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Classroom to classzoom – moving lawyers online to talk tech

An iPhone on paper with crayons and scribbles

I don’t know how tall my colleagues are. Starting a role remotely means I have missed out on learning normal things about the people I work with – their height, mannerisms, and overall demeanour. We have all been forced to make huge changes to our working culture creating unique challenges. For some, this means navigating work with home schooling, revamping wifi connections or building relationships remotely. For me it was the latter. Like many others I have been assimilated into a virtual working culture full of emojis and emails without any real face-to-face contact.

This is not the only challenge I have faced. Part of my new role at Legatics involves supporting the company’s Innovate UK project and the lockdown meant we had to quickly reassess how to conduct our research. I would like to share with you some of my learnings from that process as I delve into the world of law and legal technology.

Legatics and Innovate UK – using tech to explore adoption

Legatics was awarded funding from Innovate UK to develop AI “microservices” aimed at increasing the adoption of AI technology by the UK legal services sector, in addition to exploring how to overcome behavioural barriers to the adoption of tech in law firms.

As part of this research, we interview and conduct workshops with lawyers of all levels to understand their unique perspectives on the role of technology in their practice. The workshops typically take place at the relevant law firms’ offices and are intended to be collaborative and fun – post-it notes are dispensed en masse and we try to encourage lawyers to be as frank as possible about their attitudes to technology and adoption.

Using behaviour change models, we collect, analyse and collate feedback from interviews/workshops into reports, highlighting specific challenges and providing recommendations.

Given new remote working conditions, we have (somewhat ironically) forced lawyers online in order to complete our technology research, and in true startup style we have had to adapt and learn quickly to enable us to continue our work.

From post-it notes to virtual whiteboards

Our priority in going virtual was to enable our participants to speak freely and honestly to ensure we had an authentic dataset. We also wanted to maintain the fun atmosphere of previous workshops. After trialling a number of solutions, we eventually settled on a hybrid of external tools to develop a workshop packed with polls, surveys, breakout rooms and whiteboards to create a session we felt would be engaging, interactive and enable rigorous collection of authentic data.

Is online better?

Virtual workshops have in our experience worked well to conduct this research.

? No longer constrained by location Virtual meetings are not limited by geography: rather than carry out office specific workshops we can access a diverse range of lawyers more easily across several locations, expanding our dataset. The lack of travel or excess disruption to the day also increases attendance.

? Ability to easily record qualitative information Participants have their keyboards and tools at their fingertips so we can quickly capture qualitative data by asking for written answers, launching surveys in real-time, or having participants contribute to whiteboards.

? Better number crunching The format also meant we can more easily collect quantitative data through polls and surveys. This allows us to produce graphs and infographics based on the workshops, which would have taken longer through the physical workshops.

? Ability to collaborate We can even give our participants the opportunity to discuss themes and questions with their peers in breakout rooms easily and quickly.

?Fun The combination of tools (including a kick-off “Shakespeare or Taylor Swift” quotation quiz also helps to increase energy) and the unusual format has meant that the workshops retain their fun feel.

Promising signs

We have been impressed by lawyers’ enthusiasm and ability to get on board. It is interesting that whilst some might talk negatively about their firm’s approach to technology, or do not see it as a priority, we are having this conversation on a tool that just a few short months ago was not even part of a solicitor’s vocabulary.

The experience hasn’t been totally smooth: registration issues, poor internet and accidental muting have all caused occasional problems and it can be hard to tell whether participation from the most nervous in the (virtual) room has improved, but the ability to contribute to the discussion even anonymously gives us the feeling that many could feel more comfortable with this format.

We are clear in our requests for participants that we want representation from all areas of the firm, both tech evangelists and technophobes, but whether we are simply getting those who are more tech savvy, engaged and willing to participate online is also something which would be valuable to explore.

The path to adoption

The virtual success and the positive discussion about technology we have been having are all promising signs of a shift in attitudes and working methods. We want to nurture this progress in the drive to innovation in the legal sector, and see it as proof of the fact that, as much as lawyers might tell themselves they are stuck in the past, they are actually well on their way to catching up.

If you are interested in being part of the Innovate UK project and exploring the barriers to legal technology adoption within your law firm, get in touch.