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Barbal named in ground-breaking LegalTech Report

Barbal has been named as one of fifteen LegalTech companies making a splash in the Bristol and Bath region in a new report by Whitecap Consulting. 

Bristol and Bath LegalTech Ecosystem Infographic

The report makes five findings for LegalTech in the region which identifies the West of England as an emerging cluster of legal innovation. The report identifies a significant level of LegalTech activity across an established legal sector, including more than 750 tech and innovation roles within a growing cluster of over 30 LegalTechs, tech companies working in the legal sector, and LegalTech arms operating within the region’s law firms.

The five findings are: 

  1.  High levels of LegalTech activity and service innovation across law firms of all sizes reflect the region’s underlying strengths in technology and law – including the presence of 17 Top 200 firm head office functions. 
  2. Bristol and Bath has built an extensive LegalTech talent pool, with more than 750 legal technology and innovation roles identified by our research.
  3. The growing cluster of LegalTech companies in the region is significant in size compared to other regional locations (as is the case in FinTech).
  4. The region’s LegalTech sector could create powerful differentiation on a national and international level if embryonic collaboration in the legal sector was fully joined up with and modelled on the tech sector’s well-established regional collaborative ecosystem.
  5. A strong sense of societal purpose is evident within the legal sector in the region and this should drive a future strand of LegalTech development.

Bristol & Bath is an established legal centre where the sector has a significant and long-standing presence. 26 of the top 100 firms in the UK have an office in the region, 13 of which have a head office here, making it stand out against other regions outside London.  The primary application of technology within the legal sector to date has been law firms using tech to serve their clients. 

There is an opportunity for tech firms to design highly efficient self service functions used directly by the buyers of legal services, which could make access to legal solutions cheaper, faster and more accessible. The combination of a strong legal sector and the core strength in technology overlaid by the presence of an unusually high number of head office functions for a regional city explain the high number of LegalTech roles in the region. “

Richard Coates, Managing Director, Whitecap Consulting 

Bristol Law Society was essentially founded by a group of lawyers wanting to share the cost of legal text books. That spirit of collaboration continues to thrive to this day and is absolutely central to the Bristol + Bath LegalTech project. Change in technology and innovation is inevitable and we will only be stronger in working together to ensure Bristol & Bath’s place at the forefront of the legal tech market. The opportunities are extensive. Not only will lawyers be able to develop new profitable approaches, we can also assist with access to justice.

Legal tech is a key plank for the legal future and this report is a key stone for taking us to the next step. We now need to move to that next phase and to make innovation and legal tech a long term success story for the region.

Ben Holt, President of Bristol Law Society & Partner, VWV

Bristol has provided a fantastic place to incubate Barbal through our early stages. The region has an excellent startup ecosystem with globally recognised accelerators, great access to funding and a growing talent pool. It’s a better place to live and work that continues to attract people away from London, whilst in easy reach of all other major UK cities. With so many top flight law firms with HQ functions on our doorstep, we’ve had fantastic access to feedback and validation on our product and value proposition. This report will galvanise the sector, encourage even more collaboration and support the “Silicon Gorge” region to grow into a cluster with international impact.

Tom Bartley, co-founder and CEO, Barbal

To find out more about Barbal and explore how concurrent document collaboration and Knowledge as a Service can help your firm to access new revenue streams and grow profits, book a meeting with Tom.

Barbal attains government-backed cyber security accreditation

Barbal, the Bristol-based startup aiming to solve document collaboration for experts, has attained the government-backed cyber security certification, Cyber Essentials Plus. A key step in demonstrating our commitment to the security and privacy of our users’ data.

Cyber Essentials Plus certification logoFollowing a successful audit, Cyber Essentials Plus certification demonstrates that Barbal has the necessary protections to defend against a wide variety of cyber attacks. Covering, the five main Technical Security Controls:

  • Firewalls
  • Secure configuration
  • User access control
  • Malware protection
  • Patch management

The scope of our certification applies to the organisation’s entire IT infrastructure to achieve the best protection, company wide. 

Barbal’s cyber security has been independently assessed and certified by CyberTec, a Bristol-based company, to ensure our compliance. 

Barbal’s Cyber Essentials Plus accreditation follows on from the successful accreditation of Cyber Essentials in December 2020, and continues the campaign towards ISO 27001 accreditation. 

