Post-pandemic, law firms will accelerate legal tech integration: Thomson Reuters CPO
Despite the initial COVID-19 slow-down in law firm expenditures on legal tech, the long-term impact of the pandemic will be an even greater acceleration of law firm technology adoption, says Stuart Barr, chief product and strategy officer at HighQ, part of Thomson Reuters.
“Law firms are adopting technology in much smarter ways and using it to transform their legal-service delivery, and all COVID has done is accelerate that even further,” says Barr. “The need to have people able to work remotely from home, from anywhere – where clients are obviously going to be anywhere as well – you need great collaboration software. You need great software as a service and cloud-based tools that you can deliver that service on and be more productive and more efficient.”
For years, though law firms talked about the efficiency and productivity gains available through automated processes, conservative instincts prevailed, says Barr.
“They really would just stick to the billable hour and do things in the same way that they've always done. And that's been going on for decades,” he says.
But over the last 3-to-4 years that has changed. Barr has noticed a “step change” in the seriousness with which law firms are viewing the need to modernize.
“We have seen a much greater adoption – if you like – of much more sophisticated tools. It's not just basic file-sharing anymore,” he says. “They are really looking at, fundamentally, how can they change the way they work? How can they deliver that experience to their clients in a much more seamless way using modern technology and taking advantage of automation and artificial intelligence and data visualization to drive those efficiencies?”
“That is the major change that we're seeing in the legal industry. It is happening now. It's real. It's not just talk. Some firms are further ahead in that journey than others. But I believe the ones that are more mature in their digital transformation will be a serious competitive advantage compared to those that are lagging behind.”
Though the longer-term trend is toward greater technological implementation, faced with the COVID-19 lockdown, there was a slump in legal-tech spending by law firms, says Barr. Sales initially dwindled but have since recovered, he says.
Gillian Scott also saw challenges in the legal tech market when COVID hit in March. Scott is partner, Innovative Products at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP. Formerly a partner in the litigation group, Scott is now in charge of assessing, developing, staffing, pricing and launching Osler’s legal product offerings, including Osler Dash, an automated franchise disclosure and e-contracting platform.
“Trying to sell new products during a pandemic is extraordinarily difficult. Selling legal products in and of itself is not an easy slog, but during a pandemic when people are scrambling to make sure that their businesses remain viable is not a great time to be pitching new legal offerings,” Scott says.
“As we're coming out of it, it's actually building some opportunity.”
In August, Barr and Thomson Reuters debuted HighQ 5.4, a cloud-based platform used for client, document, project, transaction, litigation, compliance and portfolio management. HighQ was founded in 2001, owned privately until 2015 and by the time Thomson Reuters acquired it in July 2019, was used by 400 law firms, globally.
“We have always focused on building collaboration software and client engagement software. And over the years, we have expanded our platform considerably,” says Barr.
HighQ 5.4 is integrated with Thomson Reuters products Contract Express and Legal Tracker – the document automation system and e-billing platform. Future versions of HighQ will continue to incorporate Thomson Reuters’ legal software portfolio, says Barr.
Jason Moyse is director of Autologyx, a no-code workflow automation platform, and says the future for legal professionals and their organizations is in platforms, not products.
"The firms seeking to be truly empowered by digital transformation aren't even thinking in terms of products. Products are disposable, whereas platforms are malleable and scalable across different use cases," says Moyse.
"It's more important to think in terms of automation by re-using data models and process outcomes. This is done through a digital operations platform that provides multiple use cases from the same chassis and easily integrates existing or new technology into processes – like systems of record, machine-learning, term extraction, e-signature and document management systems."