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“Everything happening right now is creating opportunities for us to be more innovative”

Vantage Point: Big Law in Transition Kimberly Leach Johnson and Peter Ozolin

Peter Ozolin, CEO at Manzama, on the leaps in efficiency and capability that new technology offers law firms.

Kimberly Leach Johnson, Quarles & Brady LLP’s Chair, spoke to Peter Ozolin, CEO and chairman at Manzama, about the evolving technology available to law firms. Ozolin offered his view of the potential it holds and the obstacles it raises to firms rapidly adopting new technology. Manzama is a traditional and social media monitoring platform for the legal profession. Kim caught up with Peter after he moderated a panel discussion about data analytics at the Thomson Reuters 25th Annual Law Firm Marketing Partner Forum. The exchange has been edited for length and clarity.

KIM JOHNSON: The legal field has been slow to integrate new technology into daily business operations. Do you see firms adapting to embrace these changes more quickly?

PETER OZOLIN: There is always some percentage of any population adopting tech that wants to move faster than the others – that dynamic will always be there. Will the rest of the industry start to move more quickly, given the opportunities with data analytics and artificial intelligence and their impact on the practice and business of law? That’s a tough one to call. There will definitely be changes and they will probably be dramatic, but whether they will happen quickly is always the most difficult part to ascertain because, ultimately, it depends on how much pressure these firms are feeling.

Those who see the potential for engaging clients in a different manner – creating new products with some input from artificial intelligence – will be more competitive and give them a different value proposition than those who aren’t.

KJ: How did you, when you were a chief technology officer at a law firm, get people to move?

PO: This concept of change comes up a lot. I’d argue it's not just the lawyers who don't like change – it’s human nature.

If you can get people to incrementally change one part of what they’re doing, then they’ll discover other pieces. Otherwise it feels overwhelming – that’s part of why folks resist change.

If you want a group of people to adopt something, you start with a pocket of users at the firm who have a propensity to change, and they become your early adopters. Then the next groups looks to them and sees how it’s helping them.

Something that’s often overlooked is documentation about how things actually improved, what results are achieved. If someone is more resistant to change, it's important to be able to understand how those dots connect. It may not be that important for the early adopter who says, “I don’t need a lot of proof, this is clearly better than how I do things I do today.” That’s one temperament. The other temperaments are a lot different than that, which is very important. You’re dealing with a lot of different behavioral traits. Your process really has to reflect the firm’s culture and how people there adopt change.

KJ: Is being a first mover everything in this space? Do early adopters gain an unmatchable advantage?

PO: It's a bit of a yes and no. If you are late to the technology game, often you don’t realize the benefits until they are largely considered necessary. But you've heard the adage that pioneers are the ones with arrows in their backs; there are definitely costs to moving first, too.

It's also not just about the firms that adopt a new technology early, it's how they execute on what they are adopting. Having the infrastructure set up to properly roll out new initiatives; having a true partner in a technology vendor, one with trustworthy judgment and that is positioned to help with best practices – that is sometimes as important as the technology itself.

It’s a combination of moving early and also having the right practices and the right organizational support to execute properly.

KJ: How about the people who don’t see software programs offering enough advancement to be useful? What do you show them in AI that is really making a difference?

PO: The next wave is about emulating human behavior – that benefit is so new, there are going to be profound leaps. There are lots of investments with automated technology to accelerate human judgment.

It could be as simple as changing document drafting – you can use a tool to accelerate that process for a lawyer. That’s a strong reason to look at these kinds of things because they’re going to give you an advantage. It's still expensive but not like it was 10 or 15 years ago.

The second driver of AI is adding value: We can give our clients a better understanding of what's happening in their business, in their industries, and connect dots around trends they might not even yet see. Law firms are in a great position because they are doing things for a series of companies. Legal providers can help clients create best practices around company practices. So you’re able to have more of a complete legal service model rather than just doing the potential legal work when it becomes an issue.

KJ: Do you think technology is changing client expectations?

PO: It's getting close to where it is changing clients’ expectations. Some of your clients of course used to be at law firms, so in some cases they were using these technologies or were beneficiaries of them. When they move in-house at a company, they might not have the same set of resources, so they may expect them more and more from their law firm service providers.

KJ: What’s the most important message that decision makers at law firms should keep in mind when they contemplate the dizzying array of choices becoming available in technology?

PO: There’s nothing that is so unique that you can’t take it and apply it going forward. The convergence of everything happening right now is creating opportunities for us to be more innovative in how we use technology in the practice and business of law than any time I’ve experienced in the last 30 years. Everything you need to contribute or participate is now available to you – you have more processing power, skill sets for analytical work, and an industry that needs more efficiencies. There are a lot of factors that present great opportunities for firms. There isn't anyone who is so far behind they can't take advantage of this.

It’s a great time to start to make those investments in culture to support change and make this part of the DNA of the firm moving forward.

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