Dave Balderstone, co-founder and CTO of Barbal “Cyber risk is as important to us as it is to our customers. This is a step towards gaining IS0 27001 accreditation and shows that we’re serious about Information Security.”

CyberTec, assessor of Cyber Essential and Cyber Essentials Plus, says:Cyber attacks and data breaches are an ever-growing threat to UK organisations. Cyber Essentials is the government-backed cyber security certification designed to protect your business or organisation from common cyber threats. Achieving this certification demonstrates your alignment with the five main Technical Security Controls, proving that your business is safe and secure.”

It’s International Women’s Day! Meet Lucy, a Software Engineer at Barbal

Amy and Lucy chatting on a web call

Today is International Women’s Day, to celebrate Barbal Knowledge Partner, Amy, is speaking to our newest recruit, Lucy Blatherwick. Lucy joined the dev team just before Christmas as a Software Engineer. 

What first attracted you to Barbal?

I’d say that the main thing that initially attracted me was the nature of the company and their purpose. Coming from a software background, the idea of version control is second nature to me, so it makes so much sense to pass the value that it brings on to users who wouldn’t normally have access to this kind of document support! I was also excited by the prospect of working within a smaller company – having come from a multi-national organisation I’m definitely finding working at Barbal to suit me better.

Can you tell me more about your role?

I’m a software engineer, and I work in the dev team with the other developers at Barbal to create our software. It’s definitely a collaborative process, identifying what the next steps are, and working together to build a really useful tool.

You’re working in a role, which is typically associated as male, how have you found it?

I do have a limited range of industry experiences to draw from, but I’d say that while there have been a few moments that I have felt it to potentially be a disadvantage in the past, my overall feeling is that the industry is definitely starting to shift from being heavily male dominated to something a little more balanced. At university, it was evident from the increase in the percentage of women on the Computer Science course in comparison with previous years, that computing and technology is beginning to attract more girls, and this will hopefully begin to filter through to industry as my cohort and younger grow into their careers. Of course, the ideal situation is not to have to even consider gender as a factor while in a profession, and I think we are beginning to approach that. I’ve definitely never felt that it impacts me at Barbal!

What advice would you give other women considering a career in Software Engineering?

Definitely go for it! Whether you’re considering a computer science degree at uni, thinking about giving software a go as a career, or want to get involved with new technology, it’s definitely worth it. There’s so much more to Computer science than just programming, and it opens up a new world of opportunities with so much variety and potential! Pretty much everything in the world around us has been influenced by computing, so you can apply what you learn in computer science to almost anything, whatever you love!

What changes would you like to see in the world to make it better for women?

While a lot of change has already taken place within the industry, there is always room for improvement, and it’s important that both individuals and organisations remember to keep striving for better. As a new cohort of young women begin to enter the industry it’s crucial to support and encourage them in their endeavours within technology. The alternative is to find that the industry loses women as fast as it gains them as they take their skills elsewhere. Equally, it’s also key not to reduce support for early opportunities in technology, and to keep engaging young girls with technology and STEM subjects more broadly to make sure that this change isn’t temporary.

Anything else you’d like to add?

It’s going to be exciting to see how software engineering diversifies, and how that affects how we work and what we make! And of course thanks Barbal for welcoming me onto the team!

Comparing document collaboration types: linear, real-time and concurrent

Drafting documents with others is one of the most important but stressful parts of many professionals’ roles. At a minimum any organisation with a quality management system will have a review process, where someone else will add comments or suggestions to drafts before approval. There are many scenarios where multiple people need to contribute to the same document because they have different fields of expertise or they have different viewpoints that need to be expressed.

Historically document collaboration meant circulating hard copies or disks and receiving comments or markups which someone would need to painstakingly combine. In recent years, many people have moved their document drafting to online methods.  These methods allow for quicker interaction between collaborators, whether that is using email, document management tools, or real-time tools.

Why different types of collaboration are necessary

Important documents are often drafted by teams of people who might have competing objectives for the document. In this instance, it can be beneficial to ensure that there is a clear process for controlling who can draft edits,  create safeguards to make sure unwanted errors aren’t introduced, and manage traceability of how decisions are made. 

