How to Overcome Barriers in Adopting IT in Law Firms
Summary: A recent report by Blue Hill Research suggests that mutual ignorance and distrust between lawyers and IT people serve as the root cause for law firms failing to get the right IT partners. The result is that, even during an era of recovery and rapid technological growth, from 2010-2014, US law firms, taken collectively, have not changed either IT spending or IT strategy to any significant extent. The study gives an insight into how those who managed to forge ahead broke the barriers between law firm expectations and IT environments.
The divide between law firms and IT people is primarily fueled by the perceptions non-lawyers generally carry about lawyers, as well as general perceptions of lawyers about non-lawyers. The divide leads smaller law firms to often fail in recognizing valued IT partners, and opt for the all-smiles type rather than the all-work people, while others keep dragging their feet over installing and instilling necessary organizational changes.
Blue Hill Research's study "Why Do Law Firms Struggle With Strategic IT" asks, against the stagnancy in IT spending and strategy over the last three years, that if the pressures to change are there and demand is there then how can there be stagnancy in IT in law firms. David Houlihan, Esq, an advisor in legal technology and author at Blue Hill Research, penned an excellent three-part series on the matter last month from which we have cited what we deemed essential for this article.
The objectives any law firm has to address in order to adopt IT for better performance includes:
- Finding where IT can support positive growth in law firm profit margins
- Identifying the relationships between investment and impact
- Making legal stakeholders aware of improvements they can have in their professional fronts by adopting IT
- Provide legal stakeholders the time they require to adopt legal technology
- Provide IT stakeholders the time they need to understand legal workflows, identify inefficiencies, and provide solutions
The barriers, as the research finds, include six essential points as cited verbatim:
- Strategic IT investment in law firms requires insight into how technology applies to legal workflows to contribute to profit margins
- The size of investments made outside of technology show (particularly were upside is clear) that partnership economics are at best a partial explanation
- Attorney resistance to change and lack of engagement with technology is a major obstacle
- Billable time pressures prevent attorneys from devoting effort to education about the potential value of a solution
- IT stakeholders lack the detailed understanding of legal workflows to build a clear business case for a solution
- IT stakeholders lack incentives to devote time and energy to overcoming attorney resistance to change
In a nutshell, the solutions Houlihan indicates to overcome the barriers and attain law firm objectives in this area include:
- Promoting collaboration and insight exchange between legal stakeholders and IT specialists by creating cross-functional technology steering committees that combine IT, managing partners, practice leaders, associates, and legal support and administration staff
- Law firms need to identify attorneys who are willing to sacrifice the time to support the process, and engage them in spotting easily understood opportunities for improvement
- Creating open communication channels between IT and attorney stakeholders to empower IT stakeholders take positive action on identified needs
- Change in attitude of senior law firm leadership, not changes in fundamental business assumptions. Leadership needs to proactively create the space within the organizational structure to facilitate business development utilizing IT
All this is easier said than done. The alternative, however, is to be left behind. As pointed out in the research, there is stagnancy in IT spending and IT strategic evolution in US law firms taken collectively. This also, obviously means that, some went ahead while the rest fell back rather than keeping in step - resulting in overall stagnant statistics.