STORY INLINE POST
The growing interest in legaltech among Latin-American lawyers is not a casualty, a fashion, or a consequence of the pandemic. There are fundamental reasons that lead us to believe that legaltech is not only here to stay, but we are witnesses to the beginning of a new era in which legaltech will become more relevant and the new normal.
We live in a world that is increasing in complexity. In the case of lawyers, it is also increasing in terms of competition. We can see it holistically: from client acquisition to loyalty and billing.
We are starting to hear requests from clients we never would have heard previously. They are asking that a junior lawyer not be assigned to them because they don't want to pay for that lawyer to learn with them, or they want more detail on the hours we are billing. These instances are more recurrent. Customers are empowered, and now they have more options to choose from.
There is an evolving, simple and noticeable phenomenon: the number of lawyers is growing significantly. Lawyers per resident have doubled in the last 15 years, and today there are as many students in university as the total number of lawyers in the ecosystem. In the plausible future, this trend will continue to rise.
As in any other industry, increasing competition will reduce efficiencies in the market. The good news is that the legal ecosystem has many inefficiencies that will disappear in time. Society will benefit from this effect, given that the legal ecosystem transversely impacts society's well-being.
The bad news is that in the new context, a substantial transformation is required among lawyers, maybe the biggest one yet.
This is where technology becomes the answer.
Transform … in Which Areas?
Not all technology will be the answer. For it to be an appropriate answer, it has to become an enabler and accelerate a transformation. How? In what?
There are three potential areas in which we, as lawyers, have to raise the bar. Three areas in which substantial inefficiencies exist and represent a big cost to our societies.
Focus on value. To become lawyers, we study for many years. To gain experience, we work long hours. We are qualified professionals. Nevertheless, a big part of our day-to-day activities is spent on very low value-added activities. Going to court, writing repetitive texts, and losing time logging hours, to name a few. We perform multiple activities that will be automated or at least semi-automated. We have to reduce the time that we spend on these kinds of activities and increase our time spent on those that distinguish us as professionals: legal criteria, professional consulting, and strategic design.
Customer-centric businesses. When I studied to become a lawyer I didn't have a single class to learn the needed tools to acquire and manage clients. This hasn't changed with time, and nowadays, law schools do not focus on this matter at all. A lawyer speaks in their complex language for their client and focuses on risks. We miss the bar when it comes to simple stuff: it is almost impossible to book an hour with a lawyer. There is a common expression in marketing: the customer doesn't want a drill, they want a hole. The legal industry has yet to embrace that.
Ability to manage. As we progress in our careers, our role as lawyers has to grow into management. We lead law firms and corporate departments, but we don't always have the ability to do so. Many lawyers are not familiar with concepts like client profitability, the use of KPIs, process optimization, and so on. Each of these efficiencies is a high cost. University does not prepare you for that. In a competitive world, it is imperative to provide a world-class service.
As I mentioned before, not all technology will help. However, at the same time, simple and frictionless technology will suffice to have a big impact on the ecosystem. To start with, we don't require machine learning or artificial intelligence, some technology that helps reduce time spent in low value-added tasks, acquire and manage clients, and with overall management processes will be a big step.
Where Should I Begin?
I've mentioned that the world is more competitive every day and that competition will help decrease inefficiencies. There are multiple areas of these inefficiencies where technology can help. How can we take one step forward?
The first step is to perform a two-dimensional diagnosis. The first dimension is the corporate department or the law firm. What are we doing well? Where can we improve? In which categories am I executing repetitive tasks? What do customers believe about my service? What performance indicators do I have from my business? How helpful are they in revealing insights?
The second dimension is a self-retrospective: What abilities do I need to develop to meet emerging trends? Which ones do I have? Which ones can I improve?
Next, we need to develop a plan. Which gaps will I close first, and which ones later? How will I close the gap? Options are always limited: redesigning processes, hiring experts, generating expertise, or implementing technologies.
The third step is implementation. This is where we win. It has to be a continuous effort. One day at a time.
The fourth step, and a permanent one, is iterating. The challenge remains. The bar continues to elevate with competition and it will keep rising. Rules will continue to change and technology will improve.
Lawyers Who are More Lawyers
The outlook is challenging but feasible. More competition exists, but there are also more tools.
Going to the courtroom, working long hours, and having physical paperwork do not define a lawyer. Thoughtful and precise counseling is what makes us lawyers.
Changes may be scary, but the future is bright: minimizing efficiencies will allow us to become better lawyers. We will embrace the most attractive side of our professional careers and reduce manual operational tasks.
This is an inevitable change with a bright future. Why should we wait?