Drafting an important document with multiple stakeholders is a consensus-building process. It’s more than just putting the right words in the right order; it requires expectation management, negotiation skills, and good communication. 

five people working at a desk on different devices

We created Barbal because we saw that people working on important documents don’t have the tools that let them collaborate efficiently. Different document editors promote different behaviours between collaborators and we wanted to make something that allows experts to do their jobs and negotiate faster.

A key aspect here is trust. Technical trust means can you trust someone not to make a mistake which can undermine the credibility of the document, this could be competence in drafting or expertise in the field. Even administrative tasks need to be undertaken by someone competent in the field, lest a seemingly minor error causes a major problem.

Another aspect of trust is the alignment of interests between the different parties to the collaboration. 

The concept of the “master document” is how trust is handled in collaboration. Who can edit the master document? Who is responsible for making sure the document is coherent overall? Who can approve changes?

In this article, we explore three different collaboration options available:

  • Linear
  • Real-time
  • Concurrent

Linear collaboration

Description

Linear collaboration involves a single master version of a document that is passed between stakeholders, usually via email, file sharers or a more sophisticated document management solution that allows check in/checkout . This creates a game of email tennis where it’s often unclear who’s holding the ball. A collaborator makes an edit and forwards the document as a file in an email, and another collaborator either revises or accepts the changes and emails the document back or along the chain. 

Great for

  • Personal documents which won’t be shared with others
  • Letters and correspondence
  • Essays and dissertations 
  • Documents where people different people work on distinct sections that can be stored as individual files
  • When only one person will be working on a draft at one time

Pitfalls

  • It is easy for changes to the document to get lost in translation due to a lack of version control and issues with comment tagging
  • High risk of human error when making edits
  • Security risk, as everyone who is sent the document has the master version controlling who has access can be problematic
  • Communication, as there is no real-time communication method with linear collaboration, those who should be involved in a direct line of communication can often get isolated. This can lead to edits made to the document getting overlooked

For large teams co-authoring the same document, linear collaboration is the opposite of a streamlined process. Collaborators spend more time sending emails, chasing feedback and searching for the most recent version of the document than actually working on the document. This leads to quality issues, delays and team member frustration. The entire process is fraught with distractions and complications which can make it stressful, turning experts into administrators, constraining their ability to do the best job they can.

Real time collaboration

Description

Real time collaboration involves multiple users  producing work on the same single document at the same time. Co-authors can make comments, suggest edits and revise documentation in a web application or collaborative software simultaneously in real time. 

Great for

  • Small teams working on informal documents
  • When there is small number of authors drafting in a linear manner
  • When there is a high level of trust between all collaborators
  • Idea generation and rapid iteration 
  • Documents that are drafted or reviewed during a meeting or workshop

Not suitable for

  • Teams with more than five members collaborating on one document
  • Complex documents
  • Asynchronous collaboration
  • When privacy is needed
  • Working with third parties

Real-time collaboration can be great for creative teams that need to collaborate synchronously. For example, when teams are brainstorming ideas and need complete visibility of each other’s work. However, when more than five people are working on the same document the process becomes painful as there is very little control. Co-authors can easily step on each other’s toes whilst making changes to work. This becomes particularly problematic when teams are working on complex documents or working with clients. With real-time collaboration, privacy and control are sacrificed, leading to a disorganised workflow. 

Concurrent collaboration (Barbal’s Solution)

Description

Concurrent collaboration involves co-authors working on their own copies of  the same document, where the editor automatically merges and disseminates updates between the collaborators. Unlike real time collaboration, co-authors have full control over their workflow; granting collaborators the ability to focus on their own work, draft in private and share their edits when they are ready. Everyone has access to the content relevant to them. Contributions are systematically reviewed before they are merged into the master document. 

Great for

  • Collaboration between distributed authoring and editing teams
  • Engagement with stakeholders throughout development
  • Maintaining a full audit trail of dialogue, decisions and justifications
  • Collaborating with clients or other parties
  • Progress monitoring and reporting
  • Accurate version control
  • Shared ownership of work
  • Instant communication between stakeholders

Not suitable for

  • Synchronous collaboration
  • Intense creative collaboration

Concurrent collaboration allows for decentralised(?)control over different sections of a document. Allowing stakeholders to concentrate on specific sections of a document without interfering directly with the master document. When authors are working on complex documents asynchronously, other co-authors having instant visibility can add unnecessary pressure. Concurrent collaboration supports individual team members working efficiently with each other without explicitly exposing their thought processes. 

