I recently spoke to a smart, forward-thinking lawyer about a Word plug-in that helps proofread contracts. It flags things like undefined terms. I’ve used it before and I love it. It solves a clear problem. He doesn’t use it though, instead choosing to proofread manually. Why? Because whenever he’s used it, it takes too long to load and throws up too many false positives. These are minor inconveniences to me, but dealbreakers for him. And therefore, the product remains unused while his firm continues to pay the subscription fee.
Sometimes a product works perfectly well, but not how a lawyer wants it to. This problem often arises with legal project management software. Provided the workflow assumed by the product’s designers matches the lawyer’s preferred workflow, we are good. If not, there’s extreme friction to either change the lawyers’ workflow or jam the lawyers’ workflow into the product. We can have a debate as to whose workflow is better. Ultimately though, people will do what works for them.
Is it really about mindset and change management?
The conventional wisdom for dealing with these challenges is to:
- Evolve the mindset of lawyers to be more open to experimentation and change
- Ensure a robust tech implementation/change management plan
People should definitely do these things, but what’s striking is that none of this has been required for lawyers to want to use WhatsApp, AustLII or more recently ChatGPT in their work. Indeed workplaces have spent huge amounts of energy trying to stop lawyers from using these tools. This begs the question, is the legal tech adoption problem really to do with technophobic lawyers?
Substandard products lead to substandard adoption
Litera’s 2022 Changing Lawyer Report found that the overwhelming majority of lawyers think technology helps to save money, complete work more quickly and make their job easier. Lawyers can see the benefit of technology. Yet the same report found that about half of lawyers find the technology they use at work frustrating.
What if the poor adoption of legal tech has less to do with culture, mindset or change management, and more to do with the legal tech products themselves? I’m not advocating for a build/buy it and they will come approach, but if you build/buy something that’s not fit for purpose then they definitely will not come. Nor do I think it’s good enough to deploy a half-baked product and sell some vision of the future while asking for people’s patience or forgiveness in the meantime. Most people simply don’t like change, and product shortcomings only help to confirm in their minds that their natural inertia is justified.
Choose great products
None of this is intended to be a criticism of legal tech companies. Building good software is an extremely long and difficult road, and you still need to make sales in the meantime.
For law firms and legal departments though, it’s critical to understand that implementation and product selection go hand in hand. You cannot simply choose a product you like, and then think about how to best implement it. Selecting products that might excite you but don’t resonate with your lawyers in their day-to-day tasks is going to make implementation very difficult, even for the most experienced change managers. On the other hand, selecting great products that lawyers actually want to use, and want to tell their colleagues to use, is going to make implementation much more feasible.
Of course, it's not always easy to know in advance what will or won’t appeal to your lawyers. But by spending more time and effort on this question before committing to new technology, law firms and legal departments can give themselves a far better chance of successful adoption.
Daniel Yim writes and teaches legal technology and transformation. He is the founder of technology start-ups Sideline and Bumpd, and previously worked at Gilbert + Tobin and Axiom.