By Thor Alden, Legal Innovation Manager, Dechert LLP.
Dechert has long been known as a law firm that delivers creative solutions for clients. In recent years, the firm has made a big push to go beyond innovation on substantive legal questions by actually targeting the legal processes themselves.
Lawyers these days are faced with an ever-growing list of legal technology tools that are available to them, and these tools can have a huge impact on their performance. We spend a lot of time working internally with attorneys to help them choose the best legal technology for their matters.
Attorneys are primarily experts in the law – they can’t be expected to spend hours each month searching for and testing new legal technology. They require legal solutions that fit their needs, and they benefit from having someone on their side helping them pick the right technology.
These tools can make a big difference, especially on the very top end of the market. The speed that these tools allow for getting legal work done is significant, and gives us the ability to unlock new value for our clients. If we can update or generate documents in a matter of minutes rather than days, that gives our clients more time to complete the business aspects of their deals.
For example, one of the most popular tools is a product that our lawyers use to either update a lot of documents with simple changes, or to generate documents from a form. That’s it. But people love it because it’s so simple and yet takes an enormous manual burden off their plate. Our Global Finance practice, one of the most pre-eminent global finance practices in the world, has been a heavy user of it for a long time.
Another primary benefit of legal tech tools is how they align with the increasing trend to ensure the right level of work is being done by the right provider. If the law firm conducting the majority of work can also handle the more manual portions of a deal, there is no need to pass work to an Alternative Legal Service Provider. When used properly, technology is always going to be the fastest and cheapest solution. And having fewer cooks in the kitchen simply makes it a more pleasant experience for clients.
There is also the significant difference it makes on the lifestyle of our associates. In today’s tight talent market, the last thing you want to tell onboarding associates is that we need them on projects where they’re being asked to update a lot of documents with very simple edits. That is not what we expect of today’s incoming associates – we want them to focus on the high-end work they have been trained to do.
It’s really about increasing the reach of legal skills. When technology is utilized effectively, you free up time that can be spent on the higher-value portions of a transaction. It also allows us to take on more work.
I think what a lot of people underestimate is the pace of change that is currently happening, especially in transactional legal work. While historically much of that work was done the old way – within emails and on a document-by-document basis – we are starting to see a shift towards review platforms, automation tools and very bespoke tools.
While a driver of this shift has obviously been the role of the CLOC community in bringing about positive change, it’s important to emphasize that legal technology has simply gotten much better in recent years. The number and quality of tech tools that are available to lawyers is staggering.
As ever, the numbers speak for themselves. Of Dechert’s top ten biggest clients, nearly every one benefitted from a legal tech tool that we applied on their matters in 2021.
Of course, it’s always important to have options. While we frequently generate thousands of documents each month with Office & Dragons, for example, which has been a very popular tool, it is just one of four document automation tools we make available to our attorneys. It isn’t the right tool for every solution, which is why it is important to have alternatives.
Fundamental to the success of these tools is ingraining a positive mindset around innovation within the firm. We train all of our attorneys on these tools – everyone is involved. We also have a global innovation program designed to drive innovation throughout the global business. You cannot get the benefits of innovation if you don’t invest properly in the training of your people.
At the end of the day, the risk of disruption in today’s work is very high. If we are not constantly striving to figure out how to disrupt our own business via innovation, we are not preparing for the future.
[ This is an educational guest post for Artificial Lawyer by Thor Alden, Legal Innovation Manager at Dechert. ]