Digital Horizons: The Four Stages of Law Firm Transformation

Published by Lawyer Monthly, October 2022

Customer centred disruption represents an opportunity in the market for forward thinking law firms.

As the modern business landscape demonstrates, firms that are prepared to embrace technology as a means of modernising their processes are set to thrive, while their less innovate rivals will struggle. It has never been more important for legal firms to find their footing in this new landscape. Jamie Jefferson, chief creative officer at Equator, outlines the process of effective digital transformation in law firms over four concise steps.

Investment is pouring into digital transformation at legal firms. Even before the pandemic, legal tech spend had reached $1.3billion according to King’s College London; five times higher in 2019 than 2017. If your firm has not yet made strides towards this digital future, now is the time to act. Some companies have already automated many of their processes for the benefit of employees and clients alike. Without following suit, it will be easy to be left behind.

The perceived complexity of digital transformation can cause firms to procrastinate. Patience is needed. It is wise to step back and consider where your firm is on its own digital journey before committing to a roadmap.

It is possible to view digital transformation as a four-stage ‘wave of change’. Let’s take a look at each aspect in turn.

Stage One: Early signs of transformation

Rolling out digital operations often begins with establishing basic online self service. At this stage, clients choose the convenience of digitised engagement for simple interactions. Data and digital touchpoints allow firms to deliver higher quality services more efficiently, as well as experiences we might normally associate with eCommerce companies to better support clients’ needs.

 

Customer-centred disruption represents an opportunity in the market for forward thinking law firms. Those that can transform their client experiences along the lines of the digital retail model will be best placed to survive the tech tsunami that is clearly coming towards us and be set up to stay ahead when future waves hit.

 

For example, large-scale class actions make it notoriously difficult and time-consuming to collate evidentiary statements. We are working with a US firm whose vision is to create digital services that simplify this. It collects and compiles data from victims and streamlines the process of building a case. This will reduce errors and greatly cut the complexity – and cost – of the entire process.

"Customer-centred disruption represents an opportunity in the market for forward thinking law firms."

Stage Two: Starting to feel the effects

Having implemented digital services that allow firms to build stronger relationships with clients, the race will be on to enhance operational efficiency and agility. Digitising internal processes means implementing artificial intelligence (AI), robotic process automation and composable technology. Firms will then be able to further improve profitability, offer greater customer value and open new routes to market.

 

As an example, BrightFlag offers AI services to the legal sector in the form of an AI-powered review of invoicing. The intelligent service automatically checks narrative lines against billing guidelines and the agreed fee model. This will increase review accuracy and free up teams to focus on higher-value activities. Fast-moving professional services businesses are already implementing digital convenience and agility into their ecosystems and reporting how it has improved client relationships.

Stage Three: Advanced “retail-style” offering

Law firms have typically operated with a sales process that is heavily reliant on person-to-person relationships. Retail businesses, meanwhile, have successfully automated interactions to improve efficiency and unlock the opportunity to scale.

 

By this stage, we have reached a point where customers are used to full online self-service when engaging with legal firms. They are expected to offer detailed personalisation of relationships in digital – just as happens in eCommerce.

 

Digital tools are already smart enough to streamline professional services and customer experiences. For example, IronClad automates contracting workflows and approvals. The service, already used by L’Oréal, Staples, Mastercard and other leading brands, automatically identifies critical terms and entities, turning contracts into code and allowing users to search, tag, and manage them. It is this type of technology that is allowing tactics used by successful retailers to be applied to legal firms.

Stage Four: Wholesale operational disruption

This is the stage with the greatest extent of disruption, and the one where you should be most worried about rivals stealing a march. But it is also the most exciting stage of the digital transformation journey to aim for.


We are talking about complex service automation. We believe there are five steps within this stage that your firm can implement to plant your feet firmly among the disruptors - not the disrupted:

1. Personalisation

Traditional legal services’ acquisition journeys are lengthy and involve many stakeholders. Using customer-facing insights, we can now codify many of the interactions that precede an engagement and support a healthy relationship to allow digital to do the heavy lifting. Using personalisation and profile-building features, digital services can ‘follow the client’ throughout their journey, better meet their needs, and provide data that supports continual service and process evolution. Personalised interactions with multiple stakeholders can be managed using ‘relationship spaces’ powered by platforms like Salesforce, Dynamics and Hubspot. Even the most complex sale journeys can be streamlined and enhanced to deliver greater value.

2. Digital Experience

A high level of insight into sales and engagement journeys can enable firms to innovate to deliver wholesale self-service.

This evolution allows firms to move away from websites as passive brochureware to an approach that adds value to audience interactions and improves engagement both pre- and post-sale.

3. Online Configuration

A classic tactic of the professional services sector is to keep pricing opaque. This is rapidly being undone by companies like LegalDrop, which can provide more transparent pricing and flexible models.

Although legal firms typically trade on value rather than price, it does not mean they are unaffected. Firms can simplify some services, offer flexible options, and streamline journeys to make engagement easier and put more control in the hands of the client.

4. Content Optimisation

One of the most effective ways for legal firms to raise awareness and grow engagement is to provide thought leadership content, bringing knowledge to life and adding value.

As well as optimising for search engines, content should be shaped by search-engine research to identify new conversations and merchandised across all touchpoints. For example, linking on site profiles with social media means you can align content delivery with sales and support journeys wherever the audience is. This can also include in-person interactions. With the technology in place to merchandise content cross-platform, it is a small leap to use it to empower teams to make their conversations even more effective.

5. Data-Driven Processes

The technology that drives a data-driven retail mindset can enhance the efficiency of sales and customer servicing teams. In the past, online platforms were typically a supporting channel. Now, however, companies are benefitting from integrating it as part of a seamless customer journey by ensuring their data delivers a single customer view. The insights gained can also be used to inform person-to-person interactions. Your representatives can get a more detailed understanding of what content and services resonate at each stage of the journey and what helps drive conversion. This can inform how they interact with clients, making relationships not only more effective but also more accountable.

While much early-stage transformation at legal firms focuses on the automation of work traditionally undertaken by paralegals, so much more can be done to digitise operations. Doing so builds in immediate efficiencies, but also sets the precedent for client expectations in the future.

Although firms in this brave new world will still be selling their expertise, services will increasingly be augmented by technology to make advice more accessible, efficient – and valuable.

Digital tools are already smart enough to streamline professional services and customer experiences.