Conclusion

Although both linear collaboration and real-time collaboration certainly have their respective advantages, when teams of over 5 members work on the same project their pitfalls can not be ignored, when compared to concurrent collaboration. When teams collaborate in real time the workflow can become abrupt and chaotic. When teams use linear collaboration the process becomes stagnant and unnecessarily time-consuming.

Barbal was created to bridge the gap between linear and real time collaboration by adopting a concurrent methodology. Incorporating a catalogue of all contract drafts, version control and comment flagging directly into the user interface. The software eliminates any security or privacy risks keeping a full audit trail of contributions and changes by all parties in one place without the need for any exterior tools. Barbal frees teams from needless admin and waste, ensuring business-critical documents get signed-off faster.

How intent affects collaboration

Collaboration is becoming ever more important in business especially as we overcome the challenges of the past twelve months. But have you ever stopped to consider what it actually means to collaborate?

Since founding Barbal I find myself mulling this more and more. Why is collaboration so important? How does collaboration interface with related concepts like consensus or negotiation? How do we ensure that we build a document editor that is truly collaborative, rather than just allowing people to work together more efficiently?

When I used to run collaboration training in a professional services firm I would ask the attendees to give a definition. It would invariably be something along the lines of “working together to achieve a shared goal”.

They always identified both parts; implying that working together isn’t collaborative unless it’s toward a shared objective.

Including the “shared goal” aspect is critical, it differentiates collaboration from simply resolving resource capacity issues by putting more bums on seats. By collaborating the participants are working towards something they could not have accomplished on their own if they had more time, or without recognising there is a higher order objective than just doing their own job. It distinguishes collaboration from quality assurance processes or procedural pass off of work between people with different skills.

Having reflected on my own work in standardisation, engineering and business ownership and observing how others have sought to use Barbal’s collaborative document editor, I have distilled collaboration down to three different attitudes. I call them intents. They cause the behaviours people display at different times during a collaboration.

The three intents of collaboration are:

  • Creative
  • Consensus
  • Adversarial

These are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but they do result in very different outcomes for participants and their stakeholders.

Creative collaboration

Two people working together at a whiteboard

The old adage goes “two heads are better than one”. That’s because it’s often true. There are many types of work where working closely with someone else with similar or completely different views will turn up something that’s better than either could achieve by working in isolation. Creative collaboration isn’t limited to traditional “creative” industries, but can be applied in any discipline where problems need solving.

The purpose of creative collaboration is to seek synergy.

Consensus collaboration

Two professionals at a desk smiling and high-fiving

Often we have to work with others who have different core objectives, that might be a business that has to make money for its shareholders, or a delivery organisation that provides outcomes for its stakeholders. Consensus is a useful mechanism, it allows different parties to agree a bounded set of shared goals where there’s recognition that helping another party to achieve their goals has a multiplier effect on achieving one’s own goals too.

The purpose of consensus collaboration is seeking the highest order of agreement.

Adversarial collaboration

Shaking hands

Also in life, we have to work with others because we have to; usually because they have something we want. And more often than not it involves money and risk exchange. Sometimes it’s because we’ve been told to by a client or important stakeholder.

In this case the shared objective is simply to get the job done (and as quickly as possible). This collaboration is self-serving, but recognises the need for input or negotiation with others.

The purpose of adversarial collaboration seeking the lowest order of agreement.

In identifying the three intents of collaboration, I hope it helps you to recognise your own behaviours and perhaps is a quick reference framework to check the intent behind your work with others.

Where creative collaboration is laser-focused on a single shared goal, consensus collaboration allows space for each participant to bring their personal objectives to the table too. And whilst I would always advocate for consensus over adversarial collaboration, it can be useful to be aware in particular the distinction between these two intents and recognise the behaviours in the other people involved. Sometimes adversarial collaboration is necessary and collaborating at all is better than aggression.

Tom Bartley is co-founder of Barbal, a collaborative document editor that allows professionals to draft and review documents without the chaos.

This blog complements an upcoming blog in which we discuss the modes of collaboration; linear, real-time and concurrent It was originally published on Medium.

