Episode 1: Core business systems – the good, the bad and the ugly

A set of legal industry experts assemble to understand whether core business systems are helping SME law firms achieve their strategic outcomes. And if not, why not.


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Legal tech is a prolific industry – new tools, solutions and versions of varying abilities arrive on the scene at a faster pace than many law firms are capable of monitoring. Choosing the right systems while also managing internal operations, client work and wider economic developments is already a significant challenge. And once the choice is made for better or worse, implementation is a whole new journey riddled with its own challenges such as integration, adoption, utilisation and more.

These are some of the challenges that were under the spotlight during the first episode of LPM Tiger Team in partnership with NetDocuments – a series of problem-solving webcasts where a set of SME legal leaders bring a diverse range of expertise to analyse specific tech pain points. Key questions addressed on the webinar included – ‘what constitutes a firm’s core technology?’ and ‘how can firms make the most of the tech they have onboarded?’ Our panellists, or ‘Tigers’, have all been in charge of major tech investments – they shared their top tips and experiences.

For Alan Cousins, practice director at Paris Smith, a key dichotomy that comes up when selecting core tech is whether to opt for a ‘one-stop-shop’ solution that serves multiple functions, or pick a variety of tools that are ‘best-of-breed’. Each comes with it’s own perks and challenges. Cousins reveals that Paris Smith recently moved from the best-of-breed approach to a single solution for multiple functions – mainly to ensure that the change would have a tangible and widespread impact.

The downside of this approach is that firms are at the mercy of the provider’s own intentions and roadmap. According to Cousins, it’s crucial to understand whether a tech company has a long-term vision to develop its product, or whether it’s looking to achieve a certain reputation and then merge with a bigger company – the latter can cause significant disruption. And even in the former scenario, it’s important to know whether the long-term vision suits your business.

Julia Warrilow, finance and operations director at Thursfields, reveals that her firm is going through the reverse journey – having relied on a single solution for years, it’s now reaching maturity and the firm is examining best-of-breed options. Her first port of call has been to speak to people within the business and understand their pain points. The challenge is also to convince decision-makers of the value of a particular system – Warrilow says that putting a financial value on returns from tech investments is very tricky. Her firm looks at client demands and what competitor firms are offering to gauge the need for tech investments.

But once the needs have been identified – based on internal considerations and external pressures – the next obstacle is having an open conversation with clients. The Tigers unanimously agreed that a lot of sales pitches fail to understand unique business needs – in fact, they can often distract firms from their actual requirements. The result is that firms are often left disappointed with their tech.

According to Wayne Lord, head of IT and business improvement at CFG Law, the key is preparation. He revealed that he was in the fortunate position of having two years to do market research and prepare a concrete brief of the exact solutions that were needed at his firm – complete with a matrix of questions for suppliers. Hi approach was to spend time speaking with various suppliers, watching their demos and using his matrix of questions to align everything with business needs.

Across the board, the Tigers agreed that no solutions are going to perform every function that law firms require. As outlined by Alan Cousins, it’s important to have a list of ‘nice-to-haves’ and a set of ‘dealbreakers’ – the latter should form the core of your decision criteria, while the former is helpful to tip the scales when comparing similar offerings. Meeting other firms to understand their first-hand experience of a particular system can also be effective.

Mike Kaye, senior solutions expert at NetDocuments offered the industry view on these challenges. According to him, while the supplier does carry the responsibility of understanding a firm’s challenges, it helps if the firm already has a clear idea of where it needs improvement. Many times, firms can discover that the solutions they use have undiscovered functionalities that could solve their specific challenges. The key is for both sides to approach discussions with preparedness and transparency to avoid conversing at cross-purposes.

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