Do we have to change the way we think about transformation and innovation in law firms? On Law Technology Now, co-hosts Monica Bay and Sean La Roque-Doherty are joined by TJ Johnson, to discuss what technology projects law firms are implementing today, whether or not law firms are generally successful with new technology, and how firms can dress their non-lawyers for success.
TJ Johnson is the practice development lead – professional services for Olenick, global leaders in software quality engineering and vice president of conference and events for the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) .
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Law Technology Now
Achieving Success at Law Firms through Technology
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Monica Bay: Welcome TJ Johnson. Let’s start by having you tell us a little bit about your new job after ILTA.
TJ Johnson: Thanks Monica. I’ve started such a great new adventure. I’m really, really excited about it. I’m bringing everything that I learned in all my time as an IT director at a law firm and in managing a corporate law department, and of course, the time at ILTA, (the International Legal Technology Association), there I got to work with IT leaders from all over the globe, developing educational programs.
So, I had an opportunity to really learn what’s going on across the whole world in IT related to legal. So, I’m bringing all of that to Olenick, which is an IT services and consulting company that focuses for legal on strategic IT, helping technologists and technologies being successful in projects in law.
So, I’m working with some amazing servant leaders who I fell in love with immediately and I have lots of opportunities to add my own strategic approach to the mix. So, I’ll be helping CIOs and large firms and IT leaders in smaller firms, helping them really understand the benefit of adding quality assurance to their projects, and making sure that they have success in everything that they do.
And I’m also working with our internal team to transform some of our own processes and find new ways to help our law firm clients do even more things better, and address their core business challenges and innovate a bit here and there. And it’s really about, I didn’t run away from ILTA, but I’m still very involved there as well, now on a volunteer basis.
I’m speaking on successful project management at various conferences for them. I’ll be doing some writing for ILTA.
Monica Bay: That is terrific.
TJ Johnson: That’s great. Thanks. And I’m going to have a column too asking the right questions that’s going to go into their magazine and there’s a whole bunch of other projects. So, I’ll be helping ensure the future success of ILTA and of Olenick.
Monica Bay: I am so thrilled to hear about that because a lot of people were really, really missing you and I’m delighted with your new person. It’s going to be great. I’m so glad to hear that.
Sean La Roque-Doherty: That all sounds very exciting, especially now that you’re both volunteering for ILTA and your new job, and from your experience taking ILTA into your new work, what technology projects are law firms implementing today and what are they looking to do tomorrow?
TJ Johnson: Well, there’s so much change that’s happening in technology on a daily basis now. I’m finding that most law firms are really having to implement many different projects from things that they are “innovative projects” to infrastructure and hardware and a lot of — some of the less exciting things just to keep things moving.
But there are also just so many new things coming out that a lot of firms are really keeping — having trouble keeping track of what projects they do have in place. And so I ask law firms when I talk with them, how many projects they think they have running and it’s amazing that most of them have something somewhere between 10, a 100, 200 different technology projects going at one time.
So, they run the gamut from — on the infrastructure side, most of the projects that are related to changes as to whether they are doing — continuing to have their infrastructure in-house or if they’re looking at Windows as a service and much more in terms of can a lot of that infrastructure be dealt within the cloud.
They are looking at Windows 10, lots of firms have moved to Windows 10 because they have to, and many more over the next 12 months will be — are implementing those Windows 10 projects. They’re looking at Office 2016, Office 2019 and figuring out whether they are going to continue to stay completely on-premises with their Office Suite or if they are going to Office 365.
What I’m seeing for hardware is the projects that they are putting in place are either choosing between giving all of the attorneys Microsoft Surfaces or going with the Lenovo X1 Carbon kinds of laptops with an ongoing debate as to whether professional staff should be allowed to have Surfaces as well, and all of that ties into the mobility projects because many of the firms are working on how much people are having to work in the office versus being allowed to be more remote. So, again, there’s a lot of talk of laptops versus Surfaces and what different devices they should support.
So, they have projects in place to make sure that they are managing those mobile devices well, which also leads to security projects which almost every law firm right now is implementing and planning to implement this year, projects related to data loss protection, managing those mobile devices securely, doing security awareness training and the ever-popular email management, figuring out how to sure that that is dealt with safely and intrusion detection and multi-factor authentication projects.
So, those are the big security ones that I’m seeing lots of new analytics projects, more data analytics projects being done that were business intelligence kinds of apps and things that were called Big Data that are now turning into somewhat AI projects — Artificial Intelligence projects versus Machine Learning projects, and some that are just really data scientists and doing good Data Analytics projects.
