Last updated: 14 June, 2018
By Ivy B. Grey
I’m a practicing lawyer and I’m a legal tech entrepreneur. Living in both of those worlds, I’m always amazed when I hear people speak about lawyers as if we are rare mythical beasts to be tamed and tricked into using technology. I’m offended and I instantly empathize with any lawyer who refuses to listen. Approaching us as angry technology-resistant idiots does little to convince us to try your product. Of course there will always be lawyers who resist. But most of the time, when we’re not buying technology, it’s for good reasons: It isn’t useful, it doesn’t work, it’s overpriced, or it doesn’t address a real problem.
When I first ventured into legal tech, I believed the story that lawyers are different. However, after two years working in legal technology, I’m starting to think that the real problem isn’t lawyers. The real problem is software designers, marketers, and vendors. If technologists spent more time thinking about lawyers as people, rather than thinking about lawyers as confusing creatures, then products would be better and lawyers would adopt legal technology faster and more widely.
There are some valid differences between lawyers and other professionals. But, like other professionals considering new technology, we worry about price, proof, predictability, pain points, and permanency. And just like any other kind of professional, we trust the advice and recommendations of people who know our issues best: other lawyers. So of course we resist when someone who knows nothing about lawyers or the practice of law is trying to sell to us without recognizing that they don’t know the market. It makes sense for us to be concerned when a new legal tech company emerges with no lawyers as an integral part of the team. Show us that you understand how we practice, and the ethics, business, and process problems that we face, and we will listen.
Instead of focusing on the differences, you’ll understand lawyers better (and this may come as a shock) if you think about us as regular human beings. Here are some simple ways that legal technology could achieve better adoption rates by treating lawyers like regular people.
Stop Overpricing Your Technology
I’ve been told over and over again that lawyers will only buy software that’s expensive. Maybe there are big law firms that think higher prices make technology attractive. However, no matter what you’ve seen on TV, lawyers aren’t made of money. And even if our rates seem high, our costs are astronomical. Margins for most lawyers are tight, and they’ve got tighter in the past ten years. So if you want to sell more software to lawyers, drop the price.
Tell Us the Price and Give Us a Bargain
If your pricing isn’t transparent, lawyers (just like everyone else) will get fed up trying to figure out if this product is right for us. So display your price prominently. If you have transparent pricing, you can still offer a sale now and again. Just as some shoppers will wait for a sale, some lawyers will, too. If you’ve never offered a discount to your mailing list, try it. It works.
Show Us That It Works
Point us to a case study and show us some articles that demonstrate that you understand our problem. Show us a video demonstration of the product in action.
Let Us Try Your Software
We need to be confident that your program works. How many hoops do you make us jump through to get a free trial of your service? When I download an app to my phone, they don’t make me hand over a credit card immediately. They certainly don’t make me call their sales team to speak to someone who is employed to figure out the most money they can extract out of me! Give us a quick and easy free trial without having to make any commitment or hand over credit card details. The number of lawyers trying your software will go up.
Approach Our Problems Holistically
We want the new technology to predictably fit into our workflows, but not raise new concerns. We are also worried that it will require a process overhaul and lengthy training before we can reap the benefits. If a product will only be useful if we had started using it from Day Zero at our firm, or if it requires that we change the way that we do business, then we’re less likely to try the new technology. The impact on our practice should be predictable and we should not have to contend with major disruption to experience the benefits.
Make Your Technology Easy to Use
Lawyers do complicated work and have complicated demands. That doesn’t mean we want complicated software. Lawyers are accused of being averse to trying new technology. However, that’s not a description of lawyers, that’s a description of people! To succeed, technologies in any sector need to be better than the existing approach by a factor of nine. So in order to help us understand the benefit, make your software easy to use. If we can’t figure it out within 10 minutes (without any instruction manuals) then it’s too complicated.
Keep Your Solutions in Search of Problems
We are less interested in being “cool” and more interested in being productive, so bring us solutions rather than the other way around. We’re interested in new technology that solves problems that we encounter every day in legal practice: writing, billing, collecting, and client relationship management.
Help Us Go Home on Time
Can you guess where lawyers don’t want to be at 3 a.m.? Just like everyone else, we don’t want to be in the office! So if you’re working on technology that helps lawyers, please think less about our marketing and more about our everyday practice. That’s not to diminish the importance of marketing. However, we often have to work late, and it’s not because we’re on social media! If you can save time on legal work and help us leave at midnight instead of 3 a.m., we’ll buy your product. (And we won’t believe you if you tell us that your product is so revolutionary that we’ll suddenly have a 40 hour work week—yeah right!)
When there is a burst of activity in a market (and what seems like a flood of new entrants) lawyers tend to wonder whether the growth is sustainable. It is a serious question. If we do like your product and company, will it have longevity? This is one of the many reasons that lawyers return again and again to the big name companies, despite that they may often be lagging behind in terms of innovation (and enough with that word anyway). If you want us to trust you with our problems, tell us candidly about your past and future.
In 2015, Intelligent Editing asked me to help them in the legal market because they couldn’t understand why lawyers weren’t buying PerfectIt in the numbers they expected. Editors, consultants, engineers, authors, marketers, proposal managers, and every other profession that works extensively with text bought PerfectIt in higher quantity than lawyers.
PerfectIt needed to be adapted for the legal market. Lawyers use words differently. We have our own style manuals. Legal language is different to regular language. I created American Legal Style for PerfectIt to ensure that the software effectively addresses a daily pain point for lawyers: proofreading legal documents. Since I joined, more than 200 law firms have purchased PerfectIt.
While I adapted the way PerfectIt works to suit legal writing, I did not alter the sales process. We demonstrate price, proof, predictability, pain points, and permanency for PerfectIt in the same way for lawyers and non-lawyers:
There's lots of excellent legal technology out there that meets all of the above criteria. We know that there’s much for us to improve on, and we hope to learn from other companies in the sector. However, for smooth onboarding that treats lawyers like real people, I encourage all technologists to try PerfectIt and consider a similar approach for your service.
Lawyers are different in some ways. We use language differently. We are often risk averse. We place a high value on our time. If you’re a non-lawyer trying to tell us how to do our job, then you shouldn’t be surprised that there are barriers to reaching us!
But these differences don’t justify thinking about legal technology differently to any other technology. The difficulties of selling to lawyers are not so different to doctors, teachers, auditors or any other profession. The fact is that lawyers broadly respond to new legal technology in the same way that all people respond to new technology. So before you blame lawyers for not adopting the latest tech, look in the mirror, and ask if you’re treating us like human beings.
Ivy B. Grey is the author of American Legal Style for PerfectIt, which is a proofreading and editing program for lawyers that runs inside of MS Word. It adds polish, reduces frustration, and saves non-billable time. Ms. Grey is also a Senior Attorney at Griffin Hamersky LLP. She's been named as a Rising Star in the New York Metro Area for four consecutive years, and her significant representations include In re AMR Corp. (American Airlines), In re Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP, In re Eastman Kodak Company, and In re Filmed Entertainment Inc. (Columbia House).