Law firm’s productivity dependent on technology

WEB DESK: There is no doubt that law firms and legal departments in Asia are now a days beginning to realise the importance of technology for to streamline processes and boost efficiency in their workflows.

In fact technology is providing the ability to make faster and more appropriate decisions for to deliver the flexibility and security that law firms need in order to respond to evolving needs of the client and market demands. Law firms in Asia are not technologically advanced when compared to Europe or the US, but many international firms that have a presence in Asia did adopt technology solutions.

However, some law firms are now realising that they’re falling behind and they’re losing business to international law firms, so they’re slowly trying to change the attitudes of the individuals to accept that they need to adopt technology. In a survey conducted recently in this regard more than half of the respondents said their firms’ adoption of legal technology was ‘fair’, ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’. Slightly more than a third said the uptake was ‘good’. Only very few respondents said it was ‘very good’.

Nevertheless the legal professionals in the Asian region are now recognising that for law firm’s processes, automation can help and assist to free their time which can be spent on more important tasks. For instance, matter management, is an important area which can help and keep tabs on processes more efficiently and collaboratively, this process can keep staff and clients better informed in many respects. For example, merger transactions involve huge paper work and it could typically run into thousands of pages, the handling of such paper work with the help of technology gives advantages to handle the issues quickly.

Customer relationship management or (CRM), for instance, allows law firms to handle a more detailed data analysis and the viability to proceed in different business sectors. These processes extend an advantage to identify loss-making areas and to act accordingly. Another important area is that of business intelligence which is irreplaceable and one can’t make sensible decisions without it; it has opened a new world for users and is allowing its practitioners to be more informed. Practice management and electronic timekeeping tools help to keep pace with the rapid expansion.

In fact a competitive edge is being provided those to the law firms who are the user of technology. In many respects law firm business is changing, and the firms now need to get pricing information quickly in order to deliver it back to the client. The technology thus provides a dynamic edge in reporting and the ability to generate comprehensive data more quickly and accurately for to provide analysis needed to better mobilise internal resources.

Another key area is Knowledge management which gives law firms a tool to seek technology solutions. There are new tools like westlaw, ABASCUS, Henon on line etc; which provide materials and information for lawyers and law students. Availability of these tools gives larger firms an advantage and benefit in the shape of economies of scale and in this manner firms are more likely to be able to afford access to technology.

To address the problems which the law firms face, new technologies can help to sort out their problems. E-billing is an example which gives the firms an ability to acquire better information before the law firm can issue invoice, and these reports may bear a red flag in respect of firms which have inconsistent status reports. It is an admitted fact that technology allows far better budget planning and visibility of future costs.

It also makes it easier to track and compare law firm performance in order to extend incentives to better performers. Many law firms may have opted for stringent security requirements, such impediments may lead to restrictive use of technologies, however, it would be better if they meet the confronting challenge with open arms and embrace the technological advancement in order to meet the emerging demands. May be language barrier might be a cause for slow acceptability of the use of technology but the impediments can be removed with better training of the staff in English language.

Often senior staff members are reluctant to change their working practices, and such an attitude is another stumbling block that impedes progress. These attitudes are dependent on fears, and can easily be removed by training. A lot of people working at law firms belong to old school; they’re used to handle physical copies, so they would like to have hard copies than a soft copy.

Cultural traditions in Asia can also have an influence on attitudes towards technology. In Asia the relationships are built on just spending time with each other and building trust and, in some cases, it is less about the firm than it is about the individual relationships; everything is done on a very personal level. Further, the clients in Asia are very cost-conscious and they negotiate very hard, so anything to stream these processes can help to bring down costs and can be helpful for the business.

Many professionals believe that technology will continue to improve the legal professionals to do their jobs. That is why, matter management software, document assembly, reporting tools and virtual law firms are expected to have greater impact on society and business. It is expected that in the coming days the next generation of practice management software are going to be much stronger and will bring focus on developing tools that will make individuals more productive and efficient.

No doubt that clients expect pertinent information with respect to their businesses which can be shared within the firm and amongst lawyers working on their matters to understand the confronting issues in a wider context. In a climate of ever-increasing information the only way one can be sure of achieving this is by having integration software, designed to operate in a way that doesn’t invade the day-to-day working behaviours of lawyers but pushes relevant information to them, rapidly and quickly.

While the potential for artificial intelligence software is likely to hog the headlines, it is believed that developments in knowledge-sharing capabilities are going to be more relevant over the next few years. In new innovations and technology, it may not be huge quantum leaps but it’s the pooling of technology that is now available and that too more broadly across the firms who are likely to have the biggest impact of technology.

The speed of technological change in Asia is ultimately going to come down and it all depends how quickly legal firms in the region recognise that how the technologies can improve productivity and profitability. (The writer is an advocate and is currently working as an associate with Azim-ud-Din Law Associates Karachi) -Business Recorder