Being Smart about Legaltech: Q&A Session with Jennifer Ellis
On August 26, we were honored to welcome Jennifer Ellis, Chair of the Pennsylvania Bar Association Solo and Small Firm Section and a legal ethics attorney running the consulting and law firm marketing company Jennifer Ellis, JD, LLC, as a speaker at Loio’s webinar about legaltech adoption.
There were more questions from the audience than we could handle, though (hooray!). Luckily, Jennifer was kind enough to answer the remaining questions in writing.
We have put together her answers for you here in no particular order. Dive in!
How do you manage the nexus between legal tech within a law firm with the broader legal environment that has not yet caught up to digital tech?
I think it is important to remember that lawyers are often tech hesitant. This is mainly because they are concerned about the ethical rules and any potential violations. The key thing is to be able to reassure lawyers and managing folks that the tech you are recommending is appropriate and based on those rules. One way of doing this is engaging an ethics attorney in the correct jurisdiction(s) to help ease the minds of the lawyers.
But also remember that law firms may not need some of the tech that is on the bleeding edge. They need the tech that makes them work efficiently. So, no tech just because it exists. Only the tech that will really help and be usable in our conservative profession.
Will the billable hour become less prevalent as technology takes over? Do you think lawyers will start charging per task rather than per hour?
The first seminar I ever taught at the ABA involved what we called ‘value billing.’ We discussed ways that the billable hour might be replaced. I do think some lawyers would be willing to bill per task, or what we might call ‘unbundled representation.’ But there are challenges to figuring out how to bill without over- or undercharging. I am not sure the hourly rate will go away any time soon because we haven’t yet found a good way to replace it while balancing all of the various concerns.
Could you clarify how law students could create a long-term strategy to become a consultant who helps law firms with digital transformation?
There is no specific path. I had a background in tech from working in computer micro rooms in college. My first job was at a nonprofit where they were interested in my tech knowledge. It was many years — over 12 — before I decided to become a consultant.
Consultants need practical knowledge to be trusted in the legal profession.
You need to study tech, study law and how it works, understand the ethical rules and concerns. And of course, start connecting with people.
I would begin with your state bar association. Many provide free membership to law students. Start making contacts now.
Which makes more sense: to buy an already existing tech or to have a customized one developed for you?
Most of the time it does not pay to reinvent the wheel, as the saying goes. Unless you cannot find something out of the box that can be modified to work for you, the average firm is most likely better off buying something already in existence. Coders are expensive and it takes a long time to code and debug any complex program.
One thing a law firm could do, if it finds a hole in legaltech, is to hire a coder and have them make whatever it is you see working, and then sell it. A way to defray the costs and maybe even make a profit.
Very few people would spend on legaltech. Why should people opt for it? Is legaltech the only way to cover the gap?
Many lawyers are spending money on legaltech now. Is legaltech the only way? I imagine there are always other ways. But most of those ways are slower than legaltech once everyone in the firm is using it properly. Spend money on legaltech to make your practice more efficient and less likely to make mistakes. This, in turn, will free up time to bring in more clients, focus on marketing, and/or just time for new clients that you didn’t have before. Efficiency breeds time.
Where do you see digital tech going in the next few years as this could have an impact on the type of digital tech adopted?
I think we will continue to see an increase in tech in law. AI will become a big issue, and the ability to do more work in less time will continue to increase. Lawyers will need to have a better and better understanding of legaltech to stay competitive.
Should the design process for the implementation include everyone? At what point is there ‘too many cooks’?
It depends on the size of the firm. I would make sure to have a representative from each impacted department have at least some involvement. And of course, everyone who uses the new tech needs to be trained repeatedly.
Who would the stakeholders be when testing out the demo?
The people who will be using it. If a program is going to be used by paralegals, the receptionist, the legal assistants, and the lawyers, at least one person from each group should be involved in the process.
Thank you very much, Jennifer!