Interview: The impact of the pandemic on legal technology

 

Rob MacAdam, VP of Product, recently joined Ari Kaplan on the Reinventing Professionals podcast. They discussed emerging workplace productivity trends, the rise of dis-aggregation and interoperability, and legal technology trends that will emerge from the pandemic.

 

You can hear the full podcast on the Reinventing Professionals website

https://www.reinventingprofessionals.com/legal-technology-trends-that-will-emerge-from-the-pandemic/ and an edited transcript is below.

 

 

The podcast kicked off with Ari asking Rob about his background.

 

Rob: My background was as a corporate lawyer doing M&A and Private Equity work. I was finding it tough; it’s a big lifestyle commitment. I was always interested in technology and I was lucky enough to find my way into an innovation role at Pinsent Masons law firm in the UK, which was fantastic. Through that role I got closer to a vendor called HighQ, which was sold to Thomson Reuters just over a year ago. I jumped across and joined HighQ in a legal solutions role and I absolutely loved being on the vendor side, working with law firms, working with in-house teams. That really gave me the bug for working in a vendor. Then I moved back into a law firm, in a product role with Ashurst building product in a law firm, which is quite unusual.

 

I’m now at BusyLamp. I joined BusyLamp about 7 weeks ago and I’m really enjoying it. I’m in there as VP of Product, so I’m looking after our two key products, which are eBilling.Space and Matter.Space. But both those products together really look to optimize and make more efficient corporate legal operations and the way teams work. It’s been an interesting journey, but I’m loving it.

 

Ari: What do you see as the primary differences and what one can accomplish in an innovation role within a law firm versus with a technology company?

 

Rob: I would say straight away there’s no difference in the motivation or how hungry a law firm is to build products and innovate, versus what a legal tech vendor wants to do. But they are very different organisations set up in very different ways. Legal tech vendors are orientated all around the product, it’s about building the product, selling the product and delivering value to customers. Obviously, law firms are a services business, so their model is set up around client service delivery. So, when you come in and say, “I want to build a digital solution, a digital product”, it’s a whole different ball game for a law firm.

 

In my role I’ve got a product team, I interface with engineering, I’ve got customer success, we have pre-sales, sales, marketing, product marketing; that’s not the case in a law firm. So, getting other teams to work in the way that you need to, to deliver products and innovation within a law firm, can be quite tough. I have a lot of respect for the people working in those roles because it takes a real character to drive change in a law firm, whereas within a tech vendor it’s setup to deliver that off the bat.

 

Ari: What are the product trends that you think in-house legal teams will see as legal technology vendors respond to this reconfigured workplace?


Rob: What has been really interesting from the pandemic is that everyone is now working from home. The one key trend from the last 12 months is that we are a remote-first workforce now. What that has done is force people to rapidly adopt collaboration and communication tools. Yes, people were using tools like Zoom, Slack and Teams before, but it was patchy. Particularly in professional services and law firms, they were still using conference call details. But companies had to adopt these tools and put them in the hands of their workforce who couldn’t do their job without them.

 

What’s really interesting from a broad technology trend is that homeworking has driven this adoption, it’s also caused people to be working in different patterns. The technology has enabled people to work asynchronously. But how is that going to impact in-house departments?

 

You’ve got a remote workforce that is now using a whole new range of tools within their productivity stack. For in-house teams that means they’re going to have to work and communicate in new ways with their businesses. Before they might have just been receiving emails and working across telephone calls. Now they potentially have legal services requests coming in through Slack, coming in through Microsoft Teams; it’s not just Outlook. I experienced that recently, moving back into a vendor from a law firm I’m using more modern and dynamic collaboration tools.


I also think in-house teams will have to find, adopt and adapt to new ways of interacting with outside counsel. If everyone is comfortable with video conferencing, instant messaging and collaboration online, that needs to find its way into the relationship between in-house teams and their law firms. We might also see clients and their panel firms collaborating to identify an established tech-stack between them that enables digital collaboration more smoothly. There are lots of other challenges and impacts for the in-house teams around data and aggregating data across all these tools, because you can’t walk down the hall and ask someone a question. You need access to data and knowledge in different ways when you’re working remotely. The move to remote, and the subsequent impact on collaboration and communication tools, is really going to have a huge impact on in-house teams.


Ari: What does this shifting productivity landscape mean for legal tech vendors?

