Are we there yet?: Realizing the legal industry’s service delivery potential

Torys Quarterly: 2020 business outlook

Technology-based tools, from AI-aided diligence to intelligent document generation, compilation and proofreading solutions, now allow lawyers to pair their expertise with technology and processes to enhance the delivery of their advice, in even tighter timelines.

However, as we discuss in “Intelligent transformation: AI in the legal industry”, many in the industry would point to technology as only one part of a much broader and more nuanced conversation about improved service delivery.

Role of technology

Improved service delivery is achieved by lowering cost and removing points of friction without degrading the quality of the work. Amid all the hype, it can be easy to lose sight of the underlying goal of innovation initiatives: to meaningfully improve the service and value we provide, not necessarily to find a solution that involves innovative technology. As a 2018 Deloitte paper on AI in professional services states:

The key strategic question is whether the capability should be innovatory, enabling the business to offer something new or different to clients, or part of operational transformation, helping the business to operate more effectively. There might be an ambition to do both but it is important to have a clear understanding of which one should take priority so that resources can be deployed in an efficient way1.

In our view as the number of legal technologies continues to rise, it will be increasingly important to assess the true capabilities of these technologies and whether they have a meaningful place in the workflow of a particular project or service.

Technologies that those of us in the legal service industry will already be familiar with include HighQ, Kira, Contract Express, DocuSign and Closing Folders (or similar technologies), the use of which are industry standard in performing due diligence or otherwise supporting various corporate transactions. Litigation matters have comparable products, including e-discovery products such as Relativity and document automation products like ACL.

How do we improve service delivery?

In the same way law firms and clients now work to solve the business issues that bring them to the law firm in the first place, it’s time to consider approaches that focus on service delivery specific to the work being performed. And it all starts with a protocol to discuss service delivery and service delivery options at the beginning of, throughout and at the end of each matter.

Early, effective and continuing communications between client and law firm about service delivery is key. Both law firm and client should insist on regular service delivery touchpoints that go beyond the immediate mandate. Here are just a few examples of what clients and law firms alike might want to consider addressing when embarking on a project together:

  • Whether the law firm can be flexible in how they communicate with the client on a matterfor instance, via a portal to manage a client’s concerns about organizing documents and overtaxed inboxes, or by email if that method more readily addresses a client’s auditability challenges or simply cuts down on client login and password fatigue;
  • Whether the law firm can design services that incorporate client input, and whether client and firm are open to running a pilot to ensure the expectations of both parties are being met (and being open to discussion and redesign if they are not);
  • Whether the client can make the time for regular service touchpoints, including allowing time to address the occasional hiccup and attend post-mortems;
  • Whether the law firm offers to share more with the client about law firm internal processes and technologies that might have application to the client's operations, and the client is willing to be transparent about their own internal processes, technologies and roadmaps;
  • Whether the client is open to discussing opportunities to improve processes, acknowledging that there will inevitably be internal and external process limitations;
  • Whether the law firm implements a culture of continuous improvement in service delivery (including the attendant tools and processes);
  • Whether the client is open to bringing their ideas to the law firm, and vice versa.

Throughout this process, law firms will find a balance, over time, between those solutions that are customized for some clients, and others that are of general application across the client base or a practice segment.

Conclusion

Meaningful communication goes a long way toward creating values and efficiencies. While we may not be “there yet” when it comes to technology significantly disrupting the legal industry, we anticipate that as technology continues to evolve, law firms will want to stay focused on the strength of their relationships with clients, and maintain an open dialogue about the best way forward with respect to service delivery.

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1 “From theory to practice: Artificial intelligence in professional services”. Deloitte, available here.

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