Briefing magazine: Industry analysis with HighQ – Sharing profession

We live in an age of information sharing – that’s increasingly a truism that can be applied to the legal world as much as to any other industry or area of society. As technologies such as messaging apps, social networks and shareable online folders continue to impact our personal lives and change the way we communicate, increasing the speed and ease with which we access information, they’re also shaping lawyer and client expectations of working together. Today, sophisticated digital tools are transforming the way firms and corporate legal departments collaborate – whether that’s always-open communication channels, real-time data visibility, or active updates and insights. 

About a decade ago, we saw the emergence of client extranets – which were little more than glorified document repositories. Now, firms and their clients are opening dynamic, shared workspaces that deliver on-demand matter visibility and, crucially, enhance engagement. And as technology has become increasingly sophisticated, the legal marketplace has evolved. There’s increasing pressure on firms to become competitive, not just on price and legal expertise, but also for overall service delivery. Now, more than ever, the customer experience matters, and it pays to make an impact.

Shared matters
The drive for progress in this area is being fuelled by both clients and law firms. Both are facing cost constraints, forcing them to do more with their existing resources. Increasing productivity (and underpinning profitability) is a potential solution, but there’s also an increasing impetus to deliver greater transparency to clients or stakeholders. That has spurred firms to find new ways of both controlling costs and delivering value. One way in which they have done so is opening up their workspace environment to outsiders – something that would have been unthinkable, as well as unfeasible, not so long ago.

In practice, this tech-enabled collaboration can take many forms. All sorts of processes can now be digitised and shared, from contract review to due diligence. Document, project and transaction management information can be viewed in real time, including financial data such as WIP and billing. Finally, virtual data rooms and knowledge-sharing centres can be created.

Alongside matter-related collaboration, there’s scope for more insightful, value-added services. Some firms are using online portals to deliver tailored content. Their knowledge and insight can be digitised and turned into an online product – which can either be given away to high-value clients or sold on subscription, providing additional revenue streams.

Extranet value
In this way, firms can create multi-layered online platforms, through which clients and other visitors can access high-value content on specialist topics. At the same time, these platforms can allow clients to access a bespoke, interactive extranet where they can securely view matter progress and financial data – in addition to collaborating with their legal advisers. Such platforms, like those based on the HighQ intelligent work platform, can have broad appeal as an openly available marketing tool, and can provide specific use cases for targeted workgroups, enabling smarter client engagement and even self-service options. Crucially, these collaboration and communication ecosystems must offer a frictionless client journey if they are to meet, or even exceed, clients’ expectations and deliver maximum value.

We’re increasingly seeing such innovations help law firms win clients and awards, working as a competitive differentiator. Being at the cutting-edge of leveraging collaborative technologies can help bolster a firm’s brand, enabling it to demonstrate its effectiveness and efficiency, and prove its forward-thinking, industry-leading approach – all wrapped up in a highly professional and appealing interface. By helping them deliver on their promises and satisfy clients’ demands, it puts those firms in a better position to retain clients via both the successful execution of the work and the superior experience they have delivered in the process. Today, experience matters more than ever: it’s one of the major factors determining which firm clients select.
In addition, these digital tools help firms to ensure they’re carrying out work in a sustainable, profitable way, especially when it’s being handled on a fixed-fee basis, whether by automating manual tasks or enhancing cost visibility. Although efficiency gains vary from firm to firm and application to application, even small improvements across a range of processes – from streamlining due diligence to reducing postage – can add up to significant amounts. The fact that firms can also track progress against budget in real time, at every stage, helps to keep them on their financial targets.

Change stations
End user needs vary, with corporate legal departments juggling multiple demands and stakeholders – often with fewer resources than law firms. They therefore typically require more ‘out of the box’ products with easy self-serve capabilities and less need for coding – although the solutions must also be smarter as a result.
But whatever the level of internal technical capability and desire for customisation, in some ways choosing the tech is the easy part. There are also some critical ‘people’ elements that need to be right if firms are to incorporate collaboration technologies successfully. After all, the way that individuals and teams work is fundamentally changing, which presents a potentially more challenging prospect. This is especially the case when it comes to flexible, multi-dimensional toolkits like HighQ (covering document, project and knowledge management, social collaboration, extranets and secure file sharing, among other things), which address a range of issues rather than simple, single-point solutions.

First and foremost, the organisation’s culture may need to change. Adoption and engagement with innovation will need to be driven from the top down. Senior partners, executives and the board will need to lead the shift away from billable hours and non-standardised processes, while emphasising the importance of collaboration and sharing. 

However, users need to be encouraged along on the journey, rather than be forced to go. To get staff onboard, engagement is imperative – firms need to communicate which issues they’re trying to fix and also need to understand the pain points staff face. Moreover, once the initial excitement and buy-in has died down, cultural inertia must not be allowed to set in.

It’s also vital to have an internal champion who can ‘own’ the product and manage the transition within the firm, which can help to leverage the technology to its fullest potential. Ideally, this individual will have the capabilities to become a legal engineer, blending both legal and technical skills, and will be able to marry product and process so solutions fit the need and have as positive an impact as possible. Technology won’t solve a problem on its own – it merely enables a firm to solve the problem.

When deciding where to start, look for ‘quick wins’ that will send a positive message right at the start and set the scene for success. And start small, focusing on targeted teams or practice groups before rolling out organically. Furthermore, optimising tech solutions is a continuous activity, in which processes should be mapped and data monitored, before refining the approach on a regular basis, always maintaining a keen, client-oriented focus.

Collaborate in future
It’s clear we’re on an exponential change curve, in which automation and intelligence are paramount, and the shift toward digital service delivery is gathering pace. The scale of the challenge – and the opportunity – is great. As more ‘digital natives’ enter law firms and corporate legal departments, and as globalisation increases competition, it’s likely we will soon reach a cultural tipping point in terms of embedding technological innovation. As we look ahead across the next decade, the rate of evolution is likely to accelerate, and innovation will dig deeper, opening up even greater potential in new areas.

The trend toward collaboration shows no signs of slowing down, and technology is a critical enabler. It’s about providing better service, more cost-effectively, streamlining processes, and creating a seamless, value-added client experience in which innovation isn’t just something that’s talked about in the abstract, but is seen as making a tangible difference to the way legal services are delivered. Collaboration creates engagement, which in turn strengthens client relationships, opens up new revenue streams, enhances reputation, builds brand collateral, and helps law firms to win and retain business. The question shouldn’t be, ‘Why would you work more closely with your clients?’ Rather, it should be, ‘Why wouldn’t you?’  

Industry analysis by Briefing with Stuart Barr, chief product and strategy officer at HighQ, for Briefing April 2020. Read the full issue here: 

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