As Legal Operations leaders and CIOs/CTOs face down the myriad challenges of Legal Ops technology adoption and digital transformation, they should reckon with what their needs will be tomorrow – not just what their pain points are today.
Lawyers are legendarily resistant to change, and there are plenty of anecdotes about attorneys holding fast to outmoded approaches and obsolete technology tools. The business pressures and pace of change in the corporate world, though, aren’t allowing in-house legal departments to stand pat.
Projecting a company’s long-term demands on legal resources, and how Legal Ops technology tools will answer them? That’s a big dimension of designing an effective legal technology roadmap. One fly in that ointment, though? How 81% of legal departments aren’t ready for the advent of digitization within their companies, according to Gartner.
By rushing to make quick adoption decisions in order to simply stay in step with the rest of their organization, a legal department (and its IT team) may not make strategic, future-oriented Legal Ops technology choices, but reactive ones.
Are you being strategic or reactive?
When Hyperion Research examined the factors compelling businesses to replace existing technologies, what were the reasons given for making technology changeovers?
Those included the availability of new features, age of the incumbent technology, the effort and costs to keep supporting it, and the increasing amount and complexity of the data it had to manage.
One insight the analysts brought to light was that these decision-drivers could be divided into two types: strategic versus reactive.
Hyperion Research article: “Tuning the Drive to Replace Technology”
Hyperion found strategic factors drove 39% of those upgrade decisions:
Strategic reasons for upgrading technology are generally driven by the evolution of an organization’s needs, such as the need to increase the volume or complexity of managed information (19%), or the need for new essential features not offered by current applications (20%). When a firm upgrades their technology for strategic reasons, they are more aware of the role that technology plays in their operations, and seek to actively integrate operational needs with technology ones.
But nearly as many of those decisions weren’t based on strategic concerns, but were “reactive”:
The decision to replace technology is considered reactive if it is made based on perfunctory factors, such as the age of technology, or if the technology has been acquired or dissolved. Reactive decisions are a latent response to changes in the technology market, and are often driven by IT departments – a new version is released driving the need to upgrade, a five-year-old solution is deemed outdated, or a solution provider is acquired, leading to fears of product obsolescence. These reactive factors account for a full 35% of technology investment decision today.
Balancing future needs versus present-day demands
The problem with making reactive decisions on Legal Ops technology upgrades? They’re unavoidably concerned with the present, or even the recent past, and don’t account for what the organization will need tomorrow. Yet looking forward is imperative in getting the biggest and longest-lasting return on a tech investment.
But short-term considerations still matter: Hyperion notes how CFOs and legal department leaders now want to see much quicker legal tech payback:
…while legal technology investments were once evaluated on a 7-to-10 year TCO, these projects are now being planned on a 3-to-5 year horizon. Thus, ROI has to be near immediate, and implementation efficiency is a significant factor in a technology upgrade decision.
So any new legal technology has to be able to meet current KPIs and deliver rapid ROI. Yet, as Hyperion advises, it must be selected with an eye on the long haul:
Managers must evaluate their technological requirements, and how they anticipate that these needs will evolve within 3 to 5 years. Technology investments, then, should be made in anticipation of the future needs of the business.
“Future-proof” goes beyond product
Hardware and software are becoming obsolete faster than ever before, even when they may have usefulness left. Still, waiting too long to replace a technology people still find useful can have costly implications.
In making Legal Ops technology choices, a buyer has to consider what the “expiration date” is likely to be on a new purchase. If they’re dealing with an expert and proven provider, it’s more likely that longevity is designed into the product.
As one automation specialist once put it,
…design engineers, in particular, should think about obsolescence as early as possible in the design phase to maximise the lifespan of a system or product.
A lot a new tech solution’s future performance can be predicted based on whether or not it’s “past-proven” – what’s the track record of the product? If any? And of the provider behind it?
So, when searching through the growing throng of “legal tech” startups and upstarts for a truly future-proofed Legal Ops technology offering, our hypothetical buyer has to weigh multiple factors:
The features a product offers have to not only satisfy current requirements but should present value in the future, too. That includes opening up new opportunities to expand the reach and utility of the product in years to come. One example? The integration capabilities a product possesses, so it not only works right within an existing legal tech stack, but can integrate with downstream additions to that stack.
One essential feature of a superior Legal Ops technology product is its ease of use. What’s one of the major hurdles to new tech adoption across a company? The very fact you’re asking users to learn something new. Also, they may have had bad previous run-ins with tech adoption that left them leery of any new product. Giving them a simple and intuitive user experience means they’ll be more likely to adopt a new tool. In the legal profession, time has premium value – and the more time a product saves for legal users, the more they’ll welcome it. By reducing learning curves and decreasing (or even eliminating) the need for training, you’ll save time and money every time new users get brought on board. Plus, user productivity improves more quickly, accelerating Time-to-Value.
One of the great benefits of SaaS is how updates are handled on the provider side. Even so, a Legal Ops technology ought to be designed from the start with baked-in flexibility and customizability, so solutions can be tailored to the needs of the legal department and corporation. Those needs might be tremendously different 3, 5, or 10 years from now, so the software you choose should hold the promise of being able to evolve alongside your Legal Operations. That includes scalability, of course, to meet new demands or broader adoption.
A technology leader or a widely-adopted tech product has typically earned its way to the front by providing superior performance, innovation, support, and ROI. In Legal Ops technology, it’s no different. When you’re evaluating a prospective technology vendor, they shouldn’t hesitate to provide case studies, use cases, user testimonials, references, adoption and implementation metrics…all the evidence a buyer needs to feel they’re making a secure investment. You’re not only subscribing to the product, but to the track record and reputation of the company behind it.
A product can only be really “future-proofed” if it’s designed around a profound understanding of the people it’s got to serve. The advent of “Legal 2.o” can’t be built just on the uptake of new tech – it has to be based on Legal Ops technology that people really want and can really use. For a tech provider, hitting that mark only comes by partnering with customers on a constant basis to co-innovate solutions to current pain points and lay out a viable product roadmap. So in assessing a provider, one of the chief things a Legal Ops technology buyer should evaluate isn’t just the vendor’s technical chops: it’s their willingness to listen.
A reliable provider should be focused on customer/user success, and follow the proven principles that help achieve it. They also have to show a history of being committed to continued support for customers. Some providers are guilty of delivering only temporary or intermittent support. What goes hand-in-glove with this? The reliability and probable longevity of the provider. A buyer needs to factor in the risks of investing in a new Legal Ops technology from an early-stage company, or from one that’s likely to be acquired by a competitor who may sunset the product.