There’s lots of document management projects still in place, most of them looking at whether their document management is being moved to the cloud versus staying on-prem, but making sure the service is cloud-based, but dealing with any client concerns with documents remaining on the property. So, quite a few projects I’m seeing out there.
Myriad practice area projects that are either application-related for IP and lid support, lots still different kinds of e-discovery projects not all of which are AI-related, and building apps, lots of firms now are creating their own in-house apps then there are other ones that they’re purchasing but a lot of them are looking at things like Fliplet, little software products that can allow you to build the apps in-house.
So, I would say, a large portion now of the law firms for 2019 have an app development project in their works. And most of them are looking at automation in various different ways; either automating the really technical stuff like software test scripts or patch automation, trying to find ways to have that be automated more often and then, RPA (Robotic Process Automation) where they are looking at automated processes that are currently done manually or clerically. So, there’s lots of that going on.
There are blockchain projects under a lot of firms, some are building their own little cryptocurrencies and true blockchain apps that they are using immutable records to help them deal with IP issues. Some are in real-estate, some are in record archives kinds of things.
And so there’s a lot of new apps coming out there, there’s a lot of different ways those are being combined together and lots of firms are looking to ones that have been created already to see how they can best utilize them within their own profiles that they have in their firms.
Sean La Roque-Doherty: Wow
TJ Johnson: And the other area that — well — and there’s one more, there’s one more area, one more bucket which is the really simple low budget projects that law firms are doing. Lots of them are dealing with e-signatures. So, everyone should already have some kind of DocuSign or other e-signature project in place but many of them don’t. And so, that’s on a lot of people’s lists for this next year and also very simple things like using Word and Excel to do more.
Many firms are just saying, are there ways that we can better utilize the products we have already so they have big projects in place to make sure that they cover off on things that they probably already have paid for, that aren’t leveraging as well as they should.
Sean La Roque-Doherty: Yeah, those are very important too for the law firm to actually leverage their current licensing, but then if there’s any evidence for innovation you’ve certainly labeled it for what law firms are doing now anywhere from infrastructure to security, to analytics, and Artificial Intelligence, and even up to blockchain. So, all those are very interesting.
So, juggling all these projects, ten or more, I can barely juggle two, are law firms generally successful with new technology, and if not, why do technology projects in law firms generally fail?
TJ Johnson: Well, I think there’s a huge range in success and most of that comes from how they define success for it. Most people are going to tell you that their project is successful even if it meant that all of the rest of their systems went down for a day or it was only being — the user adoption is only at 10%, to me it’s not about failing completely but it’s about making sure that these projects are meeting all of the original success measures that were put in place.
And the biggest issue is, A, they don’t know how many projects they have in place; B, they don’t understand if those projects are meeting a real business need or if they were just a cool idea that a technologist had to put something in place that — or an attorney said, hey, I heard of this thing and I think it will solve all our problems and so they start working on that. But they don’t really stop and focus on whether or not these projects all work together and whether they help the firm really move forward in addressing their business challenges.
So, I see why they fail, I see why they fail that the projects don’t completely meet success because to start with, technologists and the managing partners speak completely different language when they’re talking about what needs to happen in a firm.
When I talk with managing partners I hear that their biggest business challenges are the fragmentation of the legal market and the decline of the institutional relationship with clients. I hear that firms that succeed will be the ones that can differentiate their offering and digitally transform their operations to ensure they’re using people, processes and technology to deliver the best client experience.
A technologist is going to be looking at a tactical business problem that they are trying to solve, that they don’t have support for Windows whatever version they were using, and they’re going to have to upgrade to Windows 10. That’s a tactical problem they have to solve, but somehow they need to tie that into the business problems, the business challenges that the firm has and the way that the managing partners talk about it.
So, that’s the first thing that ends up being a gap is that technologists are heading in one direction and justifying why they need to implement certain technologies and not being able to talk with the managing partners and saying we can help you address the main business challenges you have by leveraging technology in this way to help you address that challenge.
Monica Bay: Is there a magic that helps them to get good technology projects?
TJ Johnson: I think that “magic” might not be the word, but yes, I think there’s sort of an outline or a framework of what can make the projects be successful and it all starts at that beginning place where they are talking about what business challenge is this technology really going to address and how does it tie into the rest of the projects you already have?
