Today, I’m bringing you the final installment of my recaps from the Viewabill webinar (recording and audio available here). We’ve learned some really interesting things about what both inside and outside counsel are thinking these days in this climate of change, and the conversations around all of these issues should continue – the one lesson we should all take away from these is that communication among all of those involved in legal services is paramount.
Thanks to Viewabill for inviting me to listen in, and giving me the opportunity to get a preview from a couple of their panelists! I look forward to the next session.
The final session of the morning was "Legal Tech and You:"
Lawyers are looking for new ways to compete and position themselves as being at the forefront of an oversaturated market, and clients are demanding more efficiency, transparency, and affordability from their legal service providers. What do you look for when considering implementing legal technology and where do you see the next phase of innovation headed?"
The panelists for this session were:
D. Casey Flaherty, Corporate Counsel, Kia Motors
Justin Liu, Associate General Counsel, MGM Resorts International
Peter Lane Secor, Director of Strategic Pricing and Project Management, Pepper Hamilton LLP
Michael Hourwitz, Chief Financial Officer, Venable, LLP
Karen Anzuini, Chief Information Officer, Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff LLP
Pratik Patel, Co-Founder and VP, Legal Business Solutions, Elevate Services
What’s Next For Legal Tech Innovation? Clients Weigh In
Pratik Patel asked the panelists to think about where the industry goes as we more forward – we’ve only scraped the tip of the iceberg in terms of innovation, so where do we go from here? Since this may be different for legal departments and law firms, he asked both sides to weigh in, starting with legal departments.
Based on the reaction of the panelists to transparency tools, Patel asked Flaherty to comment on where he’d like to see the technology move, and what would in-house lawyers want to see in terms of transparency in addition to what’s already on the market. Flaherty said that he’s not sure his lawyers would want to see more in the way of transparency products – for the most part, they, like most people, want to be left alone to do their jobs. Tools the facilitate bilateral communication about expectations are really where we’re going. Viewabill has integrated a lot of that type of thing into their interface, such as sending notes and asking questions – but that’s more about communication than transparency.
He added that if we assume that the top level partner knows what he or she is doing, then at the end of the day, there will be a quality work product. So the next thing to look at is how work is being handled at the levels below that – and that’s everything from technology utilization at the lowest level (do they know how to use Word and Excel) to knowledge management, document management, and document assembly practices.
The visibility into firms is important, because there are so few instances where there is only one qualified firm or lawyer. Once they’re qualified, how do you differentiate? Quality has lost its salience as a metric, says Flaherty, so you have to look at other things. Ken Grady had made a good distinction earlier in the program about the delivery of legal services becoming as important as the quality of those services.
Patel observed that this was an interesting point, about just enough information being enough. Going back to the conversation around which metrics matter, it sounds like what Flaherty says is that transparency is valuable, but if there is too much information, it becomes more of a debate about the weeds, rather than the value of the data processed. He asked Liu to comment on whether he agreed with that assessment.
Liu concurred, saying that people don’t want to read line by line items on a daily basis, or even to necessarily get daily reports on when a particular line item was entered versus when it was billed. The reports that encapsulate the information in a useful way, on an aggregate scale, are the best.
At the same time, there is more room for transparency into things such as how matters are staffed – legal departments want to understand why they’re getting a particular associate instead of the attorney or partner that’s worked on matters in previous years. He said that he’s not sure how technology can facilitate that, but they have those conversations on a regular basis to understand how their firms are best serving them.
Liu added that there was an additional item that would be helpful – if firms could make their client files available to clients in some accessible way. There are times when, due to turnover internally, they need access to certain files, records, past transactions, litigation filings, etc, and while they do maintain their own records, it can be helpful if a law firm can share with them as they’re trying to understand what happened in the past. That may be an area that legal technology can facilitate.
What Do Law Firms Want from Legal Tech?
Patel then switched over to the firm side, asking the panelists to discuss whether there are other types of things that can demonstrate value to clients, in the ways that we’ve seen the transparency of products like Viewabill do so.
Lane Secor said that from his perspective, the start of Viewabill is the low hanging fruit in project management – it helps someone easily and quickly see where they may be veering off in terms of established run rates. It’s quick, out of the box assistance.
