Embracing digital doesn’t just mean better utilising the online sphere, it also means considered collaboration with emerging legal tech players, argues one partner.

In conversation with Lawyers Weekly, DLA Piper IP and tech partner Nicholas Boyle said that partnering, venturing and investing in external businesses are a particularly attractive prospect for law firms at this juncture given that such moves “carry less investment risk”.

“There is obviously a contribution from the firm, but if a product or development doesn’t succeed, someone else is sharing in that loss. However, that also carries the downside that the success of the product or development isn’t entirely in the firm’s control, and also may mean that there is an attraction to making multiple smaller investments or enter into multiple partnerships, which can mean that there is less clarity about the direction and objectives for these disruption and innovation activities,” he explained.

“My experience and observation [are] that those organisations who do best with transformation projects and disrupting industry are those that have a clarity of purpose.”

Law firms are adopting a variety of models when it comes to such partnerships, Mr Boyle said.

This can include “either developing and investing in disruptive and transformative services and products internally, investing in other businesses that remain independent, partnering (e.g. using technologies like Checkbox.ai or Kira for automation and AI) or buying other businesses.”

“In my view, a mixture of these approaches is appropriate depending on the firm’s overall business objectives and what it is trying to achieve in a particular area where it is either trying to create or respond to disruption,” he submitted.

When asked about what might work or not work in addressing the challenges posed by these partnerships and ventures, Mr Boyle said: “There isn’t one answer to this, as the challenges differ between sectors and industries, and even between businesses.”

“Understanding and having a clear view of what outcome you are seeking to achieve – the purpose – by whatever means you are pursuing it [are] more important than the means itself,” he noted.

There are, however, lessons for law firms from the experiences of businesses across the realm of professional services, he added.

“My observation of the professional services marketplace is that other professional services firms, particularly the ‘[big four]’, have been very focused and effective in understanding clients’ needs, and their positioning and work product [are] focused on meeting those client needs,” Mr Boyle advised.

“This sometimes means breaking down the traditional practice area silos and working collaboratively across multiple disciplines to deliver a single, cohesive product and service that is tailored to the client. Law firms can do more to learn from how the [big four] have done this, and position themselves as problem-solvers more broadly.”

Looking ahead, there will also be noticeable changes to the nature and processes of firms who embrace such change, Mr Boyle concluded.

“My view is that BigLaw firms will look much as they do today, perhaps with a slightly different mix of seniority of lawyers, and that the biggest changes will be to the work that they do – the repeatable, lower value tasks will be much more automated with less human intervention and input, apart from providing overarching context to and insights on the outputs,” he said.

“There will be opportunities for lawyers to provide more forward-looking advice on trends, emerging issues and business risks as ‘big data’ and data analytics [enable] lawyers to make those observations. And of course, technology will be even more critical to firms than it is today.”

Transforming a legal business through tech investments

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