Technology SME law firms are interested in – and how to win their business

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Peter Wright is Managing Director of Digital Law, a specialist law firm advising on digital legal issues including data protection and cyber security.

Here he explains some of the pitfalls for tech businesses selling to SME law firms and other regulated sectors. 

What sort of businesses does Digital Law work with?

We advise a very broad range of clients, from ecommerce to highly regulated sectors like pharmaceutical, financial services and other professional service businesses including law firms. We also work with tech startups who may be struggling to deal with compliance. 

How do you use technology yourself as a law firm?

We’re a digital-first firm and technology plays a crucial role. We were delivering services digitally before Covid and accelerated that process to allow our staff to work remotely. We use a legal case management system and a secure portal to communicate and exchange documents with clients.

And have you seen a significant change in digital adoption across other law firms in recent years?

I've seen more innovation in the smaller law firms who are less bound by rigid decision-making structures and are able to respond more nimbly to the challenges that the last year has presented. For example, I know of one small high street firm in the North of England that was able to switch over to remote working very quickly – introducing e-signatures and working in a secure digital manner. In comparison, we’ve recently been dealing with one of the country’s larger law firms recently and were amazed that they were still insisting on hardcopy documents and wet signatures.

Do you think that SME law firms are ready for the next generation of tech driven by advances like AI and Machine Learning?

It is something that's on the way but there are certain regulatory hurdles that will need to be surpassed. The work we do is very specialist and bespoke. We’re advising on everything from data transfer agreements to data protection compliance and cybersecurity best practices around risk management and compliance – and that doesn't lend itself particularly well to that sort of AI. I think there are more opportunities for that type of automation in some corporate work where you can undertake widescale document reviews. And also in more commoditised private work such as conveyancing or wills.

Are you frequently approached by LawTech and other SaaS providers looking to win your business?

Yes, we get a lot of approaches and very often have to explain we already have all of our technology solutions in place. We also have lot of clients, including professional services firms, who are considering using a new SaaS platform and asking for advice on the risks from a compliance perspective that they need to consider. 

Do tech businesses understand the compliance challenges for their clients, including SME law firms?

My experience is that these SaaS providers don't always really understand the compliance requirements. Sometimes there is a failure to comprehend basic data protection compliance, or basic security measures like where the servers are located and what encryption is in place. If the client is a law firm, they need to be able to demonstrate to the SRA [Solicitors Regulation Authority] or ICO [Information Commissioner’s Office] that the right measures are in place to ensure the purity and confidentiality of the data involved. Sometimes a provider will seem very slick but struggle to answer even basic questions around compliance and security – and that raises a significant red flag.

What mistakes do you see tech businesses make when selling to you as a law firm?

Sometimes it is clear that they have not done even the most basic research. We only work in online, data and cyber law and don’t undertake private client work, so an approach that clearly doesn’t understand that will quickly be deleted. We are also approached by tech providers from jurisdictions outside Europe – and we know we won’t be able to use those systems due to data and compliance issues.

How important are digital solutions to the way you run the firm?

Incredibly important. One of the reasons I set up Digital Law was the frustration of working at big firms with legacy systems that would not talk to each other and were incredibly inefficient. The case management system we now use has benefits right across the business. It means that information is comprehensive and easily accessed. Everyone can see up-to-date versions of everything and it allows us to manage and also respect everyone’s time. It brings together document management with recordings of meetings and calendars. And there are additional features that we are only scratching the surface of.

Can it be a challenge for staff to embrace and make the most of such technology?

I've got a lot of very young staff many of whom are apprentice solicitors – and most of them have grown up with technology in a way that I simply have not. They are far more comfortable looking for new digital-first solutions. Traditional legal training can sometimes squeeze the innovation out of people and as apprentices they have not gone down the university and training contract route. 

We’re always looking for better ways of doing things and know that technology – coupled with a workplace where all staff feel able to share new ideas – is crucial to that innovation.

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