How lawyers can save time and money with Barbal

As the COVID-19 crisis continues, The Law Society indicates that law firms are forecasting a 10 – 20% drop in revenue for the 2020/2021 financial year. The commercial practice area has been hit hardest by the pandemic only behind the property sector, with Chambers Student reporting that the start of 2020 saw the slowest rate of deal-making in seven years. These forecasted falls in revenue heighten the need for commercial practitioners to track down and eliminate the processes where they are leaking time and money.

So how can we make sure that solicitors keep their unbillable hours as low as possible to boost your firm’s bottom-line?

A pile of coins with a clock in the background

A survey by Clio outlines that administrative tasks can take up to 48% of a commercial solicitor’s time, time spent manually keeping track of contract changes and issues that still need to be addressed, escalating into version control chaos. Our own research found that 20% of a commercial lawyer’s time is lost to activities that could be spent on billable work. A whopping 65% of legal professionals identify time lost on administrative tasks as their biggest pain point. As well as the usual office administration, this also includes keeping track of comments, revisions of contracts, and chasing clients for clarity when flagging issues. The pertinent issue many commercial law firms are facing is their solicitors are simply not practising enough law.

Today, we take a look at how Barbal addresses these pain points to help you save time and money.

Document collaboration without the chaos 

To address needless time-consuming tasks that are losing law firms revenue, Barbal is a cloud-based software solution providing collaborative document drafting without the chaos. Barbal’s platform provides a single knowledge hub for drafting, commenting, and revision tracking which can help contract negotiations come to a swift conclusion. This eliminates disparate versions of negotiations flying around between Microsoft Word and email. Barbal keeps all contributions and comments in one place to avoid duplicating documents, moving between systems, manually transferring and losing the connection between elements. Providing a tracked catalogue of drafts streamlines the contract lifecycle, speeds up litigation and erases the need for administrative tasks. Allowing solicitors to focus on new enquiries and billable work.

Full audit trail for contract negotiation

Barbal provides a full audit trail, version control, and records, saving time for future discovery or litigation. Once your partners receive a contract, they can easily redline, add comments, or approve changes. Through alerts, you can track any action and get notified once your recipient opens a document, rather than having to consistently chase parties down. Instantly share how comments have been addressed and allow them to compare changes between versions, so nothing slips through the gaps.

These features also eliminate the tug of war between parties chasing each other to review comments and drafts, resulting in a faster negotiation process. Reducing the security or contractual risks by keeping a full audit trail of contributions and changes by all parties in one place means there is no need for any exterior tools to support the process. Barbal’s software results in a streamlined process, creating firm-wide consistency during contract negotiation. 

Concurrent negotiation 

Barbal provides a simple way to compartmentalise negotiations into different sections for review. This streamlines co-authored documents allowing negotiations to progress fluidly, as opposed to a constant battle between parties chasing actions. Involved parties can manage, share and compare document versions simply and control permissions on each version, whilst maintaining a single source of truth.  You save more time by helping people focus quickly on what they need to do, boosting solicitors’ productivity and prioritising billable tasks. 

Solicitors that use word processors such as Microsoft Word broadly use the same process, copy and paste, make alterations then email, to produce an updated contract. There is a high risk of human error using this process. This process creates unnecessary long negotiation cycles, poor visibility, and inferior process control and compliance. Which in turn wastes both time and money. Barbal provides the reliability, security, and transparency that other document collaboration platforms simply can not maintain. With Barbal, solicitors can manage the negotiation with ease to get the best terms for all parties, without unnecessary waste or delay. 

To sum up, Barbal provides a secure platform for contract collaboration and negotiation, whilst bridging the gap between current collaborative processes such as Microsoft Word and email. Barbal ditches the administrative tasks that take up so much of their time, paving the way for solicitors to do more law.

If you would like to learn more about how Barbal can save you time and money, watch our product video here or contact us for a demo.

It’s National Apprenticeship Week! Meet Theo, Barbal’s Digital Marketing Apprentice

A headshot of Theo standing in front of a brick wall
This week is #NationalApprenticeshipWeek and to celebrate we are speaking to our very own digital marketing apprentice Theo Tay-Lodge. Theo started as Barbal’s first full-time employee in January 2020 in a business administration role, in December 2020 he joined Working Knowledge’s digital marketing apprenticeship scheme and became Barbal’s Marketing Assistant. We are going to find out about his story.

