With this, his inaugural column, it is my great pleasure to introduce to our readers and clients Doug Caddell, who is formally joining Adam Smith, Esq. as a senior advisor (see the About Us page for more on Doug’s distinguished background). Doug brings over three decades of experience in strategy-focused technology leadership in our industry to our team of advisors, including his 13 years as CIO of Foley & Lardner where he repeatedly won technology industry awards for practical but forward-looking approach to technology in a large-scale firm environment with highly demanding internal and external clients.

We’re delighted to have Doug on-board, and he adds to our capabilities in an area that could not be more critical for any sophisticated organization in 2014 and beyond: True technology expertise based on decades of experience and vision.

What follows is his first column outlining his overview of the legal technology landscape and previewing some of the topics he plans to write about in more detail in future weeks and months.

–Bruce


“Call it the Great Recession, the Great Reset, or whatever, the world palpably shook in September 2008 and the repercussions are still very much with us.”

Bruce MacEwen wrote the above in his 2013 book Growth is Dead, and while changes have been made, much of it still rings true today – including for law firm technology.

Many law firms have changed their business model, or have given the appearance of change – think Alternative Fee Arrangements.  But much of what law firms do and how they do it has remained the same, along with the technology.  We continue to rely on technology approaches and the underlying IT that firms used when law firms could easily bill hours, and individual and firm efficiencies were a lower priority for lawyers and clients.  Law firm technology was, and mostly still is, complex, silo’d and structured to support ways that we worked before the Great Reset.  And more importantly, it doesn’t position us for the future.

As a former AmLaw 50 CEO told me on more than one occasion, “Technology touches everything we do.”  But the law firm IT model has essentially remained the same, short on creativity and innovation, at a time when law firms need to work smarter and adapt to changing business and technology environments – and client expectations.

The IT world is changing – cloud, mobile, personalized experience, Big Data, predictive computing, and greater expectations embraced at home and assumed at work.  Technology is increasingly pervasive, and in ways invasive, with multiplying mountains of data. Yet we as an industry have done virtually nothing to build this change into our strategy for the future—preferring to be lemmings marching toward a technology cliff.

It doesn’t need to be this way, and in a series of articles I’ll be publishing here on Adam Smith, Esq., I plan to lay out opportunities of what the 21st Century can hold for us in the legal industry. It’s a truism to state that the technology world continues to evolve, as does the legal market.  We need to evolve both together, improving existing processes and using technology to develop new legal products and services.

Back in 1995 many lawyers didn’t want a computer on their desk They didn’t see a future in it and in the memorable phrase of one at the time, didn’t “want to be doing what a secretary should be doing.” Thankfully, that attitude is dead and buried—for the most part. But what exactly should we replace that attitude, and that approach to the business and profession of law, with? This is the critical question I plan to address in this series of articles. I’ve highlighted some of the key areas I plan to delve into in greater detail in the remainder of this column.

In his latest book, A New Taxonomy, MacEwen wrote, “The way firms deploy technology will shift from an emphasis on increasing the efficiency with which lawyers can do what they’ve always done – “digitizing the quill and pen,”  – to true innovation in areas including big data, pattern recognition systems, and predictive intelligence.”

There will always be a need for technology to support the day-to-day operations of the firm.  But that’s not where the value resides and while automating the quill pen can help improve efficiency, it doesn’t drive innovation of legal services.

As we address the future, we need to simplify our existing IT so that we can focus on the future-state of our business and legal service delivery.

First we must simplify and reduce our reliance where appropriate on in-house infrastructure and the staff to maintain the constant barrage of updates and upgrades.  We must also rethink the dependence upon complex specialty add-on software that was the domain of professional legal secretaries and word processors, and make technology easier to use.  Systems should be simpler and more in line with how attorneys create and share documents on their own, and how technology works today, not as it was designed 15 years ago, before lawyers learned to type.

There are also new ways to provide IT services without the capital and maintenance investment of the past.  Cloud computing and managed services continue to evolve providing greater opportunities to simplify the “structural” internal technology, allowing technology teams to give more attention to working smarter.  Streamlining the basics will allow us to focus on new opportunities and new outside challenges such as the burgeoning privacy and data-security regulatory environment.

We must also move beyond the false fear of change – and stop focusing on reasons why things “shouldn’t” be done, verses finding ways to move ahead.  The “status quo” business strategy of pre-2008 no longer works, and a “status quo” technology plan will prevent a firm from quickly adopting new ways to survive and succeed.

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