Should Legal IT departments be innovative?

I was thinking the other day about Legal IT and who was going to define its future? It got me thinking about innovation in LegalIT and what our 3 main customers expect. They are each with their own requirements and needs, so do law firms, the lawyers and the law firms clients expect IT departments to be innovative?

A broad definition of what innovation is; “Innovation is the improving of an existing product, service, system or process and the introduction of something better.”

What do the law firms need? In short the answer is an environment that is both compliant and as risk free as possible, whilst fulfilling the clients needs, oh and a good dose of value for money as well. So where’s the room for innovation? Whether the firm is looking at the delivery of a service or improved ROI through technology or process implementations they are asking IT departments to be innovative. Many firms ‘near-shore’ or ‘offshore’ parts of the IT department already and this will continue in the future.

‘What do lawyers need’ from IT? Broadly they don’t need bells and whistles they just need systems that work. A very simple definition would be; ‘a stable, robust and simple to use environment in which they can work efficiently to deliver upon client expectations. Whether that delivery is a document or another form of advice or information.

However the changing skills of the legal workforce ‘Generation Y’ is challenging traditional IT requirements. They require and expect anytime, anywhere access to information, for both personal and business use. Why dictate something, when speech recognition will work on an app on their phone? It highlights that people will be resourceful in the technology they have accessible to them, whether that’s personal or centrally provisioned. IT have always had to cater for a broad range of IT skills, but the volume of staff who will be technologically savy is only going to grow along with their ever-increasing expectations.

Clients needs have always been fairly traditional but this is changing. The majority of questions when responding to tenders and pitches tend to lean heavily towards security. However increasingly clients want accessibility, to not just real-time data but people and advice.. Most IT departments have had to be fairly innovative and flexible in how they can accommodate these requests.

So should IT departments be innovative? Of course they should. It importnat to note that innovation doesn’t have to be bold, shiny and in your face, it could be invisible to the business or clients potentially. The challenge will be to balance the needs of the business with while containing costs and ensuring the appropriate level of support and security. Firms and vendors are struggling to keep up with the changes in technology and it’s consumerisation by the lawyers. So where is the innovation going to come from? Here are some initial thoughts;

  • Talking to your business leaders about their strategic plans
  • Talking to the business
  • Obtain the product roadmaps from your legal IT vendors
  • What changes to the law are coming into force and will they require a change
  • Look outside of the legal vertical for inspiration
  • Dust down your IT strategy, a yearly review is essential - does it cut it?

Ideas and innovation can come from everywhere and anywhere. In the last 10 years within the legal IT industry, much of the innovation will have come from trends of what other law firms are doing. Is your firm brave enough to buck the trend, and will you be right? Only time will tell of course.  

An important final note is a fairly obvious one… but once you done your innovative thinking you’ll need to start delivering on those ideas and that’s a whole other headache..

Good luck.

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