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Women in Technology Roundtable: Implementing legal technology to gain a competitive edge

Gail Murphy  Legal Technical Client Manager / Thomson Reuters

· 5 minute read

Gail Murphy  Legal Technical Client Manager / Thomson Reuters

· 5 minute read

During the recent Women in Technology Roundtable, panelists discussed how firms can best implement new technology in order to gain a competitive advantage

Although the pandemic expedited the adoption of new technology out of necessity across the legal industry, it may still be a challenge to push lawyers to get more comfortable around new technical solutions. With artificial intelligence (AI) continually transforming day-to-day workflows in legal practice for firms of all sizes, one of the main concerns is the enduring — albeit false — belief that AI will replace lawyers in the future.

During the recent Thomson Reuters Women in Technology Roundtable event, a panel of nine legal executives discussed what it takes to successfully implement legal technology, advising how their firms are benefitting from that success and where they see opportunity for improvement.

Panelist Nikki Shaver, Managing Director of Innovation and Knowledge at Paul Hastings and Legal Tech Hub co-founder, explained that the fear of AI on the part of lawyers is really unfounded. Indeed, the reverse is actually true, Shaver said, adding that “it is ensuring they have a job in the future.” For example, after widespread adoption of e-discovery, “we still have litigators, right? We still hire litigation associates. They just have to work differently during the discovery process,” Shaver said.

Ensuring a successful technology roll-out

Another challenge that panelists described is the short window of opportunity between introducing new technology to attorneys and its ultimate acceptance or rejection. “Lawyers need very specific things that help their particular practice, and there’s not a lot of room for trial and error,” said panelist Amy Wegener, Chief Practice Innovation Officer at Paul Hastings.

Further, successful product implementation requires a series of steps, all of which require emotional intelligence and communication skills. The first step is developing a deep understanding of the attorney’s work process and the related pain points — and this step requires “empathy for the user, active listening, and perfecting the ability to ask open-ended questions,” said Shaver.

The second step is the pre-work of figuring out exactly how the new technology solves the problem at hand, said panelist Mary Nehring, Application Support Analyst at Robinson Bradshaw. Third, is painting the vision for attorneys as to how the technology resolves their pain points, which Shawn Swearingen, Faegre Drinker’s Chief Innovation Officer, called “the art of the possible.”

Finally, the next step is often a committee presentation for approval. Nicole Monroe, Chief Information Officer at Parker Hudson, said she finds it is helpful to collaborate with an attorney to champion the proposed innovations. Panelist Katy Cole, Commercial Litigation Partner at Farrell Fritz, and a decision-maker on the technology committee, agreed, saying she seeks input from junior attorneys who are more hands on with technology as well as IT professionals and management.

Panelist Stephanie Williams, Corporate Practice Support Specialist at Robinson Bradshaw, said that once the new technology is available firmwide, she recommends providing regularly scheduled events where attorneys can see exactly how their problems are solved with the new innovation.

The pay-off of successful implementations

Panelists discussed several key advantages that successful technology implantation brings to firms, including:

Retaining early-career associates — Junior lawyers typically have a natural affinity for everything digital, having grown up with technology at their fingertips. This affinity “empowers young attorneys to be attorneys sooner,” according to Cole, of Farrell Fritz. “AI allows my junior lawyers — and therefore my team — to be more efficient, and to better harness the evidence and information out there.”

Enhancing client relationships with streamlined work — Panelist Marcia Burris, Director of Research and Knowledge Management at Nexsen Pruet, said that her firm is ensuring clients receive the benefits of high-quality work in the most efficient manner by using AI in automated contracts and portals. Parker Hudson’s Monroe agreed, saying her firm is streamlining efficiency with cloud-based billing and automated workflows that replace manual processes. “We want to continue to automate as many of the manual tasks as possibly can,” she added. And Robinson Bradshaw’s Williams further explained that “it may seem counter intuitive that we are cutting billable time, but it’s actually much more helpful to show our clients that we are helping them streamline their costs and building a reputation for doing efficient work.”

Building solutions for unique firm and customer needs — Since no two clients are alike, there are platforms that enable client service across multiple functions and offer numerous ways to customize to meet a specific client’s needs. Panelist Melodie Ford, Manager in the Technology Innovation Group at Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch, said her firm has applied the automated workflows and AI identifying filing dates in platform technology to her firm’s busy IP practice, which allows her team to reduce the risk of missing a critical filing date. And Faegre Drinker’s Swearingen said the firm leverages the same platform technology for managing client requests in the diversity inclusion space using business intelligence tools and data visualizations; while Nexsen Pruet’s Burris said her firm is using the same method as a contract management data base which their clients access directly.

Support for training & simplification

Panelists also advised that outside legal technology companies can be a great help to improve solutions for simplification and support. Training AI is particularly challenging, said Robinson Bradshaw’s Nehring, adding that “the machine learning aspect in populating the data is the biggest hurdle to get over.”

Ford, of Procopio, concurred, noting that too many “vendors roll out their technology and hand it to people and say there you go.” As a result, the offers of enhanced training and ongoing support can become key differentiators when firms are choosing technology.

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