02 September 2021

A quick guide to purchasing legal technology in 2021 - Stage 2: Evaluation

Published on 02 September 2021

Introduction

For many lawyers, the hardest part of the legal technology journey is picking the right software. Purchasing legal technology is one of the bigger investment decisions many lawyers will make in their careers, and there are few precedents or guidelines.

In Stage 1 of this series, I focused on the steps needed to prepare for a technology purchase. The aim of this post is to provide an overview of the process of evaluating and selecting the right legal technology solution for your practice or team. By illustrating some of the common steps and pitfalls, my hope is that you will walk away equipped with the tools to identify the right technology - one that ultimately solves more problems than it creates.

This post outlines how to effectively navigate legal technology vendors, create an RFP, evaluate responses, and make the final decision about the right tech for your business. The steps in this post are not strictly linear. In fact, you will likely undertake many simultaneously. Hopefully this post provides a roadmap of the key steps involved, so that you can have a better experience and love the tech you buy.

Step one: Market overview

To make a decision about the right legal technology for your firm, business, or team, you will need a high-level understanding of the legal technology landscape. It’s helpful to understand key distinctions, such as end-to-end vs point-based solutions, the various subcategories of legal technology, and the difference between general technology and legal-specific technology. Lawyers aren't expected to be experts in the rapidly evolving legal technology market, but a little knowledge of the range of solutions and the key players will help you ask the right questions, of the right people, and navigate through the noise.

Luckily, there are a plethora of helpful resources to refer to, many of which are outlined in this Centre for Legal Innovation blog post. Here are some to consider:

  • Stanford CodeX Legaltechlist - A list of almost 2,000 legal technology companies, hosted by the Stanford Centre for Legal Informatics. Data is contributed by community stakeholders including Codex, Legal.io, and Thomson Reuters.
  • The LegalTech Hub - a curated list of legal technology solutions for commercial use, the LegalTech Hub features a handy search function that provides information such as functionality, practice area of law and deployment (e.g. cloud or on premise).
  • The Observatory - Law firm Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe recently launched The Observatory, which contains more than 600 legal technology products for law firms and legal departments.

Your research phase should result in the following deliverables:

  • 2-3 companies that provide solutions relevant to the issue at hand;
  • The relevant categories that address your problem (e.g. contract management, automation); and
  • A rough idea of the competitive landscape for solutions, including whether or not non-legal solutions exist.

A little research into the legal technology market is not only a fascinating exercise - it will set you up to have more informed, productive conversations with the vendors you encounter in the next step of this process and help to you articulate and build your internal business case for the tech purchase.

Step two: engaging with legal technology vendors

Technology vendors can be a great asset to your journey. Effective procurement processes involve collaborative partnership with vendors, who can provide critical information, assistance and advice. This is especially true in the relatively new area of legal technology, where vendors often possess information that is unavailable in the broader marketplace, and are who may be pioneers in their area or field. Ultimately, no one knows their product better than them!

On the other hand, vendors have their own agenda (to make profit by selling their product) and a sales process designed to steer you towards a particular outcome - one that may not necessarily align with your goals. To help you create an effective, collaborative vendor partnership, you’ll find Table 1: Sales Process Stages and Tips here– this table outlines the common stages in the sales process and tips for you to consider along the way.

Engaging with legal technology vendors can be one of the most fun parts of the legal technology process, and is your opportunity to imagine a future state where your technology-powered legal team is efficient, effective and happy. Taking a few extra steps to get the most from vendors and demonstrations can make a big difference in the smoothness and efficacy of the overall process.

Step three: Creating and sharing an RFP

A Request for Proposal (RFP) formalises the work you have done so far and codifies your requirements in one market-facing document. By this point in the process, you’ve built a one page plan and a requirements list, which means you already have the bones of an RFP. Your RFP will provide useful criteria against which to compare your chosen vendors.

An RFP is especially useful for larger legal technology projects, but can also be a valuable exercise for smaller procurements too. The RFP serves a number of valuable purposes, including:

  • Helping you secure offers from the right vendors
  • Understanding how different vendors products stack up against your requirements
  • Creating benchmarks and metrics for your organisation to help you evaluate return on investment and the success of a project.

