Being present at the office every day, drafting agreements, dictating into dictaphones with secretaries then transcribing dictation only for the lawyer to further review the draft, meeting face to face with clients, manually reviewing contracts – how lawyers work has not really changed through the last decades. Even though the use of digital solutions by law firms, particularly in the area of remote working, has increased since COVID, when it comes to technology and genuine innovation, one of the oldest professions in the world seems to be lagging behind. Digital Law Firm lawyers still often rely on support staff, antiquated methods and paper-driven processes.
The rest of the world on the other hand, seems to be more and more tech reliant. From communications to manufacturing, finance and retail, digital technologies have transformed entire markets and business models. We are nowhere near the end, as a new wave of emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, 5G and more come knocking at our doors.
Many of us in the legal world have welcomed innovation and taken it as an opportunity to tie our traditional profession to the exciting area of tech. Technology lawyers have been around for decades, starting with telecoms and IT contracts and evolving as new tech has come to the fore. That said, often, however, the law firms who advise on tech have barely practiced what they preach. Law firms have been slow to embrace digitalization and work without embracing the very technology tools they should advise on. This usually ends up costing both clients and lawyers in efficiency, resources and capabilities.
At Orbital Law we wanted to build our practice differently. After over 20 years of working for tech companies and large corporations, we wanted to leverage the power of technology in our everyday work. That meant using digital solutions for everything from collaboration to client onboarding, to billing and signatures. Our aim was to live and breathe tech and we will be covering why and how we did it in this article.
What it really means to be a technology lawyer
A technology lawyer is a lawyer who has a deep understanding of legal and technological concepts, and more importantly the ability to connect both fields. The company’s Chief Technology Officer will understand the tech behind the digital solution. Lawyers understand the contract. A tech lawyer will understand both the tech and the contract and will be able to advice clients on what their rights are and what risks are involved.
Tech lawyers are the bridge between legal, tech and commercial.
A lawyer specialises in technology law by building a profound understanding of the digital world, its benefits as well as its risks. Technology law covers transactional and advisory work, usually for tech companies or companies are exploring the use of digital solutions. This includes everything from software licensing agreements, hosting agreements, telecoms contracts, compliance, to data protection and intellectual property rights. It means keeping up to date with new technology and more importantly the risks associated with the use of new technology solutions. It is ensuring that solutions are compliant from a legal and regulatory perspective but also understanding that the law is slow to catch up to technology, one effect of which is that governments and regulators tend to introduce new laws which only regulate the use of new technology, as opposed to the technology itself. This approach often creates a vacuum in the legal and regulatory framework which of course can create dangerous commercial uncertainty for your clients. That is why tech lawyers not only require deep technical knowledge, but also an ability to be comfortable with innovative topics, such as robotics, blockchain, and artificial intelligence.
There is no better way to understand technology and innovation than by practicing what we preach. This means that tech lawyers should not only understand how technologies impact their clients’ contracts but embrace digital solutions themselves.
At Orbital Law our mission is to deliver high quality legal services safely and securely to our clients through the smart use of automation wherever possible. We incorporate technology solutions into our business at every level. This includes the use of highly secure digital tools to support the areas of practice management, remote working, legal research, as well as internal and external collaboration and communication. Our experience is that this allows us to deliver our services cheaper, quicker, and more efficiently than larger or traditionally configured law firms.
We are dedicated to achieving maximum efficiency, by proactively and continually analysing the digital systems and tools which underpin our business and are always keen to adopt new concepts and technology whenever and wherever a business need to do so is identified.
It also provides us with an opportunity to understand how technology works in practice, what its pain points are and the potential risks. Not only do we advise companies on negotiating contracts related to IT transformation, but we live it ourselves.
Elevating operations to the digital age
Our goal right from the beginning was to create a fully-digital law firm. This meant we would be able to bypass the inefficiencies of traditional law firms, such as relying on support staff and working with paper. Our objective was to make every system as efficient, automated, secure and high performing as possible so we could focus on what we do best: providing legal advice.
