Interview with lawyer and legal tech expert Dera J. Nevin (Part 1)
Canadian born, Dera J. Nevin is an accomplished lawyer and consultant with a focus on strategic process and technology initiatives. She has significant experience recommending and implementing technology into legal practice, building and evaluating legal technology offerings and spearheading strategic initiatives directed at increasing legal technology effectiveness in practice. Dera possesses the unique ability to facilitate communication between business, legal and technology teams. dealcloser had the exciting opportunity to interview Dera to gain some insight on law tech.
Today we’re sharing part 1 of our interview with Dera. Check out part 2 of our interview here!
DEALCLOSER: It is clear that the relationship between lawyers and technology is complicated and many firms are hesitant to use technology, how will this have to change with future customer expectations?
DERA J. NEVIN: There are many assumptions about the relationship between lawyers and technology that I don’t know are true in practice. I don’t know of any lawyer that doesn't have a smart phone, I don't know a lawyer that doesn't have a personal computer. Many lawyers have Apple Watches and Netflix. So that indicates that lawyers do use technology, at least in their personal capacity.
I think the question really is what are some of the barriers to the adoption of technology in the delivery of legal services? I think that actually frames the question more precisely because lawyers do use technology in their lives. So there's a lot of different barriers. One is the nature of the way a lot of lawyers practice. They can really be more like solo professionals, even at large firms. The actual production of the work takes place pretty much in isolation. The collaboration may be intellectual, bouncing ideas off people, but each person is producing their work. So it's not just lawyers, but anyone who’s doing anything by themselves is going to, by nature, do it how they've always done it. People get very accustomed to the way they do things. I think that’s a natural barrier, so when we talk about lawyers not using technology, we’re generally talking about the most senior lawyers not using the latest features in the technology that we have. Not integrating technology into their practices because they are able to do their work perfectly well without the new technology. When they need to do something different, they are more likely to adopt new technology. So I think there’s the crux of the issue.
Another answer is the practice of law has a lot of restrictions in how it’s delivered. There’s rules of professional conduct, ethical rules, and pretty significant client expectations around privacy. Introducing new technology, particularly tech that you don’t understand, has a different risk framework than it does in many other professions and contexts, and so a lot of lawyers don’t want to adopt something new until they know that all of the regulatory and client expectations are going to be met.
The third barrier is a lot of the tech designed for lawyers is not user friendly. A lot of it doesn’t integrate into the tech that many lawyers already have and so its annoying to use. The flipside of the client expectations is the lawyers expectations to be able to use the technology that improves their own experience of doing their work and not just client expectations. So those are the 3 biggest challenges that I've seen from the lawyer-adoption perspective.
DC: In what ways do you think law firms that embrace technology are at an advantage?
DJN: Technology is an accelerant of whatever it is right? So, if you think about transportation for example, a car accelerates your ability to get from point A to point B. An airplane accelerates it even further. So firms that adopt appropriate technology to do something can accelerate their ability to get that thing done. Whether it achieve an answer faster, achieve an accurate outcome faster, or higher margins. There’s a lot of things that can be accomplished with technology, which is why we use technology. So a firm that has thought through its client-focus strategy incorporating technology is in a position to deliver a more favorable client outcome. But, as technology is an accelerant, it means that a poor practice, or a poorly designed system, can also be magnified by technology.
DC: What makes legal tech good?
DJN: Any technology is good if it serves its purpose and helps the user accomplish their objective. A lawyer is going to consider a technology good if it helps them do something better, faster, cheaper, more accurately, or with less effort. For example, if a technology helps a lawyer be more organized, or helps manage a client file and ultimately delivers a better outcome to a client or be more profitable or have fewer write offs, or spend fewer nights in the office...all of those things that improve the lawyers ability to get work done or their own happiness and productivity are more likely to be considered good technologies, particularly if they help the lawyer to do that in a way that the lawyer can maintain their confidentiality, security, and ethical profiles. So something that improves the lawyers ability to generate an outcome is good.
DC: What do you think makes bad legal tech?
DJN: Every consumer has a bad experience with technology. So technology that is frustrating or confusing to use, technology that crashes all the time or that maybe doesn't have the functions and features that lawyers really need, these just add to the aggravation rather than facilitate outcomes. And so for example the printer that consistently mangles paper is an example of bad technology.