The Future Is Now In Session: Reinventing Law Firms For A Digital Age

Ginger Shimp

It’s an industry based on precedent that sometimes stretches back hundreds of years, and its practitioners rely on terminology coined in a language long dead, but make no mistake – law firms are making an open-and-shut case for the benefits of 21st-century digital transformation.

In a recent episode of Digital Industries: Changing the Game radio broadcast entitled Law Firms: How to Thrive in Digital Disruption hosted by Bonnie D. Graham, a jury of experts convened to discuss technology’s impact on the legal industry and the ways innovative firms are embracing its potential.

Here’s what was on the docket:

Even the law isn’t above the law (of digital transformation)

Today’s law firms aren’t immune to the way digital transformation has empowered consumers and expanded their choices. According Patrice Cappello, North America Industry Lead for the professional services industry at SAP, firms find themselves grappling with the same cut-throat market pressures as any business: “Consumers of legal services are smarter, more demanding and their expectations are high. If they don’t like the way you deliver your services, they will just go to the next firm.”

In some cases, the clients themselves are even emerging as the primary competition – especially larger businesses with their own roster of in-house legal experts. Ahmed Shaaban, founding member of Fulcrum Global Technologies, noted that some law firms “don’t talk about each other as competitors. They talk about the big four accounting firms, banks, and large engineering firms as their main competitors, because those firms are all now practicing law one way or another.”

If businesses are becoming more like law firms, law firms are becoming more like the businesses they serve. As Cappello puts it: “I’ve been seeing a lot of firms bringing in leadership from the commercial side to help the firm run more like a business and less like a law firm, so it’s interesting to see all of these changes occurring and how the firms are responding.”

The good news for up-and-coming firms is that next-generation technology is helping streamline core business practices and leveling the competitive playing field. “The technology is available to everyone at all price points, at all sizes, in all practice areas, in every single region,” added Ari Kaplan, attorney and principal of Ari Kaplan Advisors. “Many of these organizations are applying it, and it’s really quite an extraordinary transformation that will take hold almost on a global basis in very short order.”

Why your lawyer wants to friend you on Facebook

The free-for-all world of social media may seem like the last venue where you’d encounter a buttoned-down, by-the-book law firm, but the panel members agreed that firms need a foot firmly planted in the world of likes, sharing, and friending.

Kaplan stated it this way: “What are their clients saying? What are people saying about their clients? What’s the media saying about particular issues? What is the commentary about trends or changes? Social media channels aren’t just ways to stay well informed. They also connect a firm more closely with the people they serve.”

Cappello pointed to one of the surprising ways firms can use social media to serve clients, beyond relationship building: “It’s using things like predictive analytics to advise a client to go in one direction or another depending on potential outcome. There’s this world that has so much information and so much connectivity. Firms are asking: How do we harness that power, bring it into the firm, and leverage it to be better at what we do?”

The verdict is unanimous: People matter

When it’s time for closing arguments, the law is still an industry of living, breathing human experts – but advanced technology has a role here as well. It can make a firm a more attractive workplace and maximize the contribution of the people it hires. “The bottom line is, when you have great talent, it hedges the risk of the firm in many different regards,” said Shaaban. “As a result, if you can find systems and programs that allow you to manage your talent, you’re going to be in a healthier position. It’s a huge trend.”

Firms aren’t just paying lip service to the value of their human resources. They’re also investing in the tools to improve the employee experience. “Technology is enabling firms to automate a lot of processes and really make a much better experience for the firm, for potential new employees, and for the existing employees,” added Cappello. “We see a lot of investment by firms in that area for the first time.”

The evidence is incontrovertible: If your idea of what a law firm and lawyers do hasn’t changed since you’ve watched reruns of Perry Mason, it’s time for an update.

To learn more about digital transformation, visit Law Firms. Reimagined for the new economy.

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This story originally appeared in the SAP Business Trends community and subsequently on Forbes BrandVoice and the D¡gitalist.


About Ginger Shimp

With more than 20 years’ experience in marketing, Ginger Shimp has been with SAP since 2004. She has won numerous awards and honors at SAP, including being designated “Top Talent” for two consecutive years. Not only is she a Professional Certified Marketer with the American Marketing Association, but she's also earned her Connoisseur's Certificate in California Reds from the Chicago Wine School. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of San Francisco, and an MBA in marketing and managerial economics from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University. Personally, Ginger is the proud mother of a precocious son and happy wife of one of YouTube's 10 EDU Gurus, Ed Shimp.