Right from the start, we laid down the basic requirements from our software solutions: efficiency, security, easy integration to other systems and driving value to us and our clients. This helps us complete crucial administrative tasks, avoid duplication and provide more to our clients. Whenever we find a process that could be further optimised, we look at technology solutions first.
We have been able to automate practically every process. Since we now have experience in digital solutions with our own team, we are able to interact smoothly with other businesses and advise them on how to implement technology into their own systems.
Essential tools of a digital law firm
There are some essential tools we believe every law firm needs to work efficiently: time-recording software, as this is how we demonstrate to clients the amount of effort spent on a matter, accounting software, a CRM, tools for working with documentation and communication. In the beginning we created a list of different tools to serve these tasks. We evaluated them carefully to ensure that they were secure and to see whether they had all the functionality we were looking for. We also looked at how well they would work with other software, and their online reviews from platforms such as TrustPilot or G2. Contrary to popular belief, many tools were not hugely expensive, compared to their value add and some were even free.
We chose Office 365 for several of the general tool applications: it’s secure, integrates smoothly with other systems, and has a large library of advanced tools. We then selected a supplier for our cloud-based CRM system; one which is tailored for law firms and manages our client onboarding and time-recording, as well as integrating with our accounting software. In turn our accounting software was selected because it is highly secure and easily connects with our various bank accounts through open banking – this reduces unnecessary data entry.
We are transactional lawyers, which means we spend a lot of time reviewing and negotiating contracts. For this reason, we knew we needed tools that allow us to analyse documents quickly and efficiently. LexisNexis is our tool for legal research, and it comes with a toolbar called LexisDraft. This tool allows us to scan Word documents and identify any inconsistencies in definitions, referencing, punctuation and phrasing. Microsoft Word has a read aloud function that makes it incredibly easy to review drafts without having to stare at a screen. We use a tools for dictation, which further speeds up the drafting process. Finally, we use a social media scheduling app for social media management and posting.
These tools not only help us perform our individual tasks better, but also optimise our entire workflow. By seamlessly integrating every tool, we’ve reduced a huge amount of time and effort spent copying and pasting data.
Where applications do not integrate with each other we have looked at using APIs to enable us to pull data from one app to another. And finally, we use Microsoft’s Power BI app to provide our clients with visibility and transparency around their engagements with us.
How do we select our tech?
In addition to the huge stack of already existing software solutions, new versions and applications are released almost every day. That means that we are always on the lookout for new technologies that may help us optimise our business processes. We regularly look at reviews and tech magazines, ask for recommendations and listen to what other tech experts are saying. We pick applications which match our criteria: efficiency, security, easy integration and value add. Then we match these solutions to an existing problem we have or identify potential tools which could improve our current processes.
The next crucial step is testing. Almost all software solutions offer some kind of free, or heavily discounted trial version. We use this opportunity to test the software: try their customer service, user interface, to check that it truly delivers what it is supposed to. If the first trial does not meet expectations, then we simply move onto another tool.
For example: we were looking for a tool to back up our Office 365 data. The first tool we tried lacked good customer support. Data is incredibly important to us as a law firm, and we want reassurance that when we ask the provider a question, it will be answered promptly. We were not satisfied, so decided to test a second tool instead. With this second tool, we get a notification every time there is a backup, and we can easily check every single data log on the portal, and the supplier’s customer support is excellent.
When it comes to selecting the right tech tools, it is important to keep trying. If the first digital solution does not work, do not let it deter you and keep looking for another solution.
Common hurdles of digitisation and how to get over them
There are two main hurdles that law firms need to overcome in order to embrace digital transformation.
