This week’s episode of The Pursuit Desk features Conan Hines, Senior Legal Technology Advisor at Clifford Chance.
Conan Hines is a legal technology expert with a demonstrated history of positively impacting the practice of law with many BigLaw and A2J experience.
As Senior Legal Technology Advisor, Conan works closely with the lawyers at Clifford Chance to help them implement the latest technology. Through new technology, they have been able to improve efficiency, client satisfaction, and associate work-life balance. Conan emphasizes the importance of purchasing legal tech and listening to client’s and attorney’s needs to develop the right solution.
Conan also serves as a Senior Technology Advisor for ICAAD, a non-profit organization that uses evidence-based approaches to combat discrimination and promote human rights.
The best law firms had a seamless transition to remote work because of IT preparedness.
As offices across the world had to make the quick change to working remotely, legal firms were no exception.
In Conan’s case, his IT Team was ready and prepared for the transition to working from home. This preparation made the process for their company quick and seamless. Lawyers we’re able to set up VPNs and access their usual documents within a week of the change.
IT’s role and importance in the legal sector is now heightened.
As the Senior Legal Technology Advisor at Clifford Chance, Conan considers himself a liaison between the IT team and the legal team. And while he recognizes that they are two completely different types of professionals, he also knows that both the IT team and the legal team have a technical approach to their work.
In contrary to the past, lawyers now know that firms have to use technology to remain competitive. As such, lawyers are starting to lean more on their IT departments for support. For Conan specifically, this means trying to educate the lawyers on how the new technology works, and working with the IT team to help them be more consultative in their day-to-day work with the legal team.
Recent events showed Conan the opportunity to change the client engagement model so that it works for lawyers and clients.
There are a couple of things that have changed in the client engagement model.
First off, clients have started to partner with alternative legal services providers, technology vendors, or outsourcing to an LPO. Clients are no longer opting to go to law firms to furnish all of their needed resources, they were more interested in having those different specialists.
As a result, this means that the legal firms have disbanded those departments as well. We’re seeing all different types of business professionals in firms that can support lawyers that work for both sides.
Another change that Conan has noticed is that he has been engaging with clients more and more, as some clients are interested in discussing the most advanced tech, or they want access to the firm’s knowledge. With increasing client demand, Conan wants and expects to see more interaction with them to help implement these tools. He also recognizes that they need clients, not just the lawyers, to buy in to these innovative solutions to make them work.
In order to implement these new tools, we need more on the client-side. It can’t just be the lawyers that drive innovative strategies and tool adoption.
Balancing what’s possible with technology versus what’s realistic in law firms.
From Conan’s perspective, he hears a lot of people wanting to jump on the latest technology, specifically artificial intelligence. He believes that they should always look at new solutions for what’s possible, but they should also utilize tools that have been in place for a long time and have always worked for them.
Five or 10 years ago it was difficult to get new technology adopted in the legal industry. Now that people are adapting to new technology, it is a matter of what to change and when. The legal industry is starting to see new tools and technologies out-pacing law firms’ ability to adopt them.
The first thing that Conan watches closely is the partnership between the client and the firm and how that is changing and adapting over time. That communication process is one area that they want to remain competitive in, so he is always looking for ways to improve that process.
Some law firms becoming their own technology providers for their clients.
As the client demands and expectations change, firms are starting to become technology providers to their clients. One thing that firms are trying to do is differentiate on ways that they can support their client’s needs. One example of how firms can do this is by building a portal that helps a client manage all their property leases and documents in one place.
This kind of trend has existed for years but has increased as of recent. Extranets existed on SharePoint sites for a while in law firms around the world. There aren’t a lot of great options for document management systems in law firms, especially those that are cost friendly. If you can’t afford costly tools, there aren’t a lot of ways to maintain deep client relationships.
A good document management system helps the client and the law firm equally. The client can safely send and store secure documents with their legal team, and the lawyers can easily find what they need to deliver quality work. These systems are getting better, but there is room for improvement.
