Deborah Witkiss, chief operating officer at Insight Legal, explains how inefficient tech and a lack of integration between systems is holding firms back
We work – and live – in an increasingly digital world where consumers demand an elevated experience. Business leaders must operate with commercial purpose, and there is no doubt that competition is intensifying. Law firm managers must refocus and adapt in response to the pressures they face – this transformational journey will largely be fuelled by technology.
Many firms find themselves with a tech stack held together by clunky solutions. An unwieldy and unconnected stack is inefficient and fails to properly accommodate the sector’s developments. However, the issue is not necessarily solved by one all-encompassing tech tool, but instead, multiple solutions designed to address specific issues, integrated and connected via one reliable, central system.
Darwin’s theory of adaptability
In On the origin of species, Charles Darwin famously wrote: “It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is best able to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.”
How is Darwin’s theory relevant to legal tech? It reinforces the argument for recognising change and acclimatising to it. In this case, the message is clear: failing to adapt to change could be your firm’s undoing.
Specialist systems vs generic software
While there are products marketed as ‘all singing, all dancing’ to handle your every requisite, it’s unlikely such an omnipotent solution exists. Only software created exclusively for the legal profession will suffice and these tend to come in small, bespoke packages.
One example is generic accounting software which doesn’t sufficiently address the nuances of complicated legal accounts rules, with all their attendant financial management, reporting stipulations and deadlines.
With a growing tech stack to conduct the various actions at each stage of a matter, you could find yourself using separate systems for anti-money laundering (AML) checks, case management and workflow, document management, and banking and payments, to name a few.
Standalone vs integrated
As your practice implements more and more tech, it’s vital to connect them up so they speak to one another. If they don’t, you’ll be constantly switching between systems, duplicating effort, risking mistakes and missing the ‘big picture’ of your business.
In a fee earning role, this is a waste of your valuable time and exposes your firm to the risk of errors, missed deadlines and regulatory breaches – both costly and reputationally damaging. As a leader, this could lead to an inability to monitor your firm’s current position and plan for the future.
But, as mentioned, tech that’s held together by clunky solutions is an inefficient way of running your practice. If held together badly, your teams will be disorganised.
Imagine a conveyancing practitioner’s regular tasks; AML checks are actioned in one system, which they then have to duplicate in their case management system. Property and land searches are in another system, and also must be duplicated into their case management system. They create invoices and send online payment links in yet another system, to then be duplicated, again, into their case management system – these are just a handful of the tasks they must carry out for each transaction.
There are stark inefficiencies arising from constantly swapping between platforms and replicating the same work for multiple systems.
Next, imagine Making Tax Digital (MTD) compliance. MTD was introduced by the government to make it easier for taxpayers to submit VAT returns. It’s mandated that businesses keep digital records and send data to HMRC electronically.
Some firms may be operating with bridging systems, that being software supported by the supplier but no longer subject to development, intended as a short-term fix. The long-term, robust alternative is software with MTD functionality built in. Cashiers, finance managers and compliance officers for finance and administration (COFAs) using bridging systems lack the same level of efficiencies as in-built MTD tools. As such, there’s a greater chance for breaches leading to punishment.
Final call for integration
Finally, let’s turn our attention to what ‘good’ looks like in legal tech.
Good tech is a perfect blend of applications constructed for defined purposes in the delivery of legal services. It is software that’s subject to an ongoing development roadmap, to flex in an environment that’s never static. Good tech is a feeling of absolute integration and a seamless user experience, even if multiple systems are in play and a safe pair of hands that you can trust implicitly and rely on always. It strips away inefficiencies and reduces risk while improving client centricity and staff flexibility. Good tech is a solution empowering you to have complete oversight of your company, at any point in time, and accurately forecast the future whilst having a willingness to readjust to industry change and having the resources to do so.