The future of legal tech Part III: Why you should avoid off-the-shelf-solutions

 The future of legal tech Part III: Why you should avoid off-the-shelf-solutions
An off-the-shelf digital product can seem like the cheapest solution to your operational needs, but...
This article is part of a series on the future of legal tech. It’s reflections and beliefs revolving the current dilemmas and crossroads in the legal business - mostly regarding the choices made in the digital spectre, choices which very well may determine whether legal firms will perish or prevail.

So, you want to implement automation in the most trivial work processes at your law firm. You are doing it to lower customer billings, so that your company will obtain a competitive advantage, and you are fully aware of the required strategy to carry through on this choice. But now you wonder how to implement the automation. Do you comb the market for available generic solutions? - Or do you raise the budget and invest in a customised product tailored your company procedures and needs? To put it short: It depends. But in a longer version, we usually find the following to be valid:

Buying a product off the shelf seems like an obvious safe choice. The supplier might be a big well-respected company, which inspires confidence. The product is most likely commonly accepted in the market, meaning functionalities are reliable. And the expenses will be fixed, so there is no risk of unpleasant (and costly) surprises as there might be when developing a solution of your own. At least you might think so.

Cheap means inflexible and expensive

Understandably it’s hard to see why a law firm should invest in a custom-build solution if there exist similar products in the market. There is just one quite significant problem. With a generic product, the design and functionalities are predefined. You are not able to influence it. This means that if the system doesn’t fit your existing work processes adequately, then it’s just too bad. You will then have to approach things differently, so they will. “Off course you could choose to modify the product to match your company needs better instead. But this scenario will lead to further unintended expenses. Modifying and tweaking a system into doing things it intentionally wasn’t supposed to require the involvement of consultants with a scarce – and therefore costly - set of skills”, says co-founder of Whyyy, Søren Nielsen. No matter what you choose, the cheap off-the-shelf-solution will not be cheap in the end.

So, let's take a look at the alternative: The custom-build solution. With such an approach, you will eventually get a system matching your specific company needs - not just reasonably, but brilliantly. "You will get a system designed to match your work procedures instead of you having to design your work procedures to match the system. The solution will provide what you need the way you need it. There will be no set of wide-ranging functionalities of which you only need some, and this will increase usability significantly", says Søren Nielsen. Employees will face no obstacles and make no use of workarounds when carrying out their tasks. This is true optimization.

"You will get a system designed to match your work procedures instead of you having to design your work procedures to match the system."

Søren Nielsen, Co-founder, Whyyy

Custom-built means agile

The custom-built solution is the sturdiest choice. But we know what you are thinking: It's also the riskiest! You won't know what the final costs will amount to when initiating the development phase, that is true. When building something from scratch, this is rarely the case. "During the last two decades, digital tools have completely changed the way you build software. Previously software was developed from scratch. Today, it's more about adequately combining the appropriate technologies. This lowers the risk tremendously. Creating value through technology is both faster and cheaper than 10 – 20 years ago, says Søren Nielsen.

Another great benefit of a custom-build solution is that it's made scalable and can easily evolve. Previously software systems would be something vast and complex, requiring companies to educate super-users able to assist colleagues using it. This is rarely the case anymore.

Nowadays, tech companies instead focus on building brilliant niche microservices. This is basically small programs or solutions with just a single functionality - usually the very best on the market. And this is the kind of off-the-shelves-solutions you indeed should be searching for. The simplicity of such tools means that it’s very straightforward to implement them in your custom-build system. Furthermore, when better niche features eventually are introduced on the market down the road, these can quickly and at a low-cost complement or replace existing ones in your system.

“Possessing a custom-build software solution makes a law firm much more agile in terms of adapting to market and company changes. In the long run, it will become much more trouble-free and eventually maybe even less expensive to keep executing on your competitive strategy of lowering expenses and providing better services”, says Søren Nielsen. Such a manoeuvrability could turn out very advantageous because other law firms will no longer be the only competitor in the legal industry — more on this topic in our next article.

Other articles in the series

Part I: Automation in law firms is inevitable

Part II: The fixed idea of a paradox in automation

Part IV: Being just a traditional law firm might not be enough

Other interesting insights