In a digital world, law firms’ technology strategies are key to both profitability and differentiation. Indeed, as Mark A. Cohen, Distinguished Fellow at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, recently wrote: “Law has become a three-legged stool supported by legal, business, and technological expertise. Practice expertise was long the dominant element in the legal mosaic. Now, it is one piece in a legal mosaic where technology and process have recast delivery, re-framed customer expectations, and redefined ‘legal expertise’ and when it is required.”
Yet, despite its importance, the latest PwC survey highlighted that only a handful of firms have a clear technology strategy backed up with clear objectives. The reality is that many CIOs are faced with the day-to-day challenges of managing highly complex, tightly integrated, legacy IT infrastructures, which are at risk of constraining essential business agility.
Understandably, the legal profession has been traditionally cautious to embrace new technology. However, the current world situation demands a different way of thinking; one that must be embraced at the most senior levels of practice. While there is an acknowledgement that improving the use of technology is a priority, under-investment has been endemic and has led to a scenario where many CIOs are preoccupied with keeping a complex mix of applications running, rather than being able to focus on proving the value of their investments; implementing emerging technologies; getting the right skills into the business; and cybersecurity.
As Mark Cohen identified, practice excellence is no longer a differentiator. Whilst clearly important, legal expertise is but one factor alongside service, value and results, that integrate delivery and practice excellence. The legal workforce is changing faster than ever before, as are employees’ expectations of how, when and where they want to work. Law firms need to ensure they can recruit and retain the best talent, supported by processes and a culture that fuels innovation and transformation. Having a digital strategy that supports delivery expertise is key.
The PwC survey highlights that law firms predict AI will be the most disruptive technology in the sector over the next 5 years, cited by 38% of Top 100 firms. This compares with process automation at 16%, blockchain and smart contracts at 9%, and data and analytics at 9%. With the growing focus on innovation, new technologies, improvements in legal service offerings and associated investment, it is critical that firms have a robust strategy and to manage the experimentation and change.
Making the right choices for technology investment to capitalise on opportunities whilst managing the increasing risks of a technologically-enabled world cannot be achieved if CIOs remain hamstrung by legacy IT applications and infrastructure.
Whilst the challenges facing today’s legal CIO are not to be underestimated, they are far from insurmountable. There are notable technology changes that have occurred in recent years that facilitate such business change. More and more cloud-based solutions are becoming available to the legal sector. Trusted Managed Services Providers (MSPs) have proven track record in managing the entire infrastructure, across private, public or hybrid clouds; and it is straightforward to compartmentalise the process and embark upon a staged evolution, which can deliver evidence of success to the relevant stakeholders along the way. Furthermore, the cost of the technologies and data connectivity available today are a fraction of the price of those a decade ago, introducing a compelling route to a simpler, more effective and agile cloud-based business model.
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