By Andrew Baker, HBR Consulting
When law firms hear the word digital, they often think of marketing, particularly websites and content — but that concept can and should be more. It’s time for law firms to pivot on this definition, as digital is poised to transform the way that firms operate.
While some of this work is underway, not all firms appreciate the value of digital, and few frame activities under the digital banner. Instead, law firms take a fragmented approach to what could otherwise form a cohesive digital strategy. In many firms, digital initiatives like the following are underway:
- Applied technology teams look at how technology intersects with service delivery
- Data teams explore how firms and their clients can extract more insights from existing and new data assets
- Design teams rethink how they can deliver services to best meet clients’ needs
However, most firms haven’t knit these separate threads together into a holistic digital strategy.
How Law Firms Can Improve Their Digital Strategy
In choosing where to launch their digital strategy, firms should adopt a product management-like mindset. Starting with their most vibrant practices and highest areas of expertise, they then need to assess a series of key factors, including:
- Their market
- Their services
- The potential client experience (and how to distinguish themselves)
- The data needed to support service management, delivery and improvement
- Their bench of talent
Firms should conduct a thorough business analysis before embarking on their digital journey. Ideally, firms will consider how big the potential market is and what problems the firm can address. For example, if a firm has captured only a tiny portion of a $100 million market, perhaps it should explore other opportunities for digital engagement.
Second, firms should study the services implicated. Compared to other firm offerings, does the practice have higher volume? Is the work recurring or episodic? Are the services provided to large corporate law departments or smaller private equity companies? Each firm’s practice and client mix varies, and understanding the services and buyers will help the firm triangulate efforts.
Third, firms must ensure the solution meets clients’ needs: client experience and market fit are key. Product teams should engage in a thoughtful back-and-forth with clients. A nonlawyer or nonpracticing professional liaison can serve as a filter, further unpacking client feedback.
Fourth, firms should apply focus and creativity when thinking of what data to collect, how to collect it and how to use it to create new insights and value. Historically, data that describes the services provided is an afterthought. Firms now see this space differently and are capturing more practice data. It’s incumbent upon firms to consider what data best characterizes success and what quantitative methods will elicit the deepest insight.
Finally, finding and retaining talent with the right skill set is critical. Traditional firm IT may be ill-equipped to build an appropriate solution, as product-development work falls outside its usual purview. That’s not a knock on IT; it’s just not a core function of the typical department. When tasked to field products internally, not only is the result often subpar, but the firm also wastes time, effort and resources in creating a product that lacks market fit, discouraging future investment in innovation. As firms continue to target standalone or augmentative software solutions, they may want to rethink their technology organization broadly. By shedding non-differentiating functions, such as disaster recovery and hosted litigation, firms can refocus their resources on more valuable practice-oriented solutions.
The Results of a Cohesive Digital Strategy
Law firms that purposefully thread together their digital efforts can elevate their service offerings and better productize their services. Digital products that law firms have created include example solutions such as:
- A content and document assembly platform to help startups progress through business formation
- A suite of privacy applications to address legal and regulatory obligations
- A dawn raid antitrust app that provides step-by-step antitrust guidance across jurisdictions
As more firms strive for greater maturity in managing, deploying and growing solutions, they’ll redefine their concept of digital and develop new product management capabilities that mirror those found outside our industry. Done well, firms’ new digital interactions will create more meaningful client engagement, generate more valuable insights and create new revenue opportunities.
Editor’s note: Andrew Baker and Kim Craig presented their session “Digital Strategy in Law: Setting the Foundation” at LMA P3 – The Practice Innovation Conference in 2019. For more information, access the session recording here.
LMA transformed its in-person P3 - The Practice Innovation Conference into P3 - The Virtual Experience to meet the time-sensitive needs of the business of law community. Join us for a series of online, interactive content taking place this June. Visit the P3 home page for the most up-to-date information.
Andrew Baker is a senior director in the Legal Transformation + Innovation practice within the advisory business at HBR Consulting (HBR), specializing in digital services and analytics. He has more than 10 years of experience delivering strategic, operational and technology advice and solutions to law firms and corporate law departments. He can be reached at ABaker@hbrconsulting.com.