You’ll find Table 2: Legal Technology RFP Considerations here– this table outlines some key considerations to include in your RFP.

Modifying the RFP process

It's worth noting that RFPs are often used in complex external procurement exercises and not all legal technology projects require a lengthy RFP process. If you work in a large organisation with a procurement division, you will likely need to consult with the relevant professionals to discuss the suitability and content of an RFP. If you work in a smaller organisation, you may consider altering the RFP process to reduce time and cost.

Once you’ve created your RFP template, you’ll need to share it with relevant vendors. Be aware that receiving numerous responses to an RFP isn’t necessarily a good thing. Not only are RFP responses incredibly resource and time intensive to create, they are also difficult to read and this is a role that will likely fall in your lap in the future. In addition, some legal technology companies will not respond to an RFP unless you have been engaged in the vendor’s sales process (an example of which is outlined in Table 1: Sales Process Stages and Tips above). From their perspective, if you haven’t seen a demo, it is unlikely that you will buy regardless of their response to the RFP.

Step four: Evaluating vendors and making a decision

Armed with RFP responses and fuelled by long talks with vendors and demos of their products/platform, you will now likely be in great position to make a decision about the right legal technology for your business. Importantly, this is unlikely to be a unilateral decision, and you should return to your Project Team and re-engage with key internal stakeholders to ensure that the final decision has adequate buy-in from all relevant parties.

When coming to terms with the right product for your problem, you will balance numerous considerations. Some will be concrete, such as budget and ability to integrate with existing technology. Others will be abstract, but equally important. For example, is the technology fun and easy to use? Is it aligned with the future direction of the company? Is the vendor a long term partner?

Interoperability and integration

Interoperability is the ability of technology solutions to integrate, work together and exchange data. The legal technology landscape is new, fragmented and rapidly evolving - as a result, interoperability can be a big challenge for legal teams who implement multiple solutions.

The interoperability of your solution should be a key consideration in the purchasing process. The digitisation of legal work will continue (at speed) and legal teams will likely rely on multiple legal technology solutions into the future.

Interoperability should also be a key consideration if you are purchasing a point-based solution. For example, if you purchase a document storage system that won’t connect to a separate contract automation system in the future, your workflow will be heavily compromised.

This is an evolving area in legal technology and so instead of expecting a clear cut solution from your vendor, look for alignment on the importance of interoperability and a willingness from the vendor to integrate their technology with other systems


Testing your solution

A helpful concept when balancing issues is the final part of the 5-stage Design Thinking process: Testing. In this phase, designers or evaluators rigorously test the solutions identified throughout the process. In the context of legal technology solutions, this might include hypothetical testing or time spend in demo environments.

The results generated during in the Design Thinking testing phase are often used to re-define the problem at hand. For example, as you narrow down the solutions available, you may rephrase the original problem statement in line with the options at hand. Importantly, a 'testing' mindset is collaborative and empathetic - meaning it helps uncover how the solution might impact the experience of people across the team, practice or business.

Conclusion

There are a myriad of considerations to balance when evaluating legal technology solutions. The most successful procurement processes engage all relevant internal and external stakeholders and utilise tools such as an RFP to create a consistent, comprehensive decision-making framework, against which all options can be evaluated.

Critical evaluation is necessary because the legal technology ecosystem is fragmented and evolving, meaning lawyers do not have clear guidelines or precedent to help make the right decision. Ultimately, I hope that the tools and considerations outlined in this post help shine light on the process, making it easier to pick the right solution for your team.

However, the legal technology journey doesn’t end here. In the final post in this series, I’ll outline the process of implementing legal technology, including tips to get your chosen system up and running quickly and to maximise ROI over time.

About the Author

Sam Burrett is a legal professional working across law, business, and technology. Sam manages key client relationships at Clayton Utz, a leading Australian law firm, where he has frontline exposure to the latest innovations in legal service delivery. Previously, Sam helped in-house legal teams navigate legal technology and agile talent models at Plexus, and began his career as a law graduate at LegalVision, Australia's largest NewLaw firm. Sam is motivated by a personal mission to accelerate the future of legal practice by advocating for new technology and legal business models that benefit lawyers and clients.