In a hypercompetitive marketplace law firms are under increasing financial pressure to differentiate their services against alternative legal service providers. While historically, and in comparison, to other industries, the legal profession had expressed a level of scepticism towards technology, few businesses today have the luxury to operate outside of the technology trends that are driving growth and innovation in other industries.
Today, most legal professionals understand that automation and process optimisation are essential to managing an efficient legal practice in an increasingly data-driven environment. Thus, the legal industry is increasingly seeing the value of investing in accessible technologies that offer higher-value through data-driven analytics and insights and improve operational efficiency and productivity.
However, despite its numerous benefits, the proliferation of technology has created several challenges that work against law firms, including:
- Disrupted work practices for legal staff: With the need to constantly switch between numerous applications, programs, platforms, and devices legal staff are finding their workflows disrupted.
- Increased investment and expenditure: IT departments and CIOs must either continually invest in new technology or risk falling behind the innovation curve.
- Evolving client expectations: Client expectations have changed and there is a growing demand for cost-effective delivery of legal services underpinned by efficiency, transparency, and access to information.
Given this context, it is not surprising that application programming interfaces (APIs) have become a progressively hot topic among law firms and legal departments looking to address these challenges through interoperability and automation.
What are APIs in the context of a law firm?
APIs act as a software intermediary that allows multiple applications to communicate with each other and can be used by law firms to automate data gathering and operational processes.
Through the use of an API, one system can easily access the computing power and resources of another system. One application gathers data, then outsources it to another service through an API.
For instance, firms may have custom forms and web pages to capture information around prospects. Through the use of an API, information can be written into the practice management system thereby saving time form double data entry. Similarly, once the matter progresses, documents, financials, and other information can be presented through the API. This allows mobility applications to surface key data for easy access on the go.
Data is undoubtedly a foundational element of practicing law. Every device, client communication, and legal document possesses information that can help law firms create new efficiencies, gather important business intelligence and implement new pricing and business models that can be used to aid lawyers and retain clients.
Simply put, API connections offer a way to drive efficiencies between practice management tools and the data between them, resulting in consolidated workflows for legal staff while allowing IT departments to spend less on technology and better leverage their existing resources.
How APIs fuel data-driven innovation to achieve business growth
Data has enormous potential to transform legal processes, improve client outcomes, and unlock the budget for innovation and technology investments. Nonetheless, while data is a highly accessible resource, many law firms are struggling to redefine their business strategies around it.
There are three key factors that fuel real-time decision making to improve efficiencies, drive innovation, and enhance the customer experience.
1. Capturing quality data
Across industries, data is becoming the most valuable corporate asset, playing a central role in every decision and action a company makes. As the volume and velocity of data increase, so do the variety of ways the data can be captured and used.
Many businesses today are focused on utilising data to develop products and deliver on client needs to meet evolving client expectations. Less emphasis has been put on analysing data that tracks operational efficiency, legal spend, and legal business processes.
Automating data entry and business processes through APIs, for instance, can remove a great deal of the human error naturally associated with data entry and classification, streamline workflows for legal teams and result in reduced overhead and enhanced productivity.
2. Connecting data through the integration of technologies
As the use of legal tech becomes more widespread, law firms are adopting many of these solutions to reshape business operations and develop more customer-centric service delivery models.
However, investing in numerous applications to address individual pain points is a short-sighted approach to automation and ultimately escalates the complexity of legal workflows. A focus on applications means legal staff have too many tools to learn and adapt to, data is frequently moved from one tool to another, and users must constantly log in and out of multiple systems.
With multiple disparate systems and tools, it can be prohibitively difficult to streamline the IT infrastructure and create a flexible and secure ecosystem that supports dynamic legal workflows. Under the relentless time pressure that often defines legal work, this repeated interruption can force legal teams to resist new technologies, as they begin to view them as yet another task to manage rather than a time-saving solution.
3. Surfacing data to drive strategic action
There is no point capturing data for data’s sake, it’s all about what law firms do with it.
Law firms must approach data strategically, where business decisions are supported by the best available insight. By capturing and connecting all valuable data, law firms can identify improvements in business processes to support more efficient workflows and direct their investment in cutting edge technologies that will make the firm more competitive and responsive to client demands.
For instance, in today’s digitally driven world, clients often embrace emerging technologies before the law firms do. This, in turn, is shifting the client expectations of how they want their legal services to be delivered, with a strong emphasis on cost-effectiveness, efficiency, and transparency.