The technological innovations that enable law firms to improve their efficiency and lower costs to clients can’t be taken in a vacuum. Too often, firms seize onto the latest shiny tech trinket – only to be disappointed with how it’s utilized by firm lawyers (or not); how it’s integrated into the rest of the firm’s process management systems (or not).
Meredith Williams-Range, chief knowledge management officer at Nashville-based Baker Donelson, says it is a combination of people, process and technology; their coordination must be carefully planned, tested and implemented if a firm is going to have any chance of successfully improving its efficiency.
Lance Odegard, director of National Technology for Thomson Reuters, spoke with Williams-Range about how best to use technology to improve a firm’s day- to-day operations, and what the law firm of the future might look like.
Odegard: When considering your firm’s primary measures of success, is that measure profitability?
Meredith Williams-Range: Yes, profitability is everything. And when it comes to knowledge management (KM) in particular, it’s all about the actual practice of law. And we should be doing one of two things in everything that we do, and that is driving profit margins or bringing in additional revenue outside the typical practice. If we’re not doing one of those two things, then why are we doing it?
Odegard: With that understanding, what are the most meaningful technologies?
Williams-Range: It’s a combination of things because technology is only an aspect of profitability. It’s also the process and the people that have to go along with it at the same time. I can have the most impactful technologies that absolutely no one is utilizing, and that doesn’t help anyone. So, if you don’t have those three things flowing together, it can be the most beautiful technology, it can have the most effect on profit, it can do all different types of things; but if it doesn’t do it well enough for the people to use it, then it doesn’t really matter.
At Baker Donelson, the technology that probably has the most impact involves figuring out how we can take our 25 locations and put them on the same page.
First, we have an extensive cloud strategy. We want our lawyers to be able to work in the most remote way as easily as sitting in one of our locations, hardwired in.
A long time ago, we began to use the cloud in hopes of making a more effective and efficient work process.
We started by moving our HR system into the cloud. This involved much encryption and security planning due to the data type. Then we moved our email archive system. Finally, over the past year, we placed our document management system into the cloud. When you talk about major systems and moving them into the cloud, that’s gigantic.
Odegard: Do you see problems with law firms adapting the cloud to that degree, especially when client data is concerned?
Williams-Range: The issue is knowing your client base and what they will allow a firm to do with their respective information. Each culture and each client is different. Law firms must explore that prior to moving forward with any cloud technologies.
I’ll give you an example: Law firms that represent a number of banks are very quick to say “absolutely not” to the cloud move. This is due to the very detailed regulatory framework to which all must adhere. However, if the law firm is representing companies in Silicon Valley, they expect very innovative usage of technology and the cloud – they do not have the same regulatory complications. As law firms we should guarantee to clients how far we can go down that strategy.
You can read the full article in the latest issue of Forum magazine.