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Who Are We? Should Law Firm Technology Leaders Think a Little More Like Industrial Engineers and a Little Less Like Technologists?

Having been both a CIO in large law firms and a consultant to many others, I have seen both sides of this question, which is basically how we should spend our time and on what should we focus.

According to the 2016 ILTA Purchasing Survey, the top ten biggest law firm technology challenges (in the order listed) were:

  1. Security
  2. User Adoption/Lack of Training
  3. Risk Management
  4. Email Management
  5. Information Governance
  6. Change Management
  7. Cloud Related Security Risks
  8. Mobility/Mobile Device Management
  9. Staffing
  10. Integration of Third Party Apps and Services

These are all important areas, but what is missing is a focus on process improvement.  It is easy to get caught up with the day-to-day challenges of the use of technology to support the practice of law, but the real value that we can provide is to help our firms leverage technology to become more competitive and to gain an advantage in the ever increasingly challenging law firm arena.  As technology leaders we should consider more focus on process improvement.

Four key themes from the ILTA Future Horizons report were

  1. The client is the priority – including having the capacity for innovation
  2. Leveraging lawyers is important
  3. Re-engineering processes is necessary
  4. Innovate to differentiate.

There is no shortage of talking about the need to improve processes, but are we seeing that translated to how law firm technology leaders are working?  The short answer is probably no.  While some firms have made progress in areas such as applying AI to the practice, most of this has been limited.  Some firms have made process improvement progress in practice areas such as litigation and IP, but this has not been widespread.

If we don’t take the lead, law firm clients will force it.  Organizations like CLOC are becoming very focused on process improvement.  Cost savings was noted as a key reason for decreased use of outside counsel in a recent ALM Corporate Counsel survey and it is fair to assume that process improvement plays a major role in saving costs by law firms for clients.


Run – Grow – Transform

Gartner has popularized the concept of a way to look at how technology dollars are budgeted and spent based on spending for day-to-to-day expenses vs. investments in process improvement.  They refer to this as Run-Grow-Transform.  Here’s what the three words mean, according to Gartner.

  • Run: Carry out essential enterprise activities that do not connect directly to a particular customer segment (or, to put it another way, keeping the lights on)
  • Grow: Enhance business performance in established markets serving established customer segments with established value propositions (or the beginning of process improvement, mobility being an example)
  • Transform: Enter new markets with new value propositions for new customer segments (new, maybe even disruptive processes and technology to significantly enhance the practice)

According to Gartner; professional services firms have spent approximately 67% of their IT budget on ‘run’ and the rest on ‘grow’ and ‘transform’, Gartner suggests a 50-50 split and I believe that is where the law firm technology arena should be headed.

How do we do it, there is no easy answer, but one way is that if we think more like Industrial Engineers maybe we can make it happen.  According to the Purdue University School of Industrial Engineering, Industrial Engineers can make processes better in the following ways:

  • More efficient and more profitable business practices
  • Better customer service and product quality
  • Improved efficiency
  • Increased ability to do more with less
  • Making work safer, faster, easier, and more rewarding
  • Helping companies produce more products quickly
  • Making the world safer through better designed products
  • Reducing costs associated with new technologies

Most of these points can relate to the law firm technology arena and just maybe thinking a little more like an Industrial Engineer might be good for our profession.

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