And being able to communicate that and then start looking at, if they say, hey, that sounds like a good idea, then start looking at how you plan it, assess the risks of it, look at measuring it and testing it, and moving all of that to the very beginning of the project.
So, what I have seen regularly is that people get too far down, and the project sort of is, is running and it’s in place and they’re partway through, working through it and then they get ready to test it the technology, and at that point is when they find out there’s something that doesn’t work, or at that point they find out that what the users need isn’t what they were proposing and it isn’t going to meet the business challenge that they have. And they’ve already accepted the risk of this project and so it becomes too late to decide to — they either have to incur a big cost to go back to the beginning or they have to can it completely and start with something else new.
So if they were to start at the very beginning by clearly identifying that business challenge and looking at each one to make sure that it is addressing either a broken process or that it is going to give them a leg up in terms of meeting what those business challenges that the managing partners have and then start looking at how they can shift the risk of it to the beginning of it and start saying in order to be successful we are going to make sure that we have asked the questions about how this will get used, ask the questions about what will really be defined as the success. And not the way it will be defined by the technologists, but the way it’s defined by the end users and the way the firm will see it as success.
And I say, if your first mistake is starting a project that may or may not be needed, don’t let your second mistake be extending it beyond when you have already figured out that it’s not going to meet the need that you have.
So the magic is in starting at the beginning and treating it like you would another kind of project or a business deal. If you were putting your money on the line for this yourself, wouldn’t you want to make sure that every step along the way it is meeting — it’s going to meet the success that you need to have and that you have defined what success really means for it. That to me is the number one indicator or magic of making sure that the projects are successful.
Sean La Roque-Doherty: Okay, it sounds like the magic or the chemistry really goes into project management and scoping the project according to the business needs and end user needs. Would that be a kind of a correct summation?
TJ Johnson: Absolutely. And then once you do get moving on the project, making sure you have looked at the change management and user adoption perspectives to make sure that this isn’t something that will technically work and technically be successful, in that it could be used these ways, but making sure that you work through to the end of it that it will be fully adopted by the people that it needs to be and ends up providing whatever results that you were expecting to have, whatever your original goal was for the project.
Sean La Roque-Doherty: Well, very good. So hold that thought for a moment. We are going to take a short break to hear from our sponsor.
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Sean La Roque-Doherty: All right, welcome back to Law Technology Now. I am Sean La Roque-Doherty with Monica Bay and we are talking to TJ Johnson. And following up from our pre-break conversation TJ, are there key performance indicators law firms should set up and monitor to keep technology projects on track and on budget for success?
TJ Johnson: Oh, I think there are. I don’t think that they are some of the standards like gross margins or all those fancy initials that there are for key performance indicators, but for law firms and their projects it’s really about client retention, it’s about lawyers spending less time on things that could be automated and not having downtime.
So a lot of the ways that that can indicate specifically that a project is successful is being able to measure those kinds of things. Measuring, are there new clients that are brought on because this project was put in place and allows for the firm to do things in different ways, and are there specific time allocations that are not being spent on things that’s allowing the lawyers to spend much more time on things that they are highly skilled at and that they should be spending their valuable time on. And that people aren’t spending all their time on the help desk line because the system isn’t working.
So there is definitely a return on investment that you can measure on any kind of project, but for some of these kinds of technology projects, if you are putting in an artificial intelligence system, you are going to be looking at a very different kind of ROI than you would be for if you are putting in a time and billing system.
So I think law firms look at it and use the KPI term, but they are really looking at a lot softer kinds of measures and indicators for success for most of those projects.
Sean La Roque-Doherty: Okay, just a quick follow-up on that TJ, from your perspective, you mentioned time-based, in other words, how attorneys are spending time and I am trying to think back to some of the projects you mentioned, there wasn’t anything mentioned about time management. So should I assume that law firms have time management down to a tee?
TJ Johnson: I wouldn’t assume that at all. I think that one of the biggest issues they have going forward is that there are so many of these technologies that can take over some of the clerical work, some of the things that are easy for people to do, but that eat up a lot of time. And that one of the biggest challenges for law firms right now is making sure that the lawyers, the attorneys are spending their time on the right things, that they get the people who have the skills in particular areas really being able to use those in those areas and not wasting time on things that can be covered by either other people or particularly by technologies.
And the other time eater upper in terms of time management for lawyers is training them on new systems. The time that it takes to learn something new and even deciding not to use it and going back to old methods because that’s the routine that they have.
So those time management issues are key to success for the projects in the firms and just to affirm in general into the business of the firm, big focus on all of that.
