‘Unconvinced’ firms fail to learn lessons of Sydney Harbour Bridge

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Law firms have been termed ‘embracers’, ‘waverers’ or worse - ‘unconvinced’ – when it comes to the adoption of new technology systems, with one expert saying they should look to the Sydney Harbour Bridge for guidance.
 
Last week, Australasian Lawyer reported that Australian law firms were ahead of their US counterparts when it came to adoption of technology that could improve their workflow, benefitting both profitability and client service.
 
However, Australian firms still have a long way to go, with Caseflow CEO Brian Smith saying that he sees many still exhibiting the characteristics of either ‘waverers’ or the ‘unconvinced’ when it comes to technology improvement.
 
Smith says ‘embracers’ – which he estimates at between 30%-40% of the local market – are firms that are prepared to ‘look inwards’ and rework how they use technology, often driven by key individuals close to the top of the firm.
 
Rather than a ‘big stick’ approach to new systems, Smith says these firms –or smaller groups within firms - recognise the uniqueness of each case, and are focused on experimenting and adapting through smaller technology projects.
 
‘Embracers’ are also aware of the need to gain buy-in from the very capable human capital within a law firm, rather than turning them all ‘into robots’.
 
However, ‘waverers’ are more likely to adopt new technology and systems because they have to, rather than being forward thinking and proactive.
 
For example, Smith says he regularly hears of cases where law firms want to meet the ‘client portal’ criteria for a particular tender, and then ask how they can quickly roll out a client portal without knowing what they actually want.
 
Smith says such projects are usually ‘done to a team’ rather than ‘with a team’, and are often characterised by poor buy-in among staff in the firm.
 
‘Unconvinced’ firms, meanwhile, are often afraid of expenditure, and may once have been ‘waverers’ but have been burnt by a previous project that didn’t work.
 
“Because one project hasn’t worked, they’ll often think that it is never going to work, and they are less likely to do an analysis of the reasons why,” Smith says.
 
They also often make the ‘classic mistake’ of wanting to ensure they have the entire situation 100% analysed and certain before delivering anything at all.
 
Smith says like the contract for painting the Sydney Harbour Bridge, it is better for firms to be engaged in a constant process of technology renewal, rather than trying to implement a panacea that they expect to perform indefinitely.
 
“The mistake that people make is thinking that these are set and forget systems, and they are not,” Smith said. “Every time something changes you need to adapt your system, and so you need a system flexible enough to adapt,” he says.

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