Legal technology adoption
Doug Hargrove, Managing Director of Legal at Advanced, speaks about Scottish law firm Blackadders investing in Advanced’s ALB solution. Representing a significant new client in Scotland for the company, Doug speaks about the growth and learning points of integrating legal technology.
The ALB solution
The ALB solution is a full practice and case management solution, everything to effectively manage your business as a lawyer, comprehensively dealing with new masses that have been set up, flowing those masses through the system using a variety of different process automation tools, it will deal with all the legal accounting which obviously varies from English to Scottish and the Irish markets, it will have mobile capability for lawyers on the go, and it has client portals to send customer information dynamically to a customer on the go.
The idea is twofold. It’s to make traditionally what was a very inward looking system – the old practice management systems – far more efficient and easier to use for lawyers but, more importantly, start to render the information externally, automatically, digitally to a customer. Rather than, for example, a customer having to frustratingly ring their lawyer to find out the stage of their conveyance, the system, via a simple set up of workflow and stages, can send that information automatically, either to an email or a text message, giving a status update to a customer who might be time poor but information hungry to know what’s happening with their situation.
Conveyance is a good example for showing this. If the lawyer decides at a certain stage to show to the customer when the property exchanges or completes, that can be an automated flag that goes through to the customer, so they understand it immediately. But I think of greater importance is that if the customer looks into the portal with their own set of credentials to look at their case, there’s a simple traffic light system so that they can see exactly what the lawyer’s working on, exactly what they’ve done, see everything the need to. then send an email directly from the link, so they’re not having to ring the law firm. Direct access via digitalisation. In the future, we see this going one step further to add things like a chatline to a lawyer, so increasingly we’re trying to make the fantastic work lawyers do with delivering legal advice and legal services to a consumer who is increasingly not nine-to-five – they need to consume their legal services, and get an update on legal services, very much on the go.
Blackadders and Advanced
The trigger point initially for Blackadders was the existing system they had was made end-of-life so they were on a system that was becoming increasingly legacy, which caused them to go into the marketplace. As a large and progressive firm they were keen to find two things: number one, the technology that would allow them to continue their very impressive expansion, acquitted growth; and number two, a partner that not only understood legal services and had a strong reputation north of the border in Scotland, but was of a size and scale that was also a good fit. They wanted the credentials of a company like Advanced that’s not only got a rich heritage and domain knowledge in the legal marketplace and a lot of customers for them to talk to but actually the size and the scale to where we can make significant investments in technology end products and make sure we stay right up there in the marketplace. They ran a process, came down to four particular suppliers, they took their time and there was a lot of work and discovery, and they selected Advanced and ALB as the best combination of the product they wanted to really help them develop in the future with the business they wanted to work with.
Learning points of legal technology adoption
They don’t like to change. Lawyers are very good at what they do, they get very comfortable with their way of working and the way they deliver service to their clients. As with anything else, there is always a barrier to change and we find a stronger barrier reaction if the mandate for change isn’t clear from the partnership down.
Furthermore, lawyers are great at many things but I don’t think they think commercially about the value of their customers – the idea of CRM and slicing and dicing your data and the cost of acquiring new businesses etc. We’ve got very strong links into industry leading tools that surface high quality information on ALB and sometimes it can be a little bit daunting to partners who maybe don’t think about their firm in that way.
My view of the market is that, increasingly, law firms are looking to technology to make a difference but they’re not yet the majority. But there are still plenty of firms in the market which are upgrading what they’ve got because it’s got old or because somebody’s end-of-lifed it. Our approach is important as well as we don’t try to push everything onto a firm. Part of our process to sell ALB to a firm is to do something we call Discovery, which is a consultative visit where we’ll go in, assess what the firm really needs, we’ll assess the strengths and weaknesses of how they can and can’t implement technology.
We often work out that Phase 1 should be nothing more than to get an accounting product in place for ALB, Phase 2 can be to automate documentation and whole document management piece, and auto-filing of emails, and so on. Sometimes trying to do all of it in one go is just too much and you’ll end up getting the firm upset and confused about what they’re actually trying to do. Our approach to the problem about how do we change is to work out what really needs to be done Phase 1 and then as that value starts to come through go back from an account management perspective and then think about process automation – let’s take an area of your firm, automate that, show you how simple it is and take some of that burden of the lawyer away and free them up to do more productive things.
It’s an incremental approach. We’ve had to accept during the nine years I’ve been here how in different industries they are slow for good reason in their minds to adopt technology. They’re risk averse, they’re very comfortable with the way they work, and they don’t necessarily think about the business from a client’s perspective. As a consequence, it’s foolish for us to push all the technology in one go onto a firm that can’t take it. It’s working with them to produce phases of value and then over time the firm’s got everything and they’re delighted with it. We’ve had to adopt our model rather than just thinking we can sell a solution and deploy it in exactly the same manner as with the last firm, that’s why we do the Discovery phase to make sure that not just that we have the right solution for the firm but we work out the best way to deploy it.
I don’t think they need to fear it. Blackadders is a great example of a firm which has been hugely successful, with a strong reputation north of the border and it has managed to grow organically and they have managed to acquire business, but they have never really leveraged technology, so the investment in ALB for them takes a number of disparate systems dotted around the firm, and brings a grownup harmonisation to that technology approach. So I don’t think they have to fear technology. It won’t be an all-or-nothing day one.
My understanding of Blackadders is that there will be some parts of their business that we work at earlier, and then later on maybe they are a bit more automation or technology-savvy, maybe working the customers who are more demanding of technology, which will open up new opportunities and tasks for them. I don’t think they have anything to fear because the Advanced approach will be taking them on a journey and that’s very much what their management see as well, rather than ramming a new way of working down their throats. Again, the real beauty of the technology we deploy in ALB, particularly the workflow toolkit, is you don’t have to fully automate an end-to-end legal process. If you just want to take a half dozen little steps at automating a few obvious tasks you can start with that, you can start as small as you like or as big as you like, and allow the firm to grow with automation, rather than forcing one way of working day one.
Lawyers are smart people, they’ve always got good arguments to why they shouldn’t change the way they work. That’s perfectly valid for some firms, they’ve maybe worked a certain way for twenty years and they’re so incredibly astute and slick at doing it so that technology on day one doesn’t make it any quicker but it’s all the downstream benefits.
Here’s a good example. I’ve been at law firms before that have talked about how quickly they can accept a client. A client comes in, they’re interested in taking a service from the law firm and the lawyers will tell me, “I can get this done in 90 seconds and the customer’s set up and away we go, but when I use your workflow it takes three minutes – that’s twice as long, it’s ridiculous!” You end up sitting them down and saying, “But look at what the workflow is doing. It’s safeguarding the firm because it’s making you do anti-money laundering, it’s making you identify the client, which are both mandatory. When you do it in 90 seconds you forgo that, you cut corners. It’s also catching loads of information that’s going to feed CRM later, so when you come to look at your customer base, and want to run a campaign and understand every customer who’s bought a house in the last year and have they got a will with the law firm (for example), you can do it because you caught that data. What you’re actually capturing at the moment in your 90 seconds of charging through the system is next-to-nothing of value, while what you capture in three minutes has huge downstream value potential to the law firm.”
There’s this need for education that workflows and designs can be quicker but it’s also designed to capture more relevant useful valuable information in the future and it’s designed to make sure the law firm stays compliant so they don’t cut corners and they don’t invalidate legislation that they have to follow.
Doug Hargrove, Managing Director, Legal at Advanced