What made you decide to take up the apprenticeship?

I joined Barbal about 6 months after I had finished my psychology degree, and although I the subject I didn’t know how I wanted to apply it in a career. I started at Barbal in an admin role; I enjoyed the role and getting to know the business, but I felt that I could contribute more. So I spoke to my line manager Tom (Barbal co-founder and CEO), and we discussed my options. Tom suggested the opportunity to join Working Knowledge’s digital marketing course and I jumped at the chance. I think one of the main misconceptions about an apprenticeship is that they are only for those who have just finished school or who are not academic, or they are wrongly seen as not being as valuable as a degree. I have found the skills I have learnt throughout the apprenticeship to be just as important as the skills I picked up during my degree.

How has the apprenticeship impacted your work?

Although I’m only three months in, the apprenticeship has already had a massive positive impact on my work. The work I do now, not only allows me to personally develop my skill set but it also adds creativity to the company. It has given me the opportunity to reap the benefits of career progression whilst providing a real-time impact on Barbal’s business, by bridging the marketing skill gap needed by the business. During the COVID pandemic when many have gone through a period of uncertainty, Working Knowledge’s digital marketing apprenticeship has given me the opportunity to retrain and boost my career.

I have been lucky enough to have great support from both the team at Barbal and Working Knowledge. This support has given me greater self-confidence and responsibility in my role at Barbal allowing for a reciprocal benefit from the skills that I am learning. As Barbal is a young start-up there was a natural skill-gap in marketing for the company. The marketing apprenticeship is providing me with applied knowledge, and I like to think that the organisation is learning about digital marketing in-parallel with me. Learning digital marketing parallel with Barbal as a business has given me a strong sense of responsibility and purpose with the business.

What is the most valuable thing you have learnt from your apprenticeship?

For me, the most valuable skills or skills I have picked up during this course are gaining an understanding of the customer buyer’s journey, understanding the value and learning how to provide the answers to customers’ needs at every stage, and learning how to guide customers toward making a buying decision. Understanding the process of customers thinking and tailoring their experience through the information we provide them is an invaluable skill to have in a business. Gaining this knowledge and skills from the apprenticeship not only providing Barbal with a new approach to marketing but also is giving me a sense of accomplishment. Applying this learning to the business has been really fluid as the team at Barbal have been ever willing to learn with me.

Anything else to add?

I would add that joining this apprenticeship has given me a new constructive outlook on my personal career progression and future at Barbal. I’m looking forward to enhancing my learning in digital marketing and applying this knowledge in the organisation. I would encourage anyone to consider an apprenticeship, it’s a fantastic way to gain transferable skills to gain more confidence in a working environment, especially if you’re thinking of career change like I was. #buildthefuture

Making barbal.co GDPR compliant with Hubspot and Google Analytics tracking codes

As a company we always try to do things “the right way”. One of the perennial challenges is how to square digital marketing with the privacy of our stakeholders. We need to use the latest tools to support sales and marketing and we also want to act ethically. As a platform that handles sensitive or confidential information for our users, we always take security and privacy seriously.

The barbal.co website uses a WordPress installation. We use various plugins for different elements like forms. We use Hubspot and Google Analytics to support digital marketing. Both platforms offer WordPress plugins to more tightly couple the services. We use them to make sure our website is relevant to visitors and know that we are following up on leads appropriately. However, neither platform’s plugin has a facility to seek permission from users before it starts tracking them with cookies. Nor does either platform’s documentation provide much help for those seeking GDPR compliance.

Google Tag Manager was suggested as a way to keep track of all tracking codes in one place, but again requires a heavily convoluted way to implement cookie permissions requiring developers and custom code.

In the end we struck upon the GA Germanized plugin, which has a no-code interface for installing a cookie banner and linking to Google Analytics. It also has a feature for implementing other tracking codes, so we put the Hubspot code in there. I also had to uninstall the Hubspot plugin and disable Google Site Kit from placing the Google Analytics code.

Now the Barbal website doesn’t use any cookies until the user gives permission, and even then we make sure we only use the bare minimum to meet their and our needs. You can find out more about privacy and security at Barbal in our Privacy Policy.

