The Next Challenge for Legal IT

Store ClosingIf there is one theme that emerges from my many conversations with lawyers, it is their weariness with the seeming inability of legal IT vendors to produce applications that work in an intuitive, simple and effective way.  In fact, lawyers often seem resigned to struggling constantly with software that forces them to adapt to it, rather than fitting seamlessly into the way lawyers work.  Although it might seem that some vendors have gotten away with murder by over-promising while under-delivering, I suspect that this is a temporary situation.

What leads me to this conclusion? Two growing trends in society:  Instant Gratification and Sloth. If you’re not sure about this, consider Blockbuster.  There was a time when large Blockbuster stores were fixtures in New York City.  In fact, at one point there was one Blockbuster store two blocks east of our home and another two blocks west.  In other words, we didn’t have to go far to find a movie when the mood struck. However, Blockbuster didn’t always have the movie we wanted and too many people I knew spent far too much money in overdue fees.  Enter Netflix.  At first, the choice was walking two blocks to get a movie today or planning ahead by two days to get a movie from Netflix, and thereby escape the risk of transaction fees and overdue fees. Of course, once Netflix started streaming movies, it provided the enticing additional benefit of instant gratification. Suddenly I could act on a whim and see a movie without ever leaving the comfort of my home.  In one fell swoop, Netflix satisfied tendencies to both sloth and instant gratification.  ((Or as I like to think of it, convenience and customer satisfaction.)

As more online vendors cater to the growing trends of sloth and instant gratification, consumers are learning to expect to get a lot quickly online with little effort.  Do you want to book a trip?  It just a few clicks away. What about putting food on your table?  In New York, you can order your food online and need never set foot in a grocery store. So what happens to those traveling, food-ordering consumers when they use their office software in the practice of law? They have to expend a great deal more effort to get far less satisfactory results.  At the end of the day, this means frustration for the user and increasing pressure on law firm IT departments to “fix” the applications so that they work better. This in turn leads to more dissatisfaction with vendors.

If you work in the legal industry and are weary of daily struggles with software, consider the following:  even if your legal IT vendors seem tone deaf, current levels of unhappiness present a wonderful opportunity for new players who are willing to listen carefully to the legal industry and then provide products that deliver excellent results for little effort.  We are seeing this with respect to the various third-party vendors who are providing tools to improve SharePoint. If that isn’t sufficiently encouraging, come to New York City to look for a Blockbuster store.  There aren’t any in my neighborhood any more.  What about yours?

[Photo Credit: Andy Callahan]