by Shayan Edalati & Jan Gilarowski
This year’s ILTACON took place as the first legal tech hybrid event of 2021. With over 2000 registrants from over 20 countries, it was another successful conference. Panelist Ali Shahidi, Chief Innovation & Client Solutions Officer at Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, mentioned that lawyers need to take into consideration the integration potential of new legal tech.
A legal technology platform does not enter a vacuum: lawyers already utilize various platforms or apps. These can range from ubiquitous applications such as Outlook and Office to SaaS platforms such as SharePoint and iManage. Legal tech must have some ability to integrate within the existing universe of software used by a firm or company. Regardless of whether a legal tech vendor says their platform is holistic, not all existing solutions can be effectively replaced. Therefore, the integration capabilities, or lack thereof, of a given platform need to be taken seriously.
Why is integration an important consideration?
To succeed, legal technology must communicate on some level with existing platforms and not create roadblocks in the workflow process. If the legal tech does not, it could hinder efficiency and productivity, which would be ironic given that legal tech is acquired to advance productivity. If lawyers and staff must oversee multiple, incompatible processes and workflows between their e-billing, contract management, and vendor management systems, they are being distracted from their real work. An effective integration between platforms would make managing these solutions less time consuming through the reduction of duplication and incompatibilities.
Relatedly, another reason why integration is an important consideration is because it can mean the difference between added steps in the workflow process as opposed to fewer steps. For example, if a document management system does not have automatic saving or filing to shared drive, lawyers will have to manually save versions in the correct folders. This is an added step that could have been removed through an integration.
Lastly, integration is important because of how it enables better reporting and data analysis. With various platforms being used for different aspects of legal work, it is necessary to get data from them to create comprehensive reports. Without the ability to extract and synthesize data, legal departments may be left with an incomplete picture about their work, which is detrimental for spend management, resource allocation, and staff oversight.
What to look out for when considering an integration
Look at the integration potential of software by considering the following factors: cost, time, necessity, and effectiveness. Many legal tech companies will promise to prospective customers that an integration is easy and cost effective to create. But in reality, it may be expensive and time intensive. Cost is an important consideration because very few legal organizations have endless budgets; the cost of the integration cannot exceed the budgeted software amount. If you are going ahead with acquiring a platform with the expectation that an integration will be set up, make sure early on that the cost of the integration stays within your budget.
Also, time is money. If it takes a long time to set up an integration, a legal department will lose valuable time for productive use of the platform. The time cost of an integration should be evaluated by considering the benefits of the integration: does the integration allow for greater efficiencies that outweigh the monetary and temporal resources used to set it up?
The necessity of an integration should also be scrutinized. Ask yourself if the platforms you are considering connecting need to be connected. For example, perhaps your legal operations can be optimized without having to connect the new software with SharePoint. Instead, fully migrating over to the new solution may be a more resource effective route.
I have seen many cases where customers unnecessarily want to connect new platforms with existing ones. One reason is because they are either uncomfortable fully embracing the new platform or abandoning an old one. It is difficult for them to envision work without a legacy solution. Nonetheless, the supposed benefits obtained through an integration may just as well exist without the integration. The real driver of wanting an integration in this case is to facilitate change management. Unfortunately, integration is a costly means of change management and there are cheaper alternatives, which are discussed below.
Furthermore, consider the utility of the integration. Integrations between platforms are not created equal. While a contract management solution may integrate effectively with an AI engine, a desired integration with Salesforce may not be as effective. Evaluate the features that a potential integration can give you and see if it provides your team with the utility you want. A prospective vendor’s platform may not give you the integration potential you are looking for, but a competitor may have a solution that does.
Alternatives to creating an integration
If you are reconsidering the need for setting up an integration as part of your change management strategy, there are viable alternatives. One is to have a trial of the new legal tech. Instead of setting up an integration with a soon-to-be legacy platform as a means of obtaining team buy-in, consider doing a trial of the prospective platform. Many legal tech companies offer sandboxes or limited trials. Take advantage of them when given the opportunity. They are a cost-effective way of familiarizing your team with a new solution. You can use the solution, evaluate its ability to meet your needs, and on-board your team all before signing a contract. By the time you decide to acquire the platform, you may already have substantial team buy-in, a reasonable expectation of the capabilities of the solution, and a familiarity with the software which can accelerate its rollout.
Another method is to specify a small entry point for the initial adoption of the legal tech. Instead of doing a team or enterprise-wide adoption, which will probably come with internal requests for redundant integrations, roll out the new platform through a small segment of your organization. When determining this entry point, find those team members or divisions that are more technologically savvy or more vocal about the need to adopt new solutions. After they have successfully adopted the platform, roll it out to your other teams. This phased transition to new legal tech allows for smoother validation of its utility to stakeholders. It also allows you to create internal champions who can promote the adoption of the solution to more sceptical team members.
Integration should be among the various considerations that legal organizations have when adopting legal tech. The importance of integration can make or break an implementation. Conversely, lawyers should be vigilant about unnecessary integrations. The cost, time, necessity, and effectiveness of an integration should be considered. Not every legal tech acquisition requires integration and there are cheaper alternatives that can also facilitate change management. Ultimately, the integration requirements of each legal department differ but one consideration is key: efficiency. Law firms and in-house counsel should craft a strategy that assesses whether integration between platforms increases efficiency.