Thoughts on Legal Tech in AmLaw Firms

Sep 22, 2020 10:12:04 AM / by Ryan Short

It’s been six months since I joined the legal tech community.

The number of articles and blogs I’ve read, podcasts I’ve listened to, and conversations I’ve had in which people bring up AmLaw firms’ reticence to adopt technology is overwhelming.

But is it really so surprising?

I’m not an attorney, I’m an MBA who comes from the corporate world. Simplifying a bit, my interactions with tech tools have generally followed a pattern.


Corporate Technology Interactions


When a corporation is approached by a technology vendor, or is seeking a solution, a targeted conversation takes place. Here is a very brief list in no particular order:

  • Does this tool solve a known problem?

  • How long is the payback period?

  • Is it an intuitive user interface?

  • Is this on-prem or in the cloud?

  • How easy is it to customize?

  • How well will it talk to my other applications?

  • Would moving forward with this crowd out other higher-ranking priorities from a budget or bandwidth perspective?

It is critical to get a sub-set of end-users involved before the purchasing decision is made. Do you want this to be an executive’s pet project, or do you want it to materially improve your operations and profitability?



This is where technology tools are made or broken. Initial training and some change management is often where you get widespread buy-in or the plane never leaves the ground.

  • Is the vendor a part of training, or is it completely on my team?

  • What types of resources are provided by the vendor?

  • What custom resources do we need to create?

  • What type of support is available from the vendor after go-live?

Make it bite-sized, interactive, and spread it out with some repetition over the course of the first few weeks.

Traditional delivery models (half day or full day of training, brochure leave behind) are a sure-fire way to sustain a “compliance mentality.” People will check the box, but they’ll forget most of what they learned within hours.



If you’ve gotten a user group involved in vetting the tool and you’ve delivered a meaningful onboarding experience for users, your work isn’t done. Trust, but verify.

  • At what rate are users engaging with the tool?
  • Where they are still employing manual processes – why? Is there a technical or workflow problem inhibiting adoption? Or just laziness/stubbornness?
  • Continued education: new or advanced features are always good to talk about, but it’s also important simply to keep the tool visible and top of mind. It’s a subliminal message that “this is important and it’s not a flavor-of-the-month that will soon disappear”


Law Firm Tech Adoption Obstacles

So, with all of this said, why am I not surprised that law firms have traditionally had a hard time taking full advantage of all that legal tech has to offer?

Deep roots

Most AmLaw firms’ primary offices are in jurisdictions based on common law (or centuries’ old civil law). Precedent and stability are embedded in the DNA of these organizations.


Attorney skepticism

Many attorneys (especially litigators) are skeptical by nature. If they’ve built a successful practice and solid reputation without your bells and whistles, how can you possibly give them anything they don’t already have?


Human nature

People don’t like change. Even those who push for tech adoption or love the latest gadgets resist change in most facets of their lives. This is millions of years of evolutionary biology. Safety is valued. Change may bring danger.

You probably won’t be eaten by a lion, but you could lose lots of time with or pay lots of money for a tool that doesn’t materially improve your client satisfaction, retention, or your firms’ margin profile.


Bad actors (in the legal tech space)

Let me be clear: I think that the overwhelming majority of legal tech companies are doing valuable work and full of ethical people. I have worked in the transportation and medical device industries. This observation is in no way unique to the legal tech space.

At some point or another, we’ve all heard stories about, or been involved with, situations where we’re expecting the Ferrari and we end up with the Dodge Neon. These experiences feed into the attorney skepticism and human nature being averse to change.


Decentralized structure of law firms

This is probably the toughest thing for non-attorneys to grasp as they attempt to build a business in the legal space.

I was having breakfast with a friend who owns a software product development company. Their portfolio includes many household names who can spend $500K+ per year on development.

He asked me “so, if you win the lawyer, do you win the firm?”

I laughed and told him you don’t even necessarily win the attorney in the next office, let alone the attorneys in any of the other offices.

The autonomy granted to attorneys is a double-edged sword: while poor practices aren’t codified, good practices aren’t scalable


A note about pricing

To date, pricing has not been a primary objection we’ve faced. The structure of firms and the litigation they manage is such that most legal tech is passed through as a receivable to the firm’s client. Sure, there’s negotiating on that end as to the extent the client will foot the entire bill, but generally software doesn’t have the large impact on a P&L statement as it does for in-house teams.


What Does It All Mean?

If you work for a law firm, build consensus internally. Ask the tough questions of your vendors. Know that technology alone cannot and will not solve problems – but it’s easier to dig a trench with a bulldozer than a shovel.

If you’re a legal tech vendor, accept the conditions for what they are. You can’t snap your fingers and make the adoption obstacles disappear. But the intersection of knowledge, accessibility, and patience is where value and relationships are created. If you're on a legal team, let's talk.


Tags: Industry Analysis, eDiscovery, Legal Services

Ryan Short

Written by Ryan Short

Ryan joined Proteus in 2020. He is an MBA and a Certified eDiscovery Specialist with over a decade of experience in publicly traded, PE-backed, and bootstrapped entities focused on technology-enabled services. Ryan lives in Indianapolis with his wife and their 5 children under the age of 9. Consequently, his wife won't let him buy a dog.