Sean La Roque-Doherty: Yeah, that’s a big tradeoff because that’s not billable time when you are training on a new system.
TJ Johnson: Right. And it’s hard to get people to do it, so how can you do it super efficiently and at the same time make sure that they are understanding the benefit of potentially taking a little extra time learning it and then being able to see that when they are measured, how much time they spend on those same issues that less is spent because of the new technology.
Monica Bay: Do we have to change the way that we think about innovation in legal firms?
TJ Johnson: I think we absolutely need to. I think that a lot of what happens with innovation is that people are using that term to mean a lot of different things, and a big part of that is needing to tell clients that they are being innovative and saying that the powers that be are telling the technologists you have to find ways to be innovative. And that means either giving someone a title; there are a lot of now Chief Innovation Officers, there are a lot of Chief Knowledge Officers who now are the innovation lead in the firms and they are all trying to figure out what that means. And they are all trying to define what innovation means within their own — the business challenges their firms are facing, but also how they communicate it so that it is real.
Because there is a lot of things that are called innovation right now that aren’t and that are either simply the way things are evolving, the way they always have evolved and new ways of doing things. A lot of them are just little gaps that are being filled. There are people looking at the way their firm is doing business and saying hey, let’s ask questions about the way we are doing this and see if there are newer or slightly different ways of thinking that will help us to just everyday think about ways to do things better.
So I think that it’s about identifying real gaps there are in the way that things are moving into the future and saying, how can we not just be — always being reactive to them, but being ahead of them, being proactive, stretching the realm of possibility of what we can do and looking to see if things are generally moving in this direction, what could we do to make sure that our firm is ahead of that, that’s ready for that.
So it’s yes, you have to catch up on does blockchain — is there a blockchain application that can work. You have to look at is there AI that can work even when I don’t have much money because we need to remain competitive. The law firms have to find ways to deal with the fact that we have traditional law firms that don’t always look at the way that they are doing things because that’s really tough to do. But we have to find ways to change the way that we are doing it and I think those are — it can be transformative without being something that is tada, we have got the big thing that’s called innovation.
Sean La Roque-Doherty: Well, it looks like there is more people in the law firm working on innovation than just lawyers.
TJ Johnson: Absolutely.
Sean La Roque-Doherty: Lawyers and law firms have leadership models and pathways to partnership and their success is very well mapped out, but non-lawyers need leadership development and mentoring as well. How can firms dress non-lawyers for success?
TJ Johnson: That’s a really good and important point. I think that what we learn when we talk with all of the law firms everywhere is that there is a certain percentage of income or there is a certain amount allocated to making sure that the lawyers, the attorneys get leadership development.
They have their CLE requirements. They have ways that — they have mentoring programs in law firms. There are a lot of leadership tracks in law firms that are for the lawyers, but not for the professional staff, and the idea of professional staff saying they want to go to leadership development courses or they want to build mentoring programs for non-professional staff is really something that is only very, very sparsely done in law firms.
For the technologists, there is so much they need to learn about ways to communicate, ways to talk about projects, to be able to communicate with the management to make sure that they are a part of the decision making process, and the only way that can happen is if they are learning from others, if they go to various different courses to do that. ILTA has done a lot of that to try and fill those gaps, but there is so much that needs to happen within the firms in order to address that.
A diverse workforce is — we know that we need diverse workforces. We know we need more women in management. We know that we need to have different ways of looking at things, and in order to be innovative particularly, you need to have a lot of different viewpoints. And many attorneys think along — they are taught to think a certain way. So the more that can be taught to the rest of the professional staff about ways to look at things differently, ways to ask questions and think differently, the more chance there is for that law firm to be able to be innovative and to be able to take on new projects that will point them in different directions than they have traditionally gone.
Monica Bay: TJ, thank you so much. It’s just so wonderful to hear from you. And before you leave, please tell us how our listeners can reach you.
TJ Johnson: Sure. I am all over the place Monica. They can find me at TJ Johnson on LinkedIn. I am at Olenick & Associates. I am on twitter @TJJohnsonILTA. And my email address is [email protected].
Monica Bay: And thank you again.
Sean La Roque-Doherty: This has been another edition of Law Technology Now on the Legal Talk Network. If you liked what you heard today, please rate us in Apple Podcasts. Join us in the next edition of Law Technology Now. I am Sean La Roque-Doherty.
Monica Bay: And I am Monica Bay and we are signing off.
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