Start with the problem, not the legal tech solution


A little while ago I attended an event called “Leaders in Legal Innovation” at the Legal Innovation Zone at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson University). There were eight speakers sharing their expertise over the course of the day, and each presented content that contributed to one central theme: it is essential to have a solid business foundation supporting all innovative legal solutions brought to the market.   

Having sorted through literally hundreds of companies and ideas in this space, it is certainly a message I agree with and that we have tried to keep in mind at Caravel Law. Dedicate a good portion of your time, up front, to understanding the problem you’re trying to solve. 

This point seemed to be unanimously accepted by both the speakers and the audience, with no counter arguments vocalized amongst the group. It is not in the best interest of your business to go off and build a legal tech company unless you’ve done the work to ensure your company will solve a critical problem for the customers you are seeking to serve. It is doing that work that will distinguish your business as an innovator in the legal tech space.  

We partner with some great Canadian legal technology companies like Athennian, Rally and Dealcloser. Each company focuses on offering processes which guarantee efficiency, allowing our lawyers and clerks to be as proactive as possible, and deliver real value that benefits our clients. Not only are these objectively cool companies utilizing and offering innovative technologies, but at their core is a real solution to a real problem. A problem that is, otherwise, not being solved effectively by current market products or legal systems.  

As we grow, encountering new gaps in the market along the way, these companies continue to address client-facing issues and prioritize efficiency, allowing them to grow with us. Often, when considering a new feature, they will reach out and discuss it with us first. They want to make sure that we’ll use it before they build it. This approach preserves time, money and effort while simultaneously showing a client the ways in which the business values them and their experience with a product.  

The advice highlighted at the Leaders in Legal Innovation event can be reframed to pose an equally valuable lesson to law firms purchasing the legal technology.  

While things have certainly improved from what they once were, it continues to be my experience that there are more impressive-sounding press releases about legal technology projects than there are actual clients seeing and feeling a difference in the way that services are delivered.  

Some firms have dedicated twitter accounts for their legal innovation projects, but it’s been years since they have tweeted anything. Some announced projects that were going to be “revolutionary” and then, after the announcement, were never spoken of again. The solution that is described sounds very impressive but, for one reason or another, the project never gained traction.  

There are exceptions of course. Some innovative programs from big national firms have continued to expand and evolve over time. You see job postings go up as more clients take advantage of the program and the team and its impact grows.  

But how many of the abandoned projects ended up delivering little or no value because of the failure to start with the client? If you are a law firm client – how often does your law firm contact you about new services or solutions that they are working on, to make sure you want it before they offer it? On the other hand, how often does a law firm project start with an interesting new technology that people are excited about instead of a discussion of what problem needs solving?  

We are extremely grateful that so many of our clients have been willing to speak with us about our projects and proposed solutions. These open lines of communication are particularly valuable to our Director of Legal Innovation, Monica Goyal, as it provides insight into how we can better serve our community. These interactions help to shape our plans, tipping the scales on what we do and what we rule out  

Whether they build a solution, or buy a solution, law firms should think and act like a legal technology start-up. Focus on the problem your clients want you to solve first. The technology comes second. 

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