When legal and tech collide

April 15, 2020
4 min.
By:
Niels Martin Brøchner

Just a year ago, Oliver Fjellvang was leading the digital strategy of Denmark’s largest law firm, Kammeradvokaten. Last autumn he said goodbye to the stability and security of permanent employment in a leading law firm and began life as a legal tech entrepreneur with his software company Cleardox - a redaction tool that automatically finds and redacts personal information from documents.

The fact that he is familiar with the perspectives from both sides makes him a very interesting witness to the legal tech movement. He knows what lawyers want from their legal tech providers, and he understands where lawyers must improve to ease the digital transformation and adapt to the way the tech industry works.

Legal Tech Weekly, therefore, decided to have a socially distant chat with him to get a better understanding of what happens when legal and tech collide. And also to get some tips and tricks to what law firms can do to ease their digital transformation.

The legal tech iceberg

The idea to start Cleardox emerged during his years in the business development department of Kammeradvokaten, where he got a good understanding of the legal tech market and its development"

"GDPR created a need in our law firm, so one of the partners came to me and asked me to find an anonymisation tool. She wanted a tool that could detect and redact personal information in documents and replace them with something else. It is a cumbersome manual process, where the lawyers sit in Adobe and insert black boxes in the text, so they desperately needed a tool. But after comprehensive market research, I found that such a tool did not exist. At least not a good one,” Fjellvang explains.

That led to an idea. But before Fjellvang quit his job, he began to gather initial validation from the market by stress-testing the business case for Cleardox via som campaigns on LinkedIn. The validation turned out well, so he founded Cleardox with the two developers.

“You find out that developing software is super complex. Things are not as easy as they look. As a non-developer, you only relate to what you can see and test, so you often fail to understand that the UX, the wireframes and the frontend are just the tip of the iceberg. Underneath is the backend, which is the foundation on which the software is based, and that is where 80 % of the work is. You have to accept that developing software takes time. It is very complex, and you will make mistakes along the way,” he says.

That is not only related to legal tech, but the realisation is new to the lawyers since they have been working with tech before.

“It’s hard to estimate how long time it takes to create a piece of software. Law firms are not used to developing and ordering solutions made from scratch. They are used to buying them off the shelves. Now they have started to develop their solution, but they have no idea how long time it takes before you have a good product,” Fjellvang explains.

Minimum viable products in a zero-defects mentality

The fact that there will be mistakes along the way is something lawyers, and law firms must be better at accepting when they order and co-develop digital solutions.

“Lawyers have a zero-defects mentality. They are used to delivering bullet-proof notaries and contracts. Total precision is a virtue among lawyers, and they bring that mentality with them when they order software. The problem is that the software they demand takes so much time to develop that you risk there is no demand in the market for it when the job is done. In tech, you have to present an MVP (minimum viable product), which is a halfway finished product, to the customers to see if there is a demand and test how it is being used. Most lawyers have a hard time accepting that the MVP-version is often crappy and full of bugs. That is very anxiety-provoking when you have a zero-defects mentality,” Fjellvang explains.

Like so many other tech entrepreneurs and people working within the field of innovation, he believes that you must begin by developing a scarce version of your product to map out the demand and determine whether there are any potential buyers. If not, then you must either adjust the product or discard the idea, before you spend years on developing.

“These days, you have to be agile. Instead of using the waterfall method where you plan the entire product in detail, you better get started and then develop the features as you go. This experimenting method might disrupt the time-estimations, which is disturbing to law firms who want total control of their economy in their resources. Nevertheless, most tech people tend to embrace the agile model” he says.

Communication, Communication, Communication

Coming from a person that knows both sides of the gulf between legal and tech well, Fjellvang emphasises that there is a need for clear communication and reliable project management for a legal tech adventure to succeed.

“Failure to communicate properly on both sides often leaves both parties frustrated: Law firms fail to describe their expectations, and developers fail to communicate the complexity and what needs to be done in order to achieve the goal. The answer is communication, communication, communication. Make sure to align expectations. What do you expect the solution to be able to? How finished do you expect the MVP to be?” Fjellvang says and then thinks again.

“Project management is critical. As a legal tech vendor, you must be able to translate your delivery to your customer from the beginning. You must understand their exact needs, guide them to the right solution, map out the potential problems along the way and make sure always to align expectations concerning the timeframe. Sometimes the legal tech provider is a bit too optimistic because they want to close the sales, so they forget to communicate the complexity. At the same time, law firms must allocate a product owner who can follow the project closely. You must dedicate resources, involve stakeholders and communicate with your team. Both ends must collaborate in a good product plan; decide what needs to be communicated, how often and what happens when problems occur, because they will occur,” he says.

His advice is the following: “You should be honest and embrace uncertainty, but also agree on the playbook and which project management model to use. Make sure both parties have a product owner, work on a governance plan from day one, and communicate, communicate, communicate.”

The art of maintenance
As noted in previous articles on Legal Tech Weekly, the real challenge in the digital transformation of the legal industry lies in the implementation phase.

“Lawyers tend to forget that software must be maintained and that there will be errors to correct and features to adjust. Sometimes only 1/3 of the work goes to development, while 2/3 goes to operations and maintenance. The suppliers often forget to mention it because, at that point, they have already lured in the law firm. On the other hand, then there is the implementation phase. That is a top job because lawyers have their habits, so you cannot underestimate how hard it is to implement new solutions,” he explains.

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