On Legal Tech
For firms focusing on intelligent investment in order to grow their innovation and business development capabilities, examining trends in legal technology is an opportune means of navigating the shifting landscape.
Internal versus External?
A question many firms are debating is the strategy behind developing in-house capabilities as opposed to relying on external vendors. There are arguments for both approaches, taking into account the variables of firm size and investment scope. The trend remains a fence-straddling approach with firms starting to develop their own internal offering whilst relying on external vendors as needed. To keep at the forefront of innovation, some firms are either partnering with tech start-ups (such as Holman Fenwick Willan with Solomonic), developing their own tech incubators (such as Allen & Overy’s Fuse and Slaughter and May’s Luminance) or launching their own tech products (such as Linklaters’ Servient).
Global versus Local?
Globally rolling out legal tech offerings is the strategy being adopted by the majority of firms. Continuous improvement, the upgrade mentality most of us apply to our own personal technology devices, combined with a best-practice approach (grounded in information sharing and selecting what suits the nuanced needs of practice, sector or client) seems the obvious approach. Nevertheless, Hong Kong is a few steps behind the offerings of other key jurisdictions globally. We are, however, starting to see the benefit from advances of information sharing from other global offices. The continued challenge is internal uptake and engagement.
Legal tech adoption is no longer an option, but a necessity. Ultimately, the speed with which we will see firm-wide uptake of legal tech products and services to bolster efficiency, profitably and sophistication in Hong Kong will be dependent on continuing the drive to make its use mainstream. Knowledge management, and more importantly knowledge sharing, is key to law firm innovation and continued development of the legal sector in Hong Kong. In many cases whilst the tech itself is available, the expertise and understanding needed to apply it is lacking. Sharing a common understanding of the expertise needed to apply legal tech, along with the myriad options available to firms, is mutually beneficial to lawyers and their clients alike.
Investment in innovation means we are seeing an increasing variety of newly created roles, both for lawyers and business support professionals.
Those with business development, B2B, or client relationship management experience are well placed to enter into this growth area. Firms will need these professionals to help nurture and develop their legal tech offerings, whether this be in the eyes of the internal clients lawyers or external clients.
We are seeing newly created roles for lawyers and support staff alike. Lawyers who left private practice to branch out into the start-up world of legal tech incubators are also being lured back to upskill those remaining in Big Law. Project managers with an understanding of the legal tech products are now highly sought after, either as external vendors or in-house specialists to continuously implement the technology. Paralegals are also being recruited to continuously ‘teach’ and hone the various AI systems that are in place to make a lawyer’s output more time effective, whilst retaining the quality of work.
The in legal tech roles we see today in Hong Kong are innovative and new and this trend will continue.
What it Means for You
Lawyers who embrace tech become more efficient and add value to their firm and their clients. What this means for you is an exciting time to be informed on developments in this area and the potential career moves and training opportunities that allow for a foothold in this space.
As investment in innovation increases, so does the pressure on lawyers to demonstrate that output is delivered in the most efficient way, ideally providing a service that exceeds client expectations.
Achieving this means understanding not only how to use the ever-increasing number of legal tech products and services, but also managing the internal processes of their uses to ensure maximum and continued uptake by you: their beneficiaries.
As an example, if you never updated the software on your phone applications, they would become obsolete and you would stop using them. While it is the responsibility of firms to streamline their internal processes to keep the tech they have invested in relevant, lawyers also need to be active participants in maximising the benefit of these investments by engaging with them or an ongoing basis.
Bar the concern in maintaining confidentiality of their materials and compliance with privacy laws, most clients embrace the use of legal tech and champion it’s growing use. How to do more for less is the main drive. Interestingly, some external vendors, in realisation of this, turned things on their head and sold their tech direct to clients. This forced legal service providers and law firms to adopt in turn.
How to do more for less works for both sides. For lawyers, continued investment in legal tech means better quality of work in less time, increasing productivity and sophistication of output, resulting in repeat business and referred business. If we accept that the continued investment in innovation and the adoption of legal tech in Hong Kong is mutually beneficial, the aforementioned challenge of internal uptake and engagement disappears, and we will see business continue to develop.
Article appeared in Hong Kong Lawyer, Oct 2019