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How to Avoid Annoying In-House Counsel With Your Tech

By Rachel Bailey

Your clients may not be as enthusiastic about your tech as you are — especially if you ignore their preferences. Here’s how to stay in sync and avoid annoying in-house counsel.

There is no doubt that clients expect you to use cutting-edge software to meet their needs. In fact, a recent survey of general counsel from Legal 500 and World Services Group found that 92% consider it important that external firms stay up to date with technology. 

Within your law firm’s legal technology stack, you likely have dozens of solutions designed to improve productivity, automate processes, share information, report results and more. You work with these tools every day, rely on them and (hopefully) like them. But how do your clients feel? Do they appreciate and eagerly adopt your tech, or do they feel inconvenienced and annoyed?

Unsurprisingly, most legal professionals — nine out of 10 — agree that legal tech is important to meet client demands and improve legal services, according to a Bloomberg Law report. Despite this near-unanimous sentiment, technology challenges still arise when working with in-house attorneys.

At the highest level, the goal of most legal technology is the same — to give law firms and their clients a competitive advantage. When used properly, your software can deliver tremendous value. However, if your approach isn’t thoughtfully tailored to meet clients’ needs, you risk causing irritation and inefficiency. Here we’ll explore some common challenges and tips for success when using technology in collaboration with in-house counsel.

1. Pay Attention to Their Past Tech Experience

When it comes to client-facing legal tech adoption, setting the stage is crucial. After all, it’s not valuable to them or you if they refuse to use it. Helping your clients understand and buy into your approach can make all the difference. But before you can do that, you have to know their background with technology.

Often, a client’s hesitation is rooted in a previous negative experience. For example, a survey by ContractWorks revealed that 77% of in-house lawyers had experienced a failed technology implementation. They may have a similar history with legal tech. Other common barriers include key stakeholders who prefer legacy communication methods, investments in solutions that are underdelivered, or just simple frustration at having to learn yet another system. While you don’t want to dig up negative feelings, being aware of previous pitfalls will help you tailor your approach to their needs.

As you introduce your processes and technology to your client, start off on the right foot by sharing the cost savings realized and passed on to them. Then ask what apps and tools your in-house counterparts are comfortable using, and which ones don’t work for them. 

As you talk through how you’ll work together, focus on their experience and draw parallels between your software and the tools they’re already familiar with. Share how your tech stack weaves into their process, how they’ll interact with it, and the tangible benefits they can expect. When finalizing a collaboration strategy or workflow, find a middle ground. Striking a balance between your processes and the client’s preferred way of working will ensure better client engagement and long-term satisfaction.

2. Limit the Number of Tools You Ask Them to Use

Even when working with the most tech-savvy in-house teams, there’s still potential for friction if they’re asked to engage with too many tools. The recent Legal Technology Report by the Association of Corporate Counsel and Exterro explored common technology barriers from in-house counsel and legal operations professionals. Their research revealed that: 

  • 48% said they were challenged by learning multiple user interfaces.
  • 62% said their main tech hurdle was software applications that aren’t connected.
  • 43% wanted a comprehensive software platform to accomplish multiple tasks.

These results aren’t surprising. After all, your clients are managing dozens of tools between the systems their business uses and their own legal tech. Asking your clients to use your tech may seem minor if they already use a similar system, but it can cause unnecessary frustration. For example, you may face challenges if your firm uses G-Suite for document creation and markup while your client works in Microsoft. If you don’t agree on a system or process ahead of time, you’ll soon find yourself digging through emails, messages and platforms looking for the right version and latest updates. It’s a recipe for risk, client confusion and inefficiency.

So, when collaborating with in-house counsel, keep the number of tools you ask them to interact with to a minimum. The platform you use will depend on your needs. For instance, if working with in-house counsel on litigation matters, use a single case management solution to centralize character and chronology collaboration, integrate with other tools, and create a simple client portal. In addition to satisfying the 43% who crave a comprehensive platform, using a single piece of interconnected software can ease the learning curve for corporate legal teams.

3. Alleviate Security Concerns

Be aware of and proactively share helpful information about how your clients’ data is managed and the ways you’ll use technology to achieve their goals. Again, picking a centralized system for client collaboration can help minimize the risk of inadvertent data exposures due to inconsistent security protocols between systems. Ensure that any legal tech you use to interact with clients meets or exceeds current security standards. Offering this information reassures in-house counsel that you’ve carefully considered every aspect of your engagement and have their best interests in mind.

Additionally, offer transparency when it comes to your use of emerging technologies. For example, you should disclose if and how your firm is using generative artificial intelligence as part of your work with them. A recent survey by Lowenstein Sandler of in-house professionals revealed that 43% expressed little to no confidence in their knowledge of generative AI. In addition, 64% said they have yet to use AI for legal tasks. So, be prepared to address the ongoing discussions around AI regulation, alleviate their concerns, share benefits, and give them an opportunity to opt out.

4. Eliminate Extraneous Communication

Inevitably, more tech means more messages, notifications and emails. It all adds up, creating a lot of unwanted noise and distraction. Accordingly, be mindful of how in-house clients want to be communicated with. Like most of us, they crave concise communication and responsiveness

Explore common scenarios you may encounter and ask them the best way to meet their needs. They may prefer an instant message if you have an urgent request rather than logging into a portal to respond. They may want an overview sent to their inbox but also want a link to get a more detailed status report in a client portal. 

After establishing these guidelines, you can tailor your communication approach by configuring the notification settings in your software, scheduling messages, compiling updates and so on. Additionally, remember to respond to client requests in the way that you receive them. If you receive an email inquiry, respond via email and add the record or note to other systems as needed.

In short, your in-house clients engaged your services to gain access to your expertise; simply meet them where they’re at and be available.

5. Don’t Over-Rely on Technology 

You’re busy. Your clients are busy. And legal tech helps. But don’t make the mistake of equating your clients’ confident, effective use of legal tech to communicate as an indication of total satisfaction. 

While technology empowers your clients to get information by logging into a portal, don’t assume they have everything they need just because the items in the to-do list are checked off and there are no new messages in your inbox.

You must strike a balance between your use of technology and a personal touch. If you’re only communicating through portals, emails and messages, you’re missing the opportunity to build stronger relationships with clients. Use some of the time that technology saves you to connect with your client as a fellow lawyer and human. Ask questions about their challenges and goals. Seek ongoing feedback. Discuss trends you’ve noticed. It doesn’t have to be complex or time-consuming, but it will make a difference.

Ultimately, simply using legal technology won’t help you stand out from other law firms. And, if not approached thoughtfully, it can annoy in-house counsel. To really gain an advantage, you must understand how to use the right tools at the right times to create an experience that serves, empowers and builds trust with your client.

Image © iStockPhoto.com

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Rachel Bailey Rachel Bailey

Rachel Bailey is Product Marketing Manager at Opus 2, a leading provider of legal software and services. Opus 2 helps legal teams build winning case strategies more efficiently. Their cloud-based solution streamlines litigation processes by centralizing documents, evidence, transcripts, chronologies and witnesses in one collaborative workspace.

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