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I went to ILTACON 2018 to learn about what's important to legal IT, administration and support teams right now. They have some very complicated problems to solve this year. I also didn't expect to see a CIO dressed like Wario.

Executive Summary:

  • Driving innovation in law firms is notoriously hard.
  • Managing meetings in law firms is very time consuming.
  • Maximizing billable hours is everything.
  • With more collaboration, tracking time and cost is even more time consuming.
  • The most important project is “the next one”.

All of these points fall neatly into one of three frequently discussed terms: change management/process automation, optimizing billable hours, and future-proofing. I'm going to share the things I learned in these three big areas.

Driving Innovation in Law Firms is Notoriously Hard

Good attorneys are good at managing risk. Consequently, innovation inside law firms is notoriously slow as change carries risk (especially big changes in the biggest, NLJ 500 sized firms). There has been significant adoption of document management systems in the past few years. I spoke to many IT directors who we working hard to support more cloud software, including Dropbox, Word 365, and Microsoft 365.

Sean Hewen's roundtable discussion really framed the discussion around updating a process for me. New software and process management tools should support the firm's current workflow or build a new workflow off an existing process - the training and switching costs of disruptive technology and all-new processes are too great.

Named partners don't want to spend hours learning a new app to book meetings - they want an app that makes their existing process easier (named partners also don't want to change their password every 90 days, but that's another story).

Consequently, firms are introducing technologies in a very controlled way called change management. Lots of planning and strategy goes into selecting tasks that are a good fit for process automation. Most often, this looks like migrating a firm from on-prem to a hybrid Exchange cloud while upgrading the IT infrastructure. Then Outlook feels the same to the users while the backend powering Outlook changes. The process of choosing and planning the new solution is the change management. The result of that successful migration is the process automation.

Innovation Should Optimize Time Management and Maximize Billing

There were two recurring themes throughout every session, luncheon, and the keynotes: lawyers meet a lot, and the ultimate goal is maximizing billable hours.

Process automation is most often discussed as a pathway to maximizing billable hours. Repetitive, complex tasks are being automated when that can be done without rocking the boat too much leaving the user free to attend to client matters. There is a sweet spot in process automation where the end user has a faster, better experience, without having to relearn a whole process.

Document assembly and automated ediscovery tools remain the most common ways firms have adopted some form of automation. Over 30% of firms have implemented one of these two technologies.

With AskCody, law firms feel like it’s a step they can take towards process automation and innovation. That said, there’s a big impact because AskCody makes it a lot easier to manage meetings and get your team back to value added activities, like billing more hours.

One process we automate entirely is tracking spend.

Our global economy and growing sophistication of client's in-house counsel is making meetings more collaborative than ever and, as a result, law firms are spending more and more time tracking spend and assigning to cost centers/client matters, etc. This is just one of the processes we automate entirely – I’d love to show you how!

How Can You Future Proof Projects and Processes?

This was the big question in many discussions around technology, "how do we do this the best way this time, so we don't have to spend a lot of time on maintenance or implementing another system in two years." Workflows built around the document management system were a common solution, e.g. build everything around Clio and Outlook.

This is also the area where we got the best feedback about AskCody - our tight integration with Outlook makes it easy. The AskCody workflow is entirely based on what you’re already doing in Exchange and Outlook so this requires very little implementation or training time from your IT team – ensuring you get to your most important project, the next one, as quickly as possible.

When you have a moment, you should check out the feedback we’ve received on the ILTA network.

The other very interesting thing I learned at ILTA2018: Legal technologists are very competitive and good natured.

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