Organizing for innovation

The Hidden Resource in Legal Tech Projects: Attorney Time

In the world of legal technology, one essential resource often goes unnoticed and unaccounted for in project proposals – attorney time.

In this blog, we'll explore why legal tech project proposals frequently exclude the most precious resource, shed light on the importance of attorney involvement, and provide valuable insights into optimizing these projects.

Why Attorney Time Matters

When you delve into most business cases or investment proposals for legal tech projects, you'll quickly notice that the time of your attorneys is often overlooked. The common justification is that staff members will handle the majority of the work, allowing attorneys to focus on client-related tasks. While this may sound reasonable on the surface, it's a short-sighted approach that can hinder the project's success.

The truth is, the success of legal tech and innovation projects hinges on the amount of time attorneys invest in making the project a success. Attorney time isn't just a minor consideration; it can account for a significant portion of the project's costs, ranging from 50% to 70% of the costs for most improvement and automation projects. Additionally, the time available for attorneys to participate in innovation and legal tech projects is finite. In a previous analysis, we demonstrated that, for a firm with 100 attorneys and a 1650-hour billable hour target, approximately 3500 hours are available each year for improvement projects. When utilized effectively, this time can result in the completion of around 10 projects. However, if not managed properly, it can go to waste, with little to show for it.

The Importance of Including Attorney Hours

Excluding attorney hours from project proposals can have detrimental consequences. When attorneys' hours are not considered, you may encounter various challenges during the project's execution, such as difficulty obtaining buy-in and feedback. Without attorney input, you risk creating incomplete and impractical solutions. Moreover, the absence of attorney involvement from the project's inception can lead to adoption challenges.

So, why is it not the default practice to include attorney hours in every proposal? One reason is that not all costs are considered equal in a law firm. Paying for vendors and consultants is considered hard cash out that requires approval. Attorney time is part of the salary budget which is already allocated and therefore does not require approval from management.

The other reason is that typically, these proposals are drafted by staff members, who lack authority over attorneys' hours. Mentioning that a project would require 100 hours of attorney involvement could result in the rejection of the project during the initial review. In reality, most projects necessitate attorney input of 60+ hours. Often it takes at least 5 hours in the early stages, around 10 hours during the business case phase, and over 50 hours during execution, at a minimum. These projects are designed to improve how attorneys practice law, so attorney involvement is a critical component.

While not all costs are equal, not including your most scarce resource in your proposals does not make sense and leads to over-commitment of attorney time.

Especially relevant for AI project proposals

Including attorney hours in the project proposal of an AI project is paramount for AI initiatives because attorneys possess the specialized legal expertise necessary to guide AI customization of their workflows. In addition, they can help ensure ethical and regulatory compliance, validate data quality, and provide the contextual understanding required for accurate legal insights.

Since many AI projects are driven by attorneys, these project proposals will allow your firm to start including attorney time. It will also put some realism into these plans - as attorneys who have never brought an idea to practice may underestimate the commitment that will be required from them.

Addressing the Divide: Lawyers vs. Non-Lawyers

In many law firms, there's a noticeable gap between lawyers and non-lawyers. The way internal projects are budgeted and managed often contributes to this division. It's not uncommon for the staff of a firm with 100 attorneys to approve 5-10 new projects without considering the time these projects will demand from the firm's attorneys.

Expecting attorneys to invest time in a project solely because it was approved is unrealistic, yet it's a common hope among staff members. When attorneys fail to participate, despite the project's goal of making their work easier, projects get delayed, staff members become frustrated, and the firm wastes time and money on seemingly straightforward projects.

Attorneys, on the other hand, resent staff members for what they perceive as a disregard for their time, especially when asked to participate in the nth project or demo meetings for projects that have lost all momentum and are likely to lead nowhere.

The Solution: Clear Time Commitments

The solution to bridging the divide and streamlining legal tech projects lies in making time commitments clear from the outset. By defining attorney time requirements upfront, staff members can plan projects more effectively and optimize attorney availability.

Attorneys, in turn, will know that their time investment won't be in vain. This approach not only fosters better cooperation but also prevents unnecessary delays and frustrations.

Additional Benefits of Including Attorney Hours

Aside from ensuring successful legal tech projects, involving attorneys from the start brings several other advantages:

  • Business Insight: Attorneys bring valuable insights into the business aspects of the legal practice, helping projects align more effectively with the firm's goals.
  • Firsthand Feedback: Attorney involvement allows for immediate feedback, resulting in better project outcomes.
  • Priority Setting: Projects with strong attorney commitment tend to be the most promising and valuable, making it easier to prioritize initiatives.

In conclusion, recognizing the significance of attorney time in legal tech projects is crucial for success. By including attorney hours in project proposals and making time commitments clear, you can optimize legal tech initiatives and enhance collaboration within your firm.

Attorney time is a law firm's most precious resource. Its value is often underestimated in the world of legal technology.

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