 

Rob: This is where it’s going to get really interesting. You’ve seen a bit of a battle of the platforms in recent years in different ways. You’ve had some of the more established productivity platforms like Teams and Slack trying to establish themselves across the range of industries and organisations. You’ve also had a bit of a battle of a platforms from a legal tech perspective, with a lot of vendors trying to build out their platforms to support legal service delivery and collaboration within corporate legal and law firms. That’s why we have seen a lot of consolidation in the legal tech space.

 

But I think what the pandemic and remote working has settled that argument. There is now an established stack that most people are using to collaborate. The platform and the productivity stack is becoming more and more established, so legal tech vendors are now going to have to look at how they work with that. It’s going to become less about building that “one legal tech platform to rule them all” – it’s actually going to be, how can we work within Microsoft Teams (for example), to deliver value and deliver the tools that are valuable for our customers within the place that they already work. That’s the challenge – it’s not all going to be about driving users to the vendor’s platform, it’s actually going to be about offering alternatives. Having a platform there if you need it – but also being interoperable and embedding functionality in those collaboration and productivity tools where people like to work.

 

Ari: How is BusyLamp addressing this need for interoperability?

 

Rob: We’ve got two products. We have eBilling.Space for eBilling and spend management. We also have Matter.Space, which is our new product for matter and document management. We are taking an API first development approach. An API is that set of definitions and protocols for building and integrating software. API is important because it allows us to share data between systems. By taking that API first approach, we are thinking how we can simplify and expand how our products can connect with other systems. We are therefore building our Matter.Space tool using the API we created. It’s then there as an API for us to integrate with other tools or allow others to build apps or plug-ins etc. on top of our platform. This was actually all decided before the pandemic, as we saw the trends. It really allows us to build a top-notch, quality platform of our own – Matter.Space, but also means that when our customers need to integrate, the API is there to make it possible.

 

The second way is by having the Matter.Space platform in existence. It’s not all about breaking platforms down and moving solely to the plug-in and add-on model. It’s about having an alternative. We’ve got that one-stop shop solution as well, but what we’re really focused on is the out of the box integrations. With Matter.Space for example, we are integrating with Microsoft Teams, so that you can sync documents, matters and legal service requests with Microsoft Teams. You can work with emails and attachments between Matter.Space and Office and Outlook, opening documents in the Office Suite and saving them, working on them and sharing them etc.

 

Then finally it is about integration between our own tools, eBilling.Space and Matter.Space. We want to make sure that we’ve got that ecosystem there, so it’s not just about plugging in Matter.Space to your productivity stack, but also connecting Matter.Space and eBilling.Space so those two systems are talking to each other and you are centralising data, which is going to become a big, big challenge going forward with remote working.

 

Ari: What other legal technology trends do you think will emerge from the pandemic?

 

Rob: Whilst I think lawyers, both in-house and private practice, have moved to the video conferencing, instant messaging model, I don’t think they’ve really adopted project management tools and I think that’s going to be a trend. Sadly, employee monitoring will see a bit of an increase there as well. Overall, everyone’s been more productive in lockdown, that’s certainly what the research says. But a lot of employers want to make sure their people are being productive – but also that their people are okay, because there’s a lot of techno stress and some team members struggle to work remotely.

 

We’ve seen that organisations are now comfortable with the concept of the remote workforce, so potentially we’ll see a growth in outsourcing, freelance work and lawyers on-demand. We’ll see a bit of a growth in platforms that support the sourcing of freelanced legal support; paralegals all the way up to more senior lawyers as well.

 

Finally, another trend is about the knowledge is accessed. This is going to be a real challenge for people working at home. How do they access knowledge when they need it, when they’re not working in an office in a team? I think that’s where some of the AI tools will come in to their own now, to simplify knowledge delivery, connect data, help to keep knowledge up to date, put it in context etc. And search will become more important. It’s not an exciting word sometimes, search, but it’s going to be critical for a remote workforce. We’ll see the rise of tools to centralise data across different systems as well, which will be important for that search. Then the growth of tools like chatbots and decision automation, because while search returns results, it doesn’t necessarily deliver answers whereas those chatbots and decision automation tools can. These are just some of the areas that will grow over the next few months.

 

Ari: This is Ari Kaplan, speaking with Rob McAdam, the Vice President of Product at BusyLamp, a legal operations provider of spend, matter and document management, and the host of the Legaltech Arcade Podcast. Rob, thanks so much.

 

Rob: Thanks for having me.

 

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