Richard Gordon, Ogletree’s Senior Manager, Knowledge Management Client Solutions
When the average person thinks “law firm” or “legal services,” it is unlikely visions of technology and innovation immediately leap to mind. However, law firms today, especially larger firms, continue to become increasingly technologically sophisticated. They are leveraging an ever-growing number of software tools and platforms and even creating custom solutions to achieve operational and strategic objectives. Objectives include ensuring quality, consistency, and efficiency in work product; lowering costs; and striving for competitive advantage in a crowded market (among other things).
For many years—certainly since I entered the legal field fifteen-plus years ago—technology has been a key component in conducting the business of a firm and providing its services. Legal tech, as we know it today, started with what would be considered mundane technologies by current standards, like basic research tools and word processing programs. Now, line of business applications such as time and billing systems, document management systems, and docket systems are ubiquitous and critical to firm operations. And with the advent and progressive expansion of the internet, we live in a time of smartphones with no shortage of productivity apps to use, web-based content to consume, and internet-connected devices to control from said smartphones. The internet also affords us 24x7 access to the systems that allow us to do our jobs from virtually anywhere in the world. Then, there are next-generation technologies like Artificial Intelligence, or AI, which is one of the Holy Grails of modern technological advancement and which is making significant inroads into the legal profession.
Technologies that were once considered cutting edge for law firms are now commonplace. This doesn’t make them any less important or necessary. It simply means firms have to work harder to push the limits of existing technologies and incorporate new tools and features to add even greater value. This applies both internally to the organization and externally to tech-savvy clients.
User experience, along with AI and other next-generation technologies, is the wave of the future. In fact, UX itself is a key driving force behind innovation and technological advancement
Prime examples of this are intranets and extranets, both of which are core technologies that exist in many firms today. It used to be sufficient to use these tools to provide access to important documents and other, relatively simple content. This is no longer the case. Now we have enterprise search integration and connections to other enterprise systems such as the ones mentioned above. We also have audience targeting of news feeds and other dynamic content to deliver the most relevant information to a particular individual. Plus, there are countless other features like robust employee directories with social collaboration components, data analytics with data visualization, and various forms of AI.
On the heels of a recent hype cycle, AI, in particular, is trending in the legal technology space. Firms are using AI-powered applications in a variety of ways. For example, expert systems, which have been around for quite some time at this point and which use encoded logic to simulate human expertise, enable firms to deliver sound legal advice for common situations. The advice given is based on client responses to a set of fundamental questions and can be provided without the need for attorney intervention. Firms are also starting to employ chatbots to answer common questions from firm personnel and clients and to connect individuals with the sometimes disparate resources they need. A major advantage of chatbots over traditional search tools is that chatbots offer a more “natural” experience, through human-like interactions and natural language processing, which is a form of AI that enables computers to understand and communicate using human language. In addition, new, innovative tools allow users to upload legal documents, such as complaints, for analysis. Once analyzed, these tools automatically generate responsive documents, provide guidance regarding missing, relevant case law, and more. Among the many benefits such AI-powered applications offer, they enable lawyers and other firm personnel to save substantial amounts of time previously dedicated to lower-level tasks and instead focus on more substantive, higher-value work. They also empower users to find the answers and resources they need quickly, through on-demand self-service.
It’s essential to note that, more than ever, employees and clients alike expect their interactions with firm technologies to be of consumer-level quality. This has prompted firms to begin focusing on both form and function, looking at the design, development, implementation, and eventual support of new products through the lens of user experience (UX). Nielsen Norman Group, a leader in the field of UX, summarizes it as follows: “’User experience’ encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.” The ultimate goal, of course, is to provide an exceptional user experience, ideally one that delights the end-user. This requires a solid understanding of users’ wants and needs, which is obtained through various research methods.
User experience, along with AI and other next-generation technologies, is the wave of the future. In fact, UX itself is a key driving force behind innovation and technological advancement. And, although it will require a significant cultural shift within some organizations, those that prioritize user experience will end up as leaders in their respective industries.