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INSIGHT: Law Firm Tech Needs to Meet Client Expectations

Aug. 27, 2020, 8:01 AM

BigLaw clients rely on a variety of secure online products, collaboration tools, and other technologies to improve efficiency and they expect their law firms to use many of the same tools.

Many law firms are digitally transforming to keep up with their clients, but several issues—including legal concerns, the rules of professional conduct and compliance requirements—present potential challenges.

Law firms need to implement safeguards and transform compliance standards, bringing in the compliance team early in the process, for a digital transformation.

Building Compliance Into Modern Technology

The digital transformation isn’t seamless. Many legacy systems require manual intervention like inputting billable time, performing manual conflict checks for databases, or entering information into the organization’s document management system. An over-reliance on manual routines introduces opportunities for errors and further threatens compliance.

To meet the needs of remote employees, many firms are also adopting cloud-based solutions. However, the rapid migration to cloud solutions adds a layer of complexity that was not anticipated when compliance rules and policies were created.

In a law firm, a complex web of rules governs record keeping—confidentiality, unauthorized practice of law, client funds and communications. In order to protect a firm’s reputation—and with it, long-term success and growth—compliance must be a part of everyday life, to the point where being compliant is the path of least resistance.

The handling of data and information is governed by a complex set of rules and regulatory requirements. The introduction of cloud solutions and heightened collaboration potentially jeopardize compliance with these rules, despite employees’ best intentions.

To avoid issues, compliance must become the path of least resistance. In other words, you need to identify opportunities to implement passive compliance—systems that enable employees to maintain compliance without requiring the employee to take any additional steps.

For example, an automated document tool that helps lawyers create documents faster can tag documents so they can only be shared with the intended parties. And collaboration tools that help lawyers work together more efficiently can also maintain access ledgers that capture the document’s entire history, ensuring better recordkeeping.

Similarly, artificial intelligence (AI) assisted fintech can help firms keep better financial records while also helping them avoid mistakes and fraud related to client funds.

Although these tools perform different functions, they all have one thing in common: The lawyer does not have to take an additional step because compliance is built into the tool. And in many ways, that’s the key to maintaining a high level of compliance as your firm progresses along its digital transformation journey.

Bring the Compliance Team in Early

For digital transformation to succeed, firm leaders who have been working the same way for decades must see transformation as the answer—before clients start leaving for more efficient firms with better ROI. The key to securing their buy-in is to bring the compliance team in early to build the process around the new tools.

Ethics officers, compliance teams and IT must work together to ensure the ecosystem is in place for passive compliance. The idea is to configure the rules of professional conduct into the new tools, which cannot be achieved without the right technology.

It’s critical to prove to firm leaders that new tools will enhance compliance in addition to improving efficiency. With the right strategy, passive compliance could become your firm’s greatest asset for reducing risk—reputational or financial.

The irony is that many firms rely almost entirely on employees for compliance, believing that this is the most secure way to work. However, modern tools have far more technical capabilities in helping your firm remain compliant.

Client expectations are piling up and the world is shifting to embrace a future where remote work is not only a luxury, but often a necessity. Digital transformation is coming to law and with it comes a revolution in how firms stay compliant in the constantly changing technological landscape. And in the end, more technology will ultimately lead to better compliance.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.

Author Information

Jean-Marc Chanoine is the director of global accounts at Templafy. Prior to joining Templafy, he was a strategy consultant at Accenture, and a lawyer for the U.S. armed forces serving as an officer in the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps and general counsel for Naval Nuclear Power Training Command.

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