by Sebastian Hartmann, first published on Intapp.com in March 2023
2023 is already proving to be a pivotal year for law firms. Continued headwinds from economic volatility and geopolitical uncertainty are macro forces that firms have faced before. But now, with the rapid acceleration of emerging technologies and a workforce forever changed by the pandemic, opportunities to gain a competitive edge are both more abundant and more complex. Leading the charge are legal CIOs who are helping their firms understand and embrace technologies to drive better insights, support more data-informed decision making, enable modern collaboration, and provide better service to clients.
To better understand these CIOs’ goals, and to look ahead to what innovations will help them succeed, Intapp and Microsoft recently co-hosted an Innovation Summit in Redmond, Washington. During the conference, which coincided with the one-year anniversary of the technology firms’ strategic partnership, 16 legal CIOs from leading global and national firms discussed their challenges, opportunities, and technology wish lists with Intapp and Microsoft leaders.
Here are the key takeaways from the summit:
- CIOs are prioritizing technology to improve client and employee experiences. The CIOs at the Innovation Summit recognize that they will be left behind if they fail to capitalize on innovations in technology to enhance client and employee experiences and embed them throughout their firms. Knowledge-intensive businesses like law firms have an understandable cultural propensity toward following precedent — meaning it can be hard to innovate and deliver services differently than before. But the CIOs outlined a shift that they’re seeing at their firms and across the legal industry: Lawyers and clients are increasingly demanding new, smarter ways of working that require capabilities such as automation, analytics, and zero-entry data solutions.
- They know that the cloud is where innovation will happen most quickly. By now, almost all firms are embracing the cloud to some extent. Some are still partially on-premise or moving to private cloud environments. Yet all the CIOs in attendance were very clear on where the future is — and that’s in cloud-based technologies. The CIOs understand that that’s where innovation will happen more rapidly and how they can scale more easily — now more securely than ever before. Their previous reservations about the cloud are being superseded by the sheer scale of business benefits of cloud-based solutions compared to those provided by on-premises technologies.
- They welcome guidance on AI strategies. Although AI has been around for a while, its popularity recently exploded with the launch of Open AI’s ChatGPT in late 2022. It’s been reaching even greater heights with Microsoft’s 2023 announcement about its Co-Pilot technology.
Emerging technologies like these bring new opportunities — but they also pose challenges for law firms around security, compliance, ethical usage, and reliability. The CIOs recognize the importance of having the right guardrails in place to help firms incubate, test, and adopt new AI capabilities, while still protecting their core business and client data. This represents a major change in both how law firms can be managed and how legal advice can be provided.
Some applied AI applications allow busy lawyers to focus more on their clients as well as increase billable activities; these technologies and capabilities include automatic meeting summaries, automatic relationship intelligence solutions, advanced time capture from calendars or meeting platforms that populate time systems, and extraction and summary of unstructured data from document management systems. But they still represent just the tip of the iceberg in terms of AI’s potential.
- They understand that purpose-built data models and workflows are essential. The law firms at the Innovation Summit are at different stages of their data journeys, due largely to their varying size, focus, and maturity — but every firm CIO said that harnessing their data more effectively was one of their greatest levers for change. Whether to streamline client intake, improve utilization rates, or train AI models, data is a priority and understood to be a key enabler. Achieving these goals requires data models designed specifically for law firms, which can then be leveraged across their IT ecosystems.
Some firms are challenged with cultures that encourage data silos, while others wrestle with data integrity, taxonomy, and integration across a variety of ecosystem solutions. Issues discussed at the Innovation Summit included approaches for managing unstructured data, prioritization strategies for data cleanup, and addressing both data needs for all clients and specific data needs for individual practice areas.
Overwhelmingly, the CIOs acknowledged the need to move to the cloud for security, agility, and innovation. To be successful, a legal industry cloud approach is critical, since it combines best-in-class technologies with vertical-specific data models and workflows.
- They’re seeking solutions that will drive true adoption. Change management at law firms is difficult under the best of circumstances. It has become even more so with today’s dispersed and hybrid workplace environments.
The idea of “meeting users where they work” — by providing the best, most relevant user interface and data insights for each user — was appealing to the CIOs. The group also explored technologies tailored for “a day in the life of a lawyer,” which included a demo showing a partner’s seamless user experience during a range of activities — including securely onboarding a new client, triggering a new matter workflow, setting up ethical walls to maintain compliance, creating a secure workspace, assigning tasks directly to associates, and collaborating on documents directly from her inbox, both from her office computer and her mobile device.
- Their concerns around regulations and sanctions are increasing. Year two of the war in Ukraine, along with increased tensions with China, are impacting law firms around the world. Additionally, new sanctions now require firms to collect, track, and analyze more data than ever, necessitating agile software solutions with purpose-built conflict clearance and compliance workflows.
At the same time, governments are increasing regulations, including data residency. As more law firms move to the cloud, it’s important to partner with technology vendors that understand these regulations and have the cloud architecture to support a firm’s specific data tenancy needs.
As a leader in legal technology, Intapp is focused on empowering connected firms with purpose-built technology and processes. In partnership with Microsoft and an ecosystem of technology, data, and service providers, we are dedicated to serving the needs of law firms and anticipating tomorrow’s opportunities and requirements. This Innovation Summit is part of an ongoing series of open dialogues with legal CIOs to better understand their needs and help them achieve their strategic goals.