The first one is overcoming antiquated legacy systems and cultural practices. Many larger and older law firms have invested in huge legacy systems that would require a full-blown digital transition, which in itself is laborious, expensive and painful. On top of that, updating a legacy system not only changes the technology, but also the way people work. The truth is, many lawyers still operate with the “5 days a week” working model along with secretaries and support staff and cannot imagine working any other way. Some lawyers have not had the experience of working in any other industry, hence lack some insight into how corporate environments function. Between a complete overhaul of the company’s infrastructure and transformation of work culture, it is easy to see why law firms are resisting technological change. That is why it was easier for us at Orbital Law to be fully digital: we had no legacy systems to contend with and we have the mindset to innovate and adapt. The latter is a key barrier to the adoption of new technology by lawyers. Training, especially the provision of targeted training and support to those members of an organisation resistant to the introduction of new technology, is the key to overcoming this negative mindset, which is a key barrier to the adoption of new technology.
The second one is understanding of technology. Lawyers need to truly understand the possibilities that lie in technology in order to be willing to invest in new solutions. Law firms need to take time to explore the market, leverage trials, and most importantly stay curious. Although there is now a bigger pool of advanced tools than ever, there needs to be an incentive to dedicate resources to research and trial. Hence the problem is twofold: first law firms must be willing to rethink traditional workflows, then learn how these can be implemented into their business environment through the use of innovative technology.
There are also some widespread, yet incorrect excuses holding back digital transformation. Firstly, we often think that technology is the new generation’s “plaything”. While this might be somewhat true, using smart devices or social media often does not extend to corporate software. Using new technologies is not a question of age, but rather openness to innovation, curiosity and eagerness for efficiency.
The second common hurdle concerns cybersecurity of tech solutions. What many firms do not realize is that their current processes, such as email or paper, pose a much bigger risk than some newer, innovative solutions.
What will the future bring to Orbital Law and other firms?
At Orbital Law, we often feel like we already live in the future when it comes to law firms. By using technology, we have increased efficiency, eliminated repetitive tasks and encouraged innovation in the workplace. Everyone in our team is responsible for their own inputs into apps and systems, and knows how to maximize the use of tech. However, our innovation does not stop here. We are currently exploring solutions for smoother integration via different APIs and advanced analytics.
In the future we believe innovation will inevitably catch up with the legal profession. Artificial intelligence and automation seem to be one of the key focus areas. Over one third of the $1 billion investment in legal tech in the year 2018 went to companies who use AI – this is evidence that more investment than ever is being poured into automating processes. Capabilities, such as voice recognition, natural language processing and digital secretaries, are already replacing many activities done today by support staff.
In the longer term, we’re likely to see some standard legal services undergoing complete digital transformation or even ceasing to exist in their current form. This is because practices such as litigation, drafting a will and anything that is process driven and largely similar in each case can and will be automated. Lawyers who work in those areas will need to rethink their contribution and look for ways to specialize in certain areas. We are predicting that this shift will most likely give way to niche law firms that focus on individual issues, rather than larger law firms that do a variety of everything.
The future of tech lawyers could be very different to what it is like now. In the future we will see lawyers tackling the larger questions of ethics, such as “deep fake” and the role of AI in our everyday lives. More processes will be automated, forcing lawyers to collaborate as a team and focus on delivering specific services machines cannot. Tech lawyers will work with developers to ensure that apps are designed ethically with privacy at the forefront, rather than as an afterthought. The way we see it, lawyers at the forefront of this industry will be those who are tech-savvy, open-minded and able to navigate the changing waves of legal transformation.
At Orbital Law we have successfully revolutionized our whole legal practice with technology. For those starting out on their digital transformation journey, our advice is be prepared to adapt, allocate time to research various tools and ways to incorporate them into workflows. Take time to trial new software, and do not quit researching if the first solution does not deliver the required results. In the long-term, the potential return is huge, because becoming a more efficient company today is what will keep you ahead of your competitors tomorrow and allow you to focus on delivering what you do best.
Most importantly, with digitisation, working remotely is second nature to us as it is part of our normal operating procedure. This meant, that it was not necessary for us to trigger our business continuity plan during the pandemic, and we were able to operate as normal during those uncertain times. Going forward businesses hopefully now understand the use of technology to securely operate their entire businesses should be the standard rather than the exception.