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Clifford Chance

Clifford Chance

Innovation Insights

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Talent, Not Technology: Why people are key to digital transformation in the legal sector

Like others, the legal sector is going through a sustained period of change. In some areas, that change can be seen as a radical one. Ever since we first witnessed the emergence of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, tech is starting to blur the lines between human and digital worlds. And it is driving a level of digital transformation in the legal sector that many didn’t see coming.

At Clifford Chance, we made a point of embracing this transformation at its earliest opportunity. We see the significant potential in solutions such as artificial intelligence (AI) for both ourselves as a law firm and for our clients. But we also know that digital transformation isn’t all about the technology. Instead, it’s about the people behind it – and how this talent is the key to success.

How much is tech driving this transformation?

Looking at 2019, senior business directors and executives saw that digital transformation risk was their biggest concern. All too often, however, projects and initiatives didn’t achieve the intended aims. But why is this? Is it because there is an over-reliance on the tech side of things? After all, it seems only natural to believe that digital transformation is possible given the current advancement and availability of technology tools.

The impact of Covid-19 can accelerate this thinking. As the Economist points out, “many people and companies realise that it had more to offer them than they had realised”. And, of course, it is something we have seen too. Agatha Low, our Legal Technology Advisor, notes: “The impact that the coronavirus has had on ways of working may indicate that people and process are less critical in behaviour change process.”

Sure, it would seem that tech is a fundamental building block for this change in behaviour. Zoom, OneDrive, Google Docs or Slack – there are numerous and collaborative tech solutions available which users have adapted to using in a surprisingly short amount of time. Our Best Delivery advisor Raquel Garcia says, however, that we’re not looking at the key driver of change here: “I believe that focusing on the technology part of digital transformation is misleading.”

What is ‘really’ behind digital transformation?

For all the benefits of tech, it can’t deliver without the people and processes to implement it. And this means looking at digital transformation differently. “Thinking about digital transformation as a business transformation or a change management activity is probably more apt,” Raquel continues. “In more normal circumstances, it is trying to convince people that activities can be done in a more efficient way.”

It is clear from past research that digital transformation is more reliant not on the tech solutions – but on people within the business to accept and adopt it. After all, as Raquel points out, “the same technology solutions are available to all law firms. So, it is evidently not technology on its own that drives better service delivery. Instead, it is how the technology is implemented.”

But there is a challenge for the legal sector in this respect.

Unlike some other sectors, there are few out-of-the-box solutions that can readily and seamlessly be implemented in existing processes in a law firm. “Legal technology tools are rarely a simple plug-and-play solution. This is just one of many reasons why technology tools are not as widely adopted in the legal industry as you might expect,” Agatha points out. Raquel further notes “That is why the People – Process – Technology methodology, in that specific order, is so important.”

The adoption of technology is reliant on people

So, what exactly does a ‘People – Process – Technology’ methodology mean in practice here at Clifford Chance? Well, it is essential to our pursuit of innovation. And it’s how we will transform legal services around the world. Our people hold the key to this because, as Agatha explains, they “will determine how we set up the tool – and the most appropriate process for deploying it.”

Digital transformation is about being smart too. Not every service will need – or benefit from –enforced change. Nor should our whole organisation need to become innovators, as Low puts it. But we do focus on investing in the right people who can collaborate with our internal teams to bring about the changes that will have a positive impact on our clients and industry as a whole.

Raquel describes how it works in practice for us: “We recognise that, while many lawyers are quite capable of implementing more efficient ways of working, it's more cost effective to have specialists who understand both the lawyers work and the array of alternative capabilities available doing the analysis and supporting the deployment of different ways of working.”

How we believe the digital future looks for legal

As you can see, the importance of people and process cannot be overlooked. Gartner explains how companies can move faster on digital transformation if all levels of the organisation share an understanding of the aims. Our lawyers, for example, aren’t being asked to learn new skills as such. But they do, at least, gain important insight into what our innovation team does.

The true benefit of putting people at the start of the chain is the unique, human understanding that can be applied. Tech is about doing more with less – but, without the right human skills, it is redundant. For Agatha, “the trick is knowing when we have the right foundation to kickstart our deployment of a technology solution”. And our team has an innate ability to knowing when.

Moving forward, our people will remain at the very heart of our digital transformation efforts. It is, after all, the needs of our people – and our clients – that we are working to meet using tech.

If people aren’t the start and end of the process, the legal sector stands to lose out. From those needs come ideas and solutions. The technology is what connects those – the means to the end. Without this approach, as Agatha and Raquel conclude, we “won’t know how to use the platform to its maximum capacity and/or they will fail to apply it where it could be most beneficial.”

Innovation still needs people to adapt and respond to changing environments, however. To find out how our people are doing this, please take a look at our Innovation hub or contact our team.