Digitalisation for legal services. Basic concepts.
When talking about digitalisation, it is important to be clear about the concepts that revolve around the incorporation of information technologies. It is not the same to have a digital documentation repository, a database that allows the study of progress in services or to have artificial intelligence capable of offering legal output without the intervention of human beings. Is not the same. Therefore, a distinction should be made between three related concepts: basic digitalisation, advanced digitalisation and digital transformation.
The first approach to any digitalisation is the conversion of any information on physical to electronic resource. In this digitalisation stage, for example, we can consider scanning documentation or using the electronic signature to ensure the validity and immutability of any electronic document. Normally, the way to store these electronic files translates into an endless number of folders within an electronic repository that can be available locally, shared on a server or in the cloud.
Additionally, the databases and documentary files are circumscribed in this digitalisation phase which allow the structured use of information and access to documentation of the cases. Likewise, we could understand as basic digitalisation, the notification of judicial documentation by electronic means.
Today, basic digitalisation is quite widespread in the sector and more and more use is made of electronic signatures or encryption systems to avoid the use of paper.
The next step is advanced digitalisation: this digitalisation assumes the existence of information in a digital format, therefore, it focuses on the possibility of improving the business model and processes through the use of information technologies. It is about “exploiting” the benefits of technology to the maximum in order to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of legal services processes. In our sector, there is a revolution, the revolution of standardisation, something that, in a way of providing services like ours, traditionally personal, it is tremendously difficult to make a change of mentality in this regard.
However, if until recently it was difficult for us to think about the use of forms to generate drafts of our documentation, today, a large part of the most important law firms have begun to use tools such as Contract Express, to allow standardisation of the documentation. Additionally, there are tools that allow improving efficiency, via application in a specific project, such as a due diligence (such as Luminance or Kira) or in contract analysis. Likewise, we could add tools that facilitate the exchange of information and collaboration between intervening users (HighQ Collaborate, for example). The effect of advanced digitalisation is the “improvement” of the processes in order to provide a service more adapted to the client’s needs in the context of the available technologies and the adjustment of the fees demanded by the market.
However, this idea does not stop here, the improvement of the business depends on being able to know what needs the clients have and the channels most adapted to them. This supposes a true transcendental change in the mentality of the lawyers, for the first time, our services no longer only demand a certain result but also a digital excellence in the delivery, in how we provide information to clients, how we relate to them or how we manage their experience as users. That is why advanced digitalisation brings us closer to the so-called UI / UX and Design Thinking. Among other examples, perhaps still little explored in the sector, is the management of the use of user information and customer analytics in order to establish the most personalised customer service possible.
The third echelon of digitalisation would be digital transformation strategies. For a traditional law firm, this consists of making coordinated efforts at scale that affect all aspects of the business, including the operational model. This is the conjunction of the organisation’s resources (lawyers, other professionals, processes, technologies and metrics) in order to formulate a digital transformation strategy that allows the law firm to stand out as a digital company in the legal market. Perhaps in this sense, there is no recipe that works for all businesses, nor do all businesses perhaps try to get to that point, however, each of the firms has to ask themselves the question of how they want to pose their digital transformation strategy and consider their resources to carry it out. One of the elements that would allow us to say that firms have been able to start working as digital businesses is the possibility of working remotely. The use of IP calls as well as means of communication through digital means can be a good example of a digital transformation strategy.
However, there is still a long way for firms to incorporate digital transformation plans as a strategy in line with the corporate culture. We have a few years ahead to see the incorporation of this “transformation” in legal affairs.
Finally, only to emphasise that digitalisation states works as an evolutionary process for law firms that is born from the most basic document digitalisation, it goes through advanced digitalisation (document automation, process automation, use of natural language analysis tools, use of metrics …) and ends with a full digital transformation of the business model that involves changing the entire organisational structure and business culture (remote working tools, digitalisation of internal and external processes, market strategies such as digital business …)