Longer term, he sees ROI information as becoming more essential. He said that he’s fortunate to work with a firm that provides this to clients, and part of that includes case strategy – how are we going about it, what are the efforts, and what are we going to do upfront? They discuss the overall risk to clients, and not just the cost of legal services – firms will need to be able to demonstrate that further, this idea of "in the end, how much we were able to save the client from having to spend, and how efficient we were in getting there."
Patel asked the others to weigh in, and Anzuini said that she hopes that in using Viewabill, and in connection with her firm’s project management initiative, she’d like to see more integration of project management into the Viewabill platform. Others have mentioned staffing, and she agrees there should be more transparency on that also – not just billable hours, but how to staff things and why.
Clients Will Drive Lawyer Adoption of Technology
Patel had one final question for the panelists, asking, as we think ahead, are we being too idealistic to think that lawyers will leverage these tools such as these? And what will it take from us to get lawyers adopted to these things from a technology perspective? Based on where we’ve gone so far, and the speed of maturity, do we think that these products will be used typically by groups within organizations that "concierge-service" them to lawyers, or will lawyers use them directly on a day-to-day basis?
Hourwitz said that what’s going to drive this is clients. With lawyers, everyone is different and different practices are used to different things. Left to their own devices, only a small percentage of lawyers will see the benefit of tools like these, unless clients are asking for them.
For example, they have a litigation client whose fees increased by 50% in one year. The client asked the firm to partner with them to try to control costs, and wanted them to come up with a way, beyond the UTVMS codes, to help segment, so that they could see on a frequent basis how they’re doing against established budgets. At this point, the client wants weekly updates. Hourwitz said that they do see sophisticated clients such as this, depending on the intricacy of the matter and how much it costs, monitoring matters because they can catch things early on in terms of time and value. That’s imperative, Hourwitz says, because if you can see these things in real time, and you know that clients are looking at it, then you’re also forced to focus on it in real time.
He added that they don’t do this with every client, but with those that are sophisticated and want the information, they are very open with them. They establish budgets together, monitor information together, and relay information as frequently as the client requests. Hourwitz welcomes that because it forces them to be more disciplined, which means they’ll be more efficient and effective, and in the end, make more money.
There are firms that don’t believe that to be the case, but Hourwitz pointed out that firms see the largest margins in their niche practices. So in their commoditized practices, where there’s much more pressure from outside competition and clients, and budget oversight is incredible, you have to be able to match over the long term. If you want a long relationship with that client, you have to be able to do that – lawyers are buying into it, but it’s taking time.
Patel observed that these technology solutions are helping to tee up conversations and create an environments where these conversations become tangible. He mentioned Brenton’s earlier comments about the value of the conversation being just as high as the results of the conversation.
Fewer Providers, More Solutions
He asked the panelists to add any final thoughts. Liu said that with the legal technology providers they’ve encountered, those who provide a niche product, such as a way to produce and send invoices, are really challenging for legal departments. Even if they like the product, they have such an extensive IT review that they have to do with vendors internally because of recent cyber risks.
So there is an effort to work with fewer providers and to understand how their security protocols and technology work, and as a result, they prefer that each provider can do more for them. There is a threshold to taking someone on because of the cost and review involved, so there needs to be significant added value.
Flaherty agreed, and added that there’s a lot of room for what Elevate and Seyfarth Lean are doing, because there is only so much time for in-house counsel to evaluate technology and metrics. So those providers who bring a bunch of metrics and technology to the table are the most useful. For example, Elevate not only provides a lot of value, but they take a load off of their clients – it’s one thing for technology to just provide data, but if a company is measuring the data and then just reporting on it, that’s a huge value.
Flaherty said that it’s a true challenge to have the attention and cognitive load to evaluate these tools. When he walks around ILTA or Legal Tech, no matter how much time he’s willing to spend at a booth, he could come away with 600 hours of commitments to webinars to sift through technology – and that doesn’t even include the evaluation by their IT department. This creates an opening for the Elevates and Seyfarth Leans of the world to provide a value-added service.
Friedman wrapped up the session then, by saying that the webinar had made it clear that there’s a lot more to the attorney-client relationship than just billable hours and results. The communication that takes place is often just as important as the billable hours themselves.
As an industry, we have a long way to go, but Friedman feels that after all of these years, we’re finally making progress and there will be a lot of new products that we’re opening the door for. The more that we’re able to communicate, whether in the context of the attorney-client relationship, with third party vendors, or even software to software, the better that things will be for everyone.