February 24, 2020
Future Framework for Legal Practice: Navigating Internal and External Environments (Part 2)
In the first article, we explored the need for a new way of approaching the concept of legal practice. The context around the impact of technology on our profession was briefly explored including the fundamental changes to the surrounding environment which calls for a new way of thinking that lead me to the Future Framework for Legal Practice.
In this article, we dive into the makeup of the framework, exploring the various environments and the rationale behind its structure. The Future Framework for Legal Practice invites you to a quantum leap in the way you approach the operation of your law practice. As noted in the previous article, the Future Framework for Legal Practice is made up of three environments. So let us take a closer look at what constitutes them.
Environments - A concept
The idea of using “environments” allows us to compartmentalise core areas of law firm operations both in concept and in practice. It also creates the necessary separation or “sandboxing” to best align to possible regulatory requirements and importantly, to lay the foundation for a firm that is secure by design in our ever-pervasive technological world.
Ultimately these environments allow us to make sense of how to segment the technology we select from the market, to know what purpose each technology serves and finally how they interact with the other environments. This way of thinking gives you the clarity and agility to address internal changes within the firm and external market demands which together form the twin complementary purposes of your practice.
The Internal Environment
The Internal Environment is where the core processes of your firm are conducted, where the integral legal work of the practice as it is traditionally understood are established. Think of it as your workshop, where you and your colleagues are able to conduct your day to day affairs in a scalable and efficient way. The goal of the internal environment is to augment your human processes and capacity with complementary technology.
Within the Internal environment we have a few sub-areas to identify the core processes that you can select and build a technology stack or “tech-stack” from the existing market. The general nature of the framework allows you to pick and choose not only what you better understand, but also what is more suitable to your particular work-style and scope. Importantly, it allows for iterative change within the firm processes to allow for the existing people to adapt.
In the current stage of legal innovation, the internal environment is built up of the following categories:
Process and Workflow Automation
This concerns any technology that can automate work that typically requires manual human labour. There are many SaaS based services that essentially put a series of tasks that were once manually done into an automated process, moving you into a more consistent, scalable and predictable business operation.
Not all the options in the market are necessarily categorized as legal tech, but those who venture to develop technology for the legal market will have more tailored services. For example, a Contract Management platform service would commonly sit within this sub-area. These services can also act as “glue”, like the industry dominant Zapier, managing the connectedness behind the scenes.
This sub area is fairly self-explanatory. It comprises any service that provides communication capacity within the firm environment and allows for collaboration and sharing of documents etc. Note that the technology you use for internal communications can also be used externally with clients and partner businesses, however you will need to be able to separate accessibility. An example of this type of service currently dominating the market is Slack which has all the abilities mentioned above and also runs on a subscription basis.
Legal Analysis and Application
This area is more specialised in that it involves legal tech that is being specifically developed to deal with the complex aspects of legal practice. Applying AI, contract analysis, prediction of outcome intelligence are just some areas that would form this tech-stack. This is currently an exciting space globally and most service providers offer technology that will only become more and more accessible over time.
As the cost of these specialized services are quite high, initially legal service providers would contemplate subscribing to one or two of these technologies to form their core service and build their identity around those capabilities. As the technology becomes more commoditized, legal service providers are able to add this capacity to the firm without it forming their core specialized service offering.
The External Environment
The External Environment is the client facing area of your firm. This is where clients are provided visibility and convenience in their interaction with you and your services. Of course, it is envisioned that human interaction forms much of the relationship-building. However it is important to construct a digital experience that not only increases client sentiment but streamlines your ability to build context around each legal situation.
Within the External Environment we also have a few sub-areas to identify the core processes that you can select and build a “tech-stack” from the existing market. The same logic and rationale applies here as it does to the Internal Environment. The sub-areas allow you to make sense of the services in the market and potentially indicate to you the necessary elements for your external facing environments.
Current client portals are a more classic approach to allowing your patrons to digitally “visit you”. Usually it is a website portal where the client can login and have access to a variety of documents, billing and possibly status indications of milestones achieved.
The new approach to client portals is often about interactive experiences for the customer when they digitally “visit you”. Imagine building a tech-stack that starts with an interactive questionnaire of no more than 5 questions (basic metadata collection, multiple choice on what they are looking for today etc.) which redirects to a button list where the (already onboarded) client can upgrade, change the status or add on additional time, products or services complete with terms and conditions. Depending on their choice they could again be redirected to a folder that allows them to download what they're looking for or alternatively it flags someone at the office to contact the client about their interactions.
There are services in the market that are not necessarily considered legal tech, but do a fantastic job of streamlining an onboarding process, product or subscription service selection, and generally creating a more fluid experience for new and existing clients. Creativity and a healthy dose of curiosity are indispensable when curating a solution from the market.
The fundamental difference in Apps is that the “experience” lives with the client - on their mobile device of choice and sends critical information back to you in order for you to provide your service. Single purpose apps are showing up globally as people develop a solution around a specific question that has enough utility to benefit from the immediacy and convenience of the mobile experience. LSP’s can spend a lot of capital developing apps, however with a little creativity and using the existing “no-code” platforms or infrastructure platforms (from Google, Amazon, Microsoft, etc.) to produce something that is incredibly useful to individuals who may or may not be clients. Building an Alexa Skill would be a unique approach to an easy app that would sit in the Amazon Echo ecosystem.
Standalone Solutions and Scalable Products
As legal service providers embrace this technological shift, move away from playing catchup to taking the lead in the future of law, there will undoubtedly be products, and spin-off solutions that form part of their market offering.
Early examples in the current market are contract templates that are pre-filled via a self-directed questionnaire then available for purchase and download on the site. This example does not require any lawyer input, generates revenue 24/7 and can be accessed by as many people as there is demand. Again, as new ways for interacting with the external environment become commonplace, creativity and curiosity will prove indispensable in the innovative solutions you can build.
We have now covered both the Internal and External Environments in the Future Framework for Legal Practice. In the next article we will explore the Bridging Environment, something that opens an entirely new concept of the way the Law will operate in the future. Stay tuned for the next week and look out for the ebook released exclusively here at Legal Tech Weekly later in the year.
For now, read more in part 3: How to operate a law firm in larger interconnected ecosystems (Part 3)