Lawyers Don't Understand Technology (and Technologists Don’t Understand Law)

GeneralDec 12, 2019

Most industries, even highly regulated ones, are beginning to implement new digital tools to navigate the modern world. The legal industry, however, isn’t following the same trajectory, and technology adoption among legal practitioners is actually remaining stagnant. There are many reasons for this, ranging from tradition to regulatory concerns, but a core reason for this disconnect is that lawyers and technologists often speak different languages. This lack of alignment creates massive barriers to developing successful solutions that make sense within the framework of a legal practice. With 90 percent of legal departments predicting an increase in workloads over the next two years, now is the time for lawyers and technologists to begin to understand each other and start collaborating on solutions that work.

From a law firm’s perspective, selecting a particular software package or IT system is about staying competitive. Firms view solutions as they relate to specific challenges, such as document review and discovery management, accurately tracking time, client billing, or storing files securely. Though this perspective addresses real, immediate problems, it is also short-sighted and often misses larger, fundamental concerns that go beyond day-to-day operations. Think of it as fixing potholes versus re-engineering a crumbling highway so that it doesn’t need to be constantly fixed.

This “Band-Aid” approach seems natural to many lawyers because it’s how the profession has always done things. But it’s a head-scratcher for technologists, because to them, it seems inefficient and arbitrary. Why wouldn’t a law firm just replace a patchwork system with a platform that can handle multiple needs? This is where a technologist’s approach to deciding the best fit for a solution differs from the legal perspective.

The problem, of course, is that lawyers often feel that technical folks just don’t understand the complicated nature of their business. It’s not that they intrinsically distrust technology, it’s that they don’t believe that the software vendors truly grasp the problems that need to be solved. Does the intended function of the solution actually fit with the processes and environment of a law firm? Even when technologists have thought through this question, they may not be able to develop the right product or service because they have a limited understanding of a legal practice’s ecosystem.

Law firms need to transform their operations digitally to ensure that they are using people, processes and technology to deliver the best client experience. This may require a package of solutions that can work together to improve the overall functions of the firm or a particular practice. These solutions will only have meaningful impact, though, when both lawyers and technologists  broaden their limited perspectives.

Digital transformation is no longer optional in most industries, law included. In order to find success in a saturated market, law firms need to differentiate offerings and set themselves apart to clients. New solutions are being built to help with this problem. In 2018, legal technology startups received around $1 billion of funding worldwide. Unfortunately, this is not translating to technological adoption in law firms. In order to increase adoption, lawyers and technologists need to understand each other and work towards the same goals. 

The data revolution has changed law. You need a partner that has kept up.