We were recently invited to TechLaw.Fest 2018 to share our journey and how we embraced technology. Below is a short description of the panel, folowed by the full speech Mark shared with the audience in attendance:
Deliberate Disruption: A Tale of Three Law Firm Tech Journeys
In this session, three law firms will share their thinking behind decisions to embrace technology. The impact of technology adoption on productivity, business models, people development and legal services offerings will be explored. The matter of innovation in law firms will also be discussed, in particular the nature of innovation in a legal services environment and what is needed to support it.
Good morning ladies and gentlemen, today I am very happy to be here to share with all of you my journey of running a law firm for nearly a quarter of a century and the integral role technology has played during this time.
As you can tell from my age, I come from a time of pens, paper, folders, typewriters and hole punchers – in fact, if I recall correctly, my generation of lawyers considered the ‘Track Changes’ function in Microsoft Word to be revolutionary in the review of legal documents. It would not be an understatement to say many of us popped champagne and celebrated that ‘milestone’ in legal history. Gone was the archaic hell that was contract drafting.
Embracing technology and incorporating it into my daily operations of running the firm was a no-brainer for me. We are a small law firm and I have been operating for nearly 25 years. Small law firms have specific issues that are more acute to us, as opposed to a medium-to-large establishment where the same issues don’t seem as glaring.
As the owner of a small law firm, I am also essentially a business owner, which means that I have to pay attention to existential issues that individuals in a bigger law firm do not necessarily get to, OR need to, pay attention to.
I will be organizing my sharing today along the lines of these three main anxieties I have experienced as the owner of a small law firm and how COMPLETE DIGITISATION has impacted these anxieties positively:
- Managing Operational Costs
- Service Delivery & Philosophy
- Talent Attraction, Management & Retention + Firm Culture
MANAGING OPERATIONAL COSTS
Getting rid of all our physical files was one of the best decisions I remember making. Storing everything on our secure, personal servers, rid us of having to deal with printing and photocopying costs every month; not to mention the very positive side effect of being more environmentally friendly, and reducing our carbon footprint.
And finally, being able to access all the case files digitally also meant that my lawyers and myself could work from anywhere with an Internet connection.
Perhaps COMPLETE DIGITISATION is a slight misnomer, because we do still need to print documents for clients and judges who request for them. But if we could choose, we would love to have everything digitally processed and integrated into the legal process. The biggest cost was office rent. Imagine paying the $20 to $30 per square foot to store boxes of files?
Providing, work spaces to lawyers and staff at premium locations was also financially not viable for a small law firm. By going digital, our daily processing, brain storming, planning and drafting work is done outside of CBD. We only need to go into CBD to meet with clients and go to Court.
SERVICE DELIVERY & PHILOSOPHY
Clients go to lawyers for lawyers to translate ideas and relationships into legal agreements that protect and safeguard their interest using the law of the land. Our opinion is that online templates disregard this and instead tries to fit everyone’s situation/context into a single mold, and even if the mold doesn’t fit neatly. Then in the event that there are negative repercussions, the template company would have already indemnified themselves with a simple disclaimer clause, leaving the client to deal with the mess.
Now, we could not find a platform that not only captured the essence of the lawyer-client relationship, but was at the same time a user-friendly and educational client-facing document assembly (CFDA) software – so we decided to create our own.
VanillaLaw Docs is designed to be packaged with a review from my lawyers. The additional advantage comes after the review is that our clients can now re—use the system to generate agreements which are the same as the one reviewed.
With VanillaLaw Docs, the client does the first draft without us, the lawyers, having to take any initial instructions – these savings are directly transferred to the client. We keep our reviewing fees affordable as well, bearing in mind that our target market is the SME community. This is what we call our ‘Unbundled Service Model’.
TALENT ATTRACTION, MANAGEMENT & RETENTION + FIRM CULTURE
I will be the first to say that the legal industry in Singapore is indeed a challenging one to be in. And presently, more than ever, as we navigate that thin line between tradition and innovation.
I cannot, and I would not want to speak for other law firms, so I will only speak for my own firm. I am quite proud of the firm culture we have created at VanillaLaw, and technology definitely played a big part in that.
Mobility & Flexibility – We can work from anywhere with an internet connection. The mobility is aligned with our target client base because SMEs are located all over Singapore and sometimes it makes more sense to go to them, than for them to come to us. With technology, we also actively encourage online consultants, so that no travelling is required. All that is required is Skype or any other video call.
Work-Life Balance Is The Norm – We do not believe in working hard so much so as working smart. Very common for us is, Person A finishes his part of the work, uploads it onto the shared server and informs Person B via email or a short message. Person B then proceeds with his portion of the work. There is never a situation where one individual is waiting in the office for the other just to get a signature or approval. That is quite inefficient.
New Mindsets – this last point is tough to implement, and you could say that it’s my own idealistic pursuit. The entire way I run my firm, is in itself a lesson to show junior lawyers that there is another way of working if they so choose. While certain things are ‘done a certain way’ or ‘have always been done this way’, there is nothing to say that that cannot change.
Incorporating technology into the running of my entire business and practice and operating in the way that I do, is my way of leading by example, and is something I hope will be a meaningful contribution to the next generation of lawyers out there.
I would like to end of by showing everyone a short 1-min video that talks a little bit about the software that I developed.
Thank you for your kind attention.