Software providers have largely been unable to strike the appropriate balance between ease of use and effectiveness in trying to meet the growing needs of corporate legal departments and law firms. Legacy user interfaces are difficult to use and often necessitate significant training investment while requiring users to spend an inordinate amount of time searching for matter-related documents, billing information, and more. They are also making it difficult for users to seamlessly switch between multiple systems, thereby inhibiting collaboration and the discovery of information and insights. The resulting inefficiencies likely cost these corporate legal teams and law firms thousands of dollars a year per worker.
Much enterprise software goes unused in lieu of workarounds such as spreadsheets and emails simply because the technology provides a poor user experience that does not meet evolving user expectations. Legal operations software is no different in its susceptibility to this user apathy. Legal leaders - whether in-house or private practice - run the risk of saddling their employees with unintuitive software that hinders productivity and cost control efforts, which are top priorities across the sector. In a recent Blickstein Group survey, law department representatives listed “containing costs” and “identifying opportunities for business improvement and cost savings” as two of their top three management challenges.
Users have become accustomed to comprehensive, yet easy to use, technologies (think iPhones or Android devices, or Microsoft Office 365) and are demanding the same friendly experience from their legal operations solutions. They expect software to make their lives and workflow processes easier by showing them the information they need, upfront and in an uncluttered way. And corporate legal teams expect legal operations software to support their evolution into value centers rather than cost centers.
The good news is driving greater business value through improved software usability is achievable -- but the onus is on both the customer and vendors to deliver on that promise. Legal operations software providers must learn from the best practices of other enterprise software developers who have honed their intuitive UIs. Meanwhile, legal operations professionals and law firms must hold those providers accountable by not settling for software that skimps on the user experience.
The following best practices in user-centric design must be universal across all enterprise legal operations solutions if corporate legal departments and law firms are to become true value centers within their organizations.
Easy to navigate user interfaces
Users should not have to guess where the next click will take them. They should be able to intuitively and easily move through as few screens as possible to get to the information they are seeking.
Unfortunately, feature-rich legal operations software can often be difficult to navigate. All too often users can get lost in a sea of menus, links, and other obstacles that can prevent those users from quickly and naturally getting from point A to point B.
As such, legal operations software providers should look toward their enterprise software brethren and aspire to aspire to provide users with easy and intuitive navigation. No one should have to guess where to go next or continuously jump from screen to screen. Software providers who offer a seamless experience that greatly reduces the amount of time it takes to find the correct information will be rewarded with satisfied users who will actually use their platforms to their fullest potential.
Integration with other commonly used tools
It’s not uncommon to find corporate legal teams using a combination of solutions from Microsoft, IBM, and other well-known enterprise vendors. In 2014 IDC found that 61% of all knowledge workers routinely use four or more systems to complete their work, while 13% access 11 or more. From discussions with our clients, we do not see much headway being made here.
Legal operations software should be able to easily integrate with all other solutions used within the department or firm, including those that comprise the organization’s overall IT environment. Seamless integration with Microsoft Office, for example, allows users to work on tasks using tools they already use everyday. Meanwhile, integration with commonly used IP management, document and contract management, and e-discovery software tools can greatly improve efficiencies and visibility. Allowing users to work on legal tasks through interfaces they use often can significantly reduce the amount of time it takes to complete those tasks, since they are being done through a familiar environment. This integration improves workflows and efficiencies and makes life far easier for legal professionals.
Personalization and customization
Being able to deliver the right data to the right people is important. A paralegal, attorney, and administrative assistant may all need access to the software, but they do not necessarily need or want the same information. A “one size fits all” approach to the provision of information will not work.
Software should allow for levels of personalization and customization, including the creation of specific views and experiences for users with individual roles and responsibilities. Presenting users with the information they need – and only the information they need – the minute they sign into the system can save them enormous amounts of time and headaches.
Vendors’ commitments to feedback and innovation
Cultivating a good user experience requires input from customers and other market participants, and while every vendor will inevitably claim to engage in these types of conversations, some go further than others. Software providers must do more than just pay lip service to this promise. They must proactively solicit outside perspectives from their customers and the market at large. In terms of enterprise legal management solutions, legal professionals should look for partners with proven histories of collaboration, exemplified by evidence of in-depth and frequent conversations with customers and analysts, monthly or quarterly customer and marketplace surveys, and a reputation for good customer support.
Legal teams should also seek technology partners that are improving the user experience not only through the development of better UIs but by investing in cutting edge technologies. For example, AI and machine learning solutions automate many of the standard and time-consuming tasks required for contract management, e-discovery, and other critical areas, so lawyers can focus on advising their clients. In addition to improving workflows and productivity levels, AI and machine learning can also provide legal operations professionals with better insights into trends and patterns, resulting in improved business decisions.
We are on the leading edge of a user-driven shift in legal operations software, and across enterprise software at large. Corporate legal teams are demanding simplicity without sacrificing power. Software providers that are able to successfully strike this balance will solve the customer experience challenge that has plagued our industry for years. They will be able to help legal departments and law firms of all size become more efficient and drive better business value for their organizations.