What’s happening in LegalTech to improve client engagement

If you’re looking to find out what’s happening in LegalTech to improve client engagement, we’ve gathered our 2020 views to share with you. And in our next article, we’ll look at what we can expect in 2021. First, it’s important to point out why LegalTech has developed at the pace it has up until 2020. The adoption of legal technology is now accelerating, but historically has been slow. Law is an ancient practice, with processes and traditions that have evolved over several hundred years in the UK. It’s natural to expect lawyers to seek progress, whilst also holding back from testing every new thing, to ensure they protect relationships and reputations with clients. However, client engagement is THE reason to do more innovation: LegalTech helps partners, solicitors and barristers improve how they work with clients. It speeds up their processes and makes negotiations run more smoothly. With the ‘Magic Circle’ of five top law firms based here in the UK, and plenty of investment available for new technologies, it’s no surprise London is seen as a hub for new law technology developments. So, why has LegalTech been such a hot topic?

Use-cases: why LegalTech is in demand

Like in most knowledge- or service-based industries, legal professionals face a number of challenges in their working practices where technology can help. We see three immediate issues:

Contract drafting takes time because complex data is required to underpin the contract, yet many of the terms and paragraphs have been developed already. Much of this work feels like administration yet requires a level of legal knowledge. Automating the administration, digitally dictating changes and using intelligent search enables a firm to ‘learn’ together and focus on the finer negotiations to reach consensus and close the deal.

New law firm recruits have to be highly skilled, but they still have to gain more experience through ‘grunt work’ to hit the deadlines, which can affect their enthusiasm for the job. Working for an innovative firm who is adopting LegalTech means less manual processing work and fewer all-nighters.

Client relationships are key, but the internal processes of legal advisers remain opaque – causing some clients to question why fees are so high. Technology enables better client engagement, greater transparency and faster processes, meaning firms can retain good relationships at a satisfactory profit level.

Where LegalTech is making a difference

Different technologies make up LegalTech, all of which are capable of transforming legal practice. This comes with a challenge for the technology decision makers, because a lot of LegalTech startups are small innovators, looking to break into the sector by improving one part of the process and they’re not yet working globally. That’s why some legal firms have set up their own incubators, to be first in the race to improve client engagement overall. The technologies which have made a difference so far are:

Automation and workflow

Legal firms are using contract lifecycle management and case management systems for internal collaboration, record keeping and practice management. This helps automate their work and prepare documents using forms, standard templates or common precedents. Automation in the contract lifecycle helps gain control over productivity whilst counteracting human error.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML)

AI has the potential to read, withdraw and categorise the information from huge numbers of contract documents, in turn, helping legal firms manage data more effectively. LegalTech, Kira Systems has established that companies lose an average of 5-12% of contract value due to lapses in the administration of contract obligations. Their study showed that firms adopting their AI tool can complete tasks 40% faster when users adopt it for the first time and up to 90% faster for more experienced users.

Data visualisation

Case history is significant to investigations, disputes and complex negotiations, however, lawyers need time and support to find the relevant information. Data visualisation helps the legal counsel gather and analyse all the facts from multiple sources and data sets. Firms like Tableau and Qlik are leading the market with their capabilities, although Microsoft offers Power BI in the same space.

Voice recognition software

Lawyers have relied on digital dictation for many years, however, with the advent of voice recognition software, they’ve benefited from much cheaper and faster transcription services. The technology is still developing, because some legal terms are misunderstood and have to be corrected by a paralegal or secretary – adding to the administrative processes.

Online collaboration and secure video-conferencing

With cloud-based infrastructure services, legal firms have begun to rely on online collaboration – either through their case management software or tools such as document sharing portals and extranets for collaborating with clients and the other side. However, many firms still rely on creating word documents before uploading them into a contract lifecycle management system or case management software. Barbal offers an alternative – a fully cloud-based platform for drafting and reviewing technical documentation, with built-in version control. (See more about our product here).

The world of LegalTech is changing rapidly to meet the demands of the industry. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, lawyers have had to significantly adapt to working remotely, including holding trials online – leading to an increase in demand for secure video conferencing in every office.

In our next article, we take a look at the gaps in the LegalTech market and what to expect in 2021.

Theo Tay-Lodge is Barbal’s Marketing Assistant.