Heading west and flying into the global mecca of technology, San Francisco, it felt fitting that this was the setting for the Legal Marketing Association’s conference: “Tech West – A Means to an End.” The name of the conference summed up the theme. After years of buzz about technology that can deliver X-Y-Z it seems a general hangover has descended on the industry, a feeling that these tools, while very pretty, should be contributing to the goals and end result of the firm and that maybe they are not.

Why do law firms use different technology than their clients?

The conference kicked off with a keynote session delivered by Connie Brenton, Senior Director, Legal Operations, NetApp, Inc. and Emily Teuben, Senior Legal Operations Manager, NetApp, Inc.  Their insightful talk took aim at current law firm operations, many of which foster frustration and inefficiency. I’m sure anyone who has worked in-house at a law firm reading this can agree with that! They raised an important and often overlooked point. Why is it that law firms use different technology than the clients they are servicing? It stands to reason that clients may expect from their law firms a certain level of efficiency. Something that they as a business are always striving towards. Yet the legal profession often has little of the same technology that its clients use. They posed the question “does this lead to lost synergies?” While they highlighted some anecdotal evidence in their experience. It does pose a further question that some legal firms are already struggling with. Are your clients asking for more data than the usual “hourly breakdown?” If so, how are you delivering that and does the technology you use help?

In legal, with its high service-oriented focus, it stands to reason that it is service that takes center stage of any client engagement. But in the pursuit of perfecting the calculation of the service and its production, the people (attorneys) that are the means of the production, are not the first consideration in client service. It was posed at this conference that this is a mistake, and one that needs to be corrected quickly. People first, process second, technology third. With this in mind and with technology coming last in this line up it does pose the question that some technology companies will ask: What if the technology can change your process?

How do you uncover the unknown unknowns?

In a later session based on ‘tackling data innovation’ I had a flash back to my youth. The speaker spoke deeply and eloquently on how spending time on building either a dashboard or a way of presenting the data in a way that presented a clear story or perspective to the attorneys is the best investment of your time you can make. It took me right back to when I was in University. I was in the car with my father and I told him what I was doing in my accounting 101 class. My father is an accountant, both by profession and by disposition. I asked him if he used ‘macros’ when he uses Excel. As the lecturer suggested we use some of the modelling we were to do for an assignment. My father’s face lit up, not only did he describe what he used, but he also told me why he had them set up that way and what the data told him. He spoke for over 30 min, uninterrupted. I have never brought up Excel with him again. But that aside, it was a powerful reminder to me that when a program/technology is built right, with the end user and their needs in mind, it can bring joy.

Integration of core technologies and firm systems has been gathering momentum recently. We expect it now more than ever. Partly due to the synergies in our personal life. I don’t remember the last time an app on my phone didn’t connect in some way with everything else.  So when law firms are looking for technology they are quite rightly asking, “does this integrate with X?” One session really dove into why the holistic picture is more important than ever. The unknown unknowns are only discoverable when there can be a light shone on all sides of the equation. This starts with integration but doesn’t stop there. Building models and dashboards to search for the answers to questions are what is needed, and it will be very interesting indeed to see where this goes in the future!

The key to adoption is ROI.

Another hot topic of discussion throughout the conference was social media. Social channels and social marketing is something that some firms have embraced, and others tip-toed around. The key to adoption is ROI – social channels delivering more targeted marketing opportunities and delivering analytics on the results. In one session marketers from two firms talked about how they used Facebook and LinkedIn separately to deliver results. The two firms in question were plaintiff’s firms and so the examples they gave were specific to their practice. But the results couldn’t be ignored. Calculating the marketing spend and the ROI with tangible client engagement was truly impressive. Will more firms begin to embrace social as a way not just to market themselves but a way to generate business?

Digital marketing done well.

Getting back to basics and a refresher was also on the agenda. LISI’s Founder and CEO, Jason Lisi moderated a panel that focused on doing the basics of digital marketing well. Small and medium-sized firms and emerging practices are always stretched for time and resources. Juggling every plate every hour they are awake. The panel discussed a range of practical elements that the audience could take away, along with some anecdotes from both the panel and the audience. My favorite anecdote was from Rachel Shields Williams from Sidley Austin, who spoke about an attorney’s desire to put an incredibly boring subject title in their blog article email. While accurate to the content, it’s always important for the email to have a subject line that is compelling and interesting, with the worst subject line starting with ‘FYI’.

In conclusion it was another fantastic conference put on by dedicated LMA members. A huge thank you goes out to them as per usual. Not just for organizing the logistics of the event but also for the direction of the conference itself. An important and developing sentiment in the industry. Technology needs to be for the benefit of its users and not just exist to be the new shiny object. Tech in the legal industry specifically needs to adapt to the constraints of the law firm while opening up and allowing the firms to adapt to external factors as well. A tall order in a fast paced world.