As legal technology continues to take major leaps forward, Jersey and its highly regarded law firms have an opportunity to position themselves at the cutting-edge of these advances.
Law firms are a vital part of Jersey’s political and economic strength. Although Jersey’s professional services sector has a well-founded track record in embracing digital innovation, law firms globally have historically been more risk- averse. To remain successful, law firms will need to know how to harness new technologies effectively.
In collaboration with Jersey Finance, the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Professional Legal Education and Research has produced a report that explores the familiarity and uptake of lawtech in Jersey, and identifies potential practical, regulatory and ethical barriers that may impede successful adoption of, and risks associated with, greater use of lawtech. The report also recommends strategies to overcome and/or mitigate these barriers and risks, so as to enhance the opportunities for responsible use of lawtech by law firms in Jersey.
The research draws upon international academic and grey literature on the emerging use of technology in the legal and allied professional services contexts. It uses a range of interviews with legal professional and technological innovators and current professionals operating in the legal and professional sectors in Jersey.
There is no-one-size-fits-all approach to the adoption of lawtech within Jersey-based law firms; through our research, however, five stages of lawtech maturity have been identified. Key to the adoption of lawtech has been a consistent approach towards people, business strategy, and technology.
- Firms have a high standard of legal professional practice and relatively bespoke client services, with limited standardisation between services, processes and documents.
- The business strategy is to hire for legal expertise and experience, as well as client facing abilities, whereas technology know-how is limited to IT teams or knowledge managers.
- The technology itself tends to be industry standard office systems with upgrades to software/hardware. There is relatively static on-premise infrastructure consisting of a mixture of physical and electronic documents and storage, with PCs and files typically only accessible in the office.
- Firms have a high standard of legal professional practice and relatively bespoke services, with some professional support from administrative colleagues aided by back office systems.
- The business strategy is to hire for legal expertise with understanding of the legal context and proficiency in standard law firm tools. There tends to be at least one member of staff beyond an IT manager who has good IT knowledge to support efficient technology use.
- In terms of technology strategy, firms have a desire to transform and integrate back office systems to make efficiency gains, but they are often hindered by the challenges of replacing legacy systems.
- There is the use of a range of devices and software packages, with some amalgamation of systems and databases, but often with workarounds in place to address any integration difficulties.
- Firms have a high standard of legal professional practice. The service is beginning to be delivered in a way that maintains personal elements but is more standardised operationally so as to drive up quality, mitigate risk, develop resilience and drive down costs and/or maximise profits.
- The business strategy is to hire beyond legal expertise, with a focus on entrepreneurial insight. There tends to be broader knowledge of IT and business strategy, which can help shape the direction of the firm.
- The technology strategy is integral to the broader business plan, which considers how the firm will develop over the next 3-5 years and includes staff development and training programmes.
- A range of devices allow for more flexible and mobile working, often supported by integrated back-office systems and developed case management systems for electronic storage.
- Firms have a high standard of legal professional practice that is being developed within and across departments to maximise quality and minimise risk; this is applied from inception at onboarding, right through to completion. The practice is seen as a partnership between people (lawyers and professional services) and technology systems.
- In terms of strategy, the business strategy comes first, and the people and technology strategies are then tailored to meet the needs of the firm.
- When hiring, the practice will look for competencies across a range of domains, as well as behaviours and attributes. More focus is placed on the mindset of those being hired and their ability to work well within a team in a changing environment. There is also a developed education and training plan for all members of staff.
- In terms of technology, the standard mode of work is entirely electronic. Mobile devices with secure access is the norm, enabling staff to access most work functions from all locations.
- Firms have a high standard of legal professional practice that has been developed to reduce friction points between legal and administrative processes. This shift towards automation of processes helps remove the need for human input where automation is at least as good as personal interventions.
- The business strategy is fully integrated across all functions, including technology and people. Although legal ability and expertise is important, there is a stronger focus an ability to learn and adapt quickly. Members of staff must also be able to work as a team, alongside other professionals and technology. This is the case for all roles within the firm, not just legal roles.
- In terms of technology, all members of staff can work seamlessly in any location, accessing all files and software securely. Devices are regularly updated remotely, ensuring they remain secure and are running the latest versions and agreed patches of software.
Research participants that were at the forefront of technology adoption stressed the importance of focusing on the cultural change work as the key to innovation, with technology being the enabler rather than the driver, and that technology alone is unlikely to yield real benefits for the firm or its clients.
With all the appropriate processes and support in place, the opportunities for those Jersey law firms that adopt lawtech are considerable.