I recently saw how Radiant Law, a UK law firm, is improving contract drafting speed, quality, and consistency. I start with background on Radiant, then consider ways to create value, discuss custom versus commercial software, describe Radiant’s custom-built software, and conclude with some comments and questions.
About Radiant Law
Radiant Law’s home page makes a simple statement:
“We help our clients close high volumes of commercial contracts, faster. We also help negotiate and resolve disputes for the largest outsourcing, IT and commercial contracts. We do this by combining legal judgement, process and technology.”
Delivering on this takes work of course. Founder Alex Hamilton proposed many innovative value ideas when he was a partner a a top 20 US-based law firm. He left to start Radiant when he saw how slowly his and other large law firms were adopting new ways to practice.
Radiant, unlike most large firms, works mainly on fixed fees, has a significant percent of its headcount in its own low-cost legal operations center in South Africa, and depends heavily on technology it builds. (For more about Radiant Law, see my March 2014 blog post, Lines Between Legal Businesses Blur – Law Firm as LPO – Radiant Law.)
Tech is a Key Way for Law Firms to Create Client Value
Lawyers seldom speak about industrializing their law practices. Many may find the word distasteful even though most practices have a crying need to standardize and automate. Doing so is perhaps the best way to deliver the value clients want.
Value for clients means delivering quality legal work at lower price. Software and automation are key means of doing so, along with process improvement, project management, and delegating work to lower cost resources.
Custom versus Commercial Software
Once firms recognize a need to automate and streamline, they must decide whether to buy or build software. I usually favor buying commercial off-the-shelf software (COTS) over building because because the former is faster and incurs less upfront and ongoing development cost. But COTS may not have all the required features and integration points.
Radiant Law does both; the software I describe below is built by Radiant. Many readers will recognize that some of the features it offers are available in COTS. But the combination of features, speed, and flexibility is not.
Until recently, the development cost would have been prohibitive for smaller law firms. Today, software development is easier and cheaper than in the past because of several factors: sophisticated yet easier-to-use programming tools, inexpensive hardware, cloud services, and developers in lower cost locations. Of course, development still requires active management and know-how.
Radiant Law’s “Remarkable Word” Software – Key Features and Functions
I was pleased to have an an hour with Alex in-person recently to see the firm’s Remarkable Word add-ins to MS Word. The software offers lawyers and legal staff numerous time-saving and quality-enhancing features:
- Sophisticated find and replace features that go well beyond native Word.
- Document checking features that spot inconsistencies such as missing definitions (somewhat like Deal Proof).
- Easy ways to insert and work with document cross references. [In my experience, few lawyers know these Word features; I find them quite clunky.]
- Easier ways to work with track changes, for example, a more intuitive and visually appealing way than in native Word to collect and review all the comments plus a away to change the author name on a comment.
- Automatic re-building of styles.
- Meta-data stripping
- Handle multiple documents (distinct files) as if they are a single file.
- Several built-in knowledge management (KM) features, for example, the ability to extract and save clauses and then insert in other documents and building a clause bank on the fly.
- Workflows for document review and clean-up.
Most of these features enable and enhance legal work; they are not just about formatting. Lawyers who do not understand why this matters and can help accelerate document drafting likely are not hands-on in MS Word. For more on Remarkable Words, see the Radiant Law About page (click Technology Tab).
Concluding Comment and Questions
I see more and more specialized software emerging to enhance law practice. The software comes from traditional providers, from start-ups, and increasingly from law firms themselves. Not every lawyer must build or even master a new set of tools but firms as institutions should have programs to evaluate tools and adopt – or build – the ones that are most useful. Those that do not will fall behind in improving client value.
I will leave you with some questions to ponder:
- Will we see significantly more law firms develop their own software?
- Will the recent dramatic increase in the number of legal tech start-ups be sustainable? How many will succeed?
- Will (or do) law firms explicitly compete on the basis of what software they use and how they use it?
- Do clients care only about overall cost and outputs or will they evaluate how firms do their work?