution. Of course, these powerful tools are mostly of interest to the more technically minded developers serving the legal industry. It is less important for legal professionals and attorneys in their roles as no/low code citizen developers to do deep dives into these more technical offerings.
That being understood, there are certain general-purpose enterprise providers in the space, as well as a category that is an interesting mix of the two — legal industry specific offerings built on enterprise technology.
Lastly, there are some “enterprise companies” that are now specifically marketing Legal Service Delivery. And, even if they were not, it is the case that workflow technologies with easy-to-configure functionality already have a strong foothold in areas either firmly within or closely allied with legal providers.
A final comment on the benefits of no/low code approaches
Shifting our gaze from technology, there certainly is ample focus in today’s business environment on employee satisfaction, engaging personnel to collaborate face-to-face, and related topics. Along those lines, I believe most of us appreciate the joy of building and creating compared to the frustration of asking and not receiving something. Whether it is painting a room in your house, wading through 20 pages of instructions to assemble a piece of furniture with several hundred parts, or designing your own application for your vocation, there is typically inordinate satisfaction in digging in and accomplishing something with your own two hands.
Of course, some will always prefer to hire an expert, while for others the empowerment to tinker and create with no/low technology can be a rewarding, enjoyable element of the work experience. For this group, deploying capabilities to allow motivated individuals to redesign and improve their own work processes can develop intrinsic value far beyond that provided within the typical measured return on investment of a technology project.