If clients are having trouble managing their documents and accessing the files they need to collaborate with their legal team, the IT team at Clifford Chance will set up those solutions for them. This only deepens client relationships and allows clients to work more efficiently with their legal team.
In this way, law firms are providing a new type of value to their clients.
Law firms can use data analytics to drive strategy to deliver better results.
In the last five years, the biggest trend that Conan has seen in the legal innovation space is data analytics. A lot of legal firms don’t have a good structure to capture data and utilize it in a way that drives the firm’s strategy.
Conan understands that you can derive so many actions out of data, and one example of this is that every law firm performs intake. When they do intake, they know that they have to clear the matter to get a matter number and start billing the client.
Legal professionals will complete this step quickly, so they can get started working on the matter. However, to close out a matter is a lot harder to get them to complete, and in a way, this breaks the whole life cycle of the matter. When they don’t close out the matter properly, they cannot leverage that information for training purposes and for business purposes.
The biggest way that firms can innovate is by being better about their data analytics.
One other area Conan is excited about is document automation – it seems obvious with the tools available. As technology starts to take over other job tasks that lawyers used to perform, we need to look toward even greater levels of automation.
How can law firms capture experience efficiently?
There is a fundamental challenge within the legal industry, in extracting that experience information from attorneys so that it can be used in new business intake and business development.
Business development teams want to be notified when a matter eclipses a certain threshold, so that they can do the necessary work and research to capture all of the experience information effectively and efficiently. Experience has a lifecycle, and this is the first step in capturing that experience.
While Conan does get involved in the pitch process from time to time, and he knows that at times gathering this information can be ad hoc where they reach out on a proposal by proposal basis. The proposal generation team is hungry for better tools to help them access and understand that information quickly.
Lawyers get a bad reputation for being tech averse. Why?
Lawyers get a bad reputation. They’re seen as non-business minded and that they are technophobic. But Conan believes this couldn’t be farther from the truth, he believes they are completely open to new technology and solutions.
What Conan finds most important for firms to adopt is data mindfulness. Letting the legal team know that what they are doing today might not seem like it matters, but when aggregated by everyone at the firm so that it can be accessed at a later date, it can be game changing in their new business intake.
Right now, he believes there is a great chance for the firms who take that seriously in order to pull away from their competition.
What are the valuable pieces of information? What information is naturally collected through the course of doing work? What are the gaps where humans do have to be involved?
It’s not that attorneys don’t have technology skills; they are very client-focused. They’re trying to create client experiences. Should I spend time on business development? Or on the client?
Usually, they go with spending time on the client, which is the right choice. But what if the attorney didn’t have to spend the time on business development at all? What if someone in business development had access to the tools and information to execute tasks that were normally done by lawyers?
That should be the goal of law firms going forward.
Why we need to make it easy for lawyers to give feedback.
We need lawyer’s feedback on matter and to efficiently do this the IT team needs to give them a system that is super easy for them to use and input that data. And the proposal team wants lawyers to give more context on the matters to prevent information from being overly generic to use in future proposals.
Once a feedback process is set up, you are significantly reducing the amount of time spent on back and forth communication to get the necessary information. There should be no emails circulating asking questions about “who knows X, Y, Z?” or “where is our latest pitch?”
How we can leverage big law to fight back against systematic injustice more broadly with pro-bono technology.
Conan went to law school because he was passionate about fighting against systemic injustice, and he wanted to make an impact on people’s lives. Now that he works in IT, he believes that we can leverage technology and data to expose structural discrimination within different organizations and law. In doing this they can use their IT still as a pro-bono service.
Conan volunteers for ICAAD, which is dedicated to fighting back against structural discrimination. When you’re in big law, you can become more focused on professional growth and it can be easy to lose track of why you started practicing law.
Legal services aren’t always accessible to all people in this country, specifically people who might not speak English as a first language. Those people deserve justice just as much as anyone else. Conan believes that we can look at technology and see how we can turn those skillsets into pro-bono services that have a huge impact.
There are a lot of ways big law can improve the world today. Technology is a great way to make a change, without spending time and money on human-based hours.
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