Law firms, despite appearances, are really nothing but giant paper factories who have learned little from their past mistakes, according to UK legal technology evangelist and writer Charles Christian.
Speaking at a DocsCorp technology seminar for inhouse lawyers and legal technology experts in Sydney on Tuesday, the editor of the UK-based Legal Technology Insider said the old cliché that the tragedy of history is that nobody ever really learns the lessons of it, is something he is all too familiar with when it comes to the state of large global law firms.
Christian said that with law firms in the UK experiencing the brunt of a long recession, he can't help but note how similar their suggestions on what they will do to avoid winding up in a similar situation again are to what they said almost two decades ago, when the last big recession to hurt the global legal services industry hit.
"One of the common things I hear them saying is 'In future, we're not going to have so much reliance on people, we are going to invest in processes, and technology that's scalable, we'll invest in our workflows, our automation and all these things'," said Christian "That was exactly the same thing they told me then [in the late 1980s and early 1990s]."
The problem especially rings true, he said, when it comes to the paper processes of law firms which, despite vast improvements in technology, have for the most part not been eliminated.
Christian noted that the current difficulties law firms are facing might come down to their lack of corporate memory. "The partners who are dealing with this today may not have been partners or even in the same firm when the last recession hit," he said.
"There's no memory of it. It's like it's the first time it's ever happened.
"The fact is, when things get going and the market picks up again, they won't invest in technology," adds Christian. "They will simply hire more lawyers - and there are always masses and masses of law students out there."
Christian said he believes, however, that while the current economic climate is halting the plans of most lawfirms when it comes to technology, there are certain trends that can still be spotted in the global legal space - especially from his home in the UK.
One key trend is the introduction of the Legal Services Act. Christian said the act could spark a brave new world of UK firms listing - as with Slater & Gordon in Australia - a change that would heavily impact on the management of law firms, and how they use technology to improve workflow, processes and, ultimately, their bottom line. Perhaps, noted Christian, it could even facilitate the introduction of the franchise approach, where the Richard Bransons of the world tag their renowned brands onto existing legal products.
Other trends Christian cited were some key developments in the vendor technology space - such as the 2010 release of Microsoft Office, the increasing use of Microsoft SharePoint for workflow processes and the amalgamation of the increasing use of legal technology outsourcing.
- Angela Priestley