竞天公诚律师事务所合伙人、管委会成员李达律师：我们当前IT的核心工具使用跟律所的发展息息相关，借鉴全球律所发展方向，律所IT核心工具理解为以业务数据和文档电子数据为核心的IT系统，对应的核心IT工具为3E Elite业务、财务管理系统和 iManage文档管理系统。
FIRM MANAGEMENT SERIES: TECHNOLOGY
To stay ahead of competitors and keep up with the evolving needs of clients, law firms find themselves more reliant on innovative technologies than ever before. However, while technology can optimise business processes and enable them to provide new solutions and services, it can be challenging to implement. In this roundtable, law firms talk about their strategies for utilising technology, key takeaways from the experience to date, and the obstacles they have overcome.
ALB: What kind of IT systems are in place now in your firm, and what is your firm’s IT strategy?
Benjamin Zhao, member of China Region Management Committee and senior partner, Dentons China: Dentons not only has a business system that including case management, margin management, and bill management, but also a “contact AI” to manage files and a training and management tool called Dentons APP. In the last 30 years, the company has been upgrading fundamental information systems and introduced advanced AI tools. Dentons will continue to promote its information system, introduce advanced technology, and accelerate the digitalization of Dentons.
We also recruited Jack Jiang as the director of information and digitization of Dentons China to lead the IT team to better serve the law firm’s business.
Victor Fu, partner, Haiwen & Partners: We’re using document management application iManage, project management and billing system Bitzsoft, and commonly used systems such as Yonyou to do financial and human resources management, and translation system Metaso.
Apart from all these frequently used software, we’ve also bought databases from companies like Wolters Kluwer, as well as process management software for businesses such as trademark and patent.
In terms of communications among employees, we use email as well as WeCom.
While we are upgrading tools in each field, we hope to do better in single sign-on (SSO), and to connect systems through links and APIs. It is not convenient for users to work if they need to log in to different systems separately and the data is not compiled.
Meanwhile, we are increasingly using legaltech to improve our efficiency. Apart from the translation tool Metaso, we are trying to use other tools.
Li Da, partner and member of the managing committee, Jingtian & Gongcheng: Our use of IT tools is in line with the development of the law firm. Based on the development direction of global firms, what we deem essential are IT systems that centred on business data and document electronic data, which include tools such as the 3E Elite business management solution, financial management system, and iManage document management system.
With these two systems, different departments collaborate based on data from several IT systems and share data in areas including business, finance, document, human resources, and administration. They are presented in brief reports or graphs to the management committee, partners, business lawyers, and all departments.
ALB: What are the key considerations when purchasing or developing IT tools?
Zhao: We focus on the security, extensibility, and integration of the system, the advancement of technology, as well as the convenience and usability of interaction.
Fu: The key point is to meet specific needs. For example, the billing system and case management system need to fulfil some personalized needs. It is important to move to an on-premise solution. For instance, we initially tried the online version of Metaso. However, we bought the on-premise to save data on our own terminal servers after we used and evaluated the online version for a while.
Interoperability is important. We need to acquire systems that can be easily linked to other systems or online services via API. Using AI or other legaltech could improve user experience, which is also an important factor. For example, Metaso helps improve our work efficiency and we would like to buy more such tools. 5. Price also matters when we purchase IT tools, but it is not the most important factor for law firms.
“Localisation of IT products has irreplaceable advantages for the development of domestic law firms.”
- Li Da, Jingtian & Gongcheng
Li: After using the current information system, we are interested in the purchase and integrated development of localized IT products in the future. Localisation of IT products has irreplaceable advantages for the development of domestic law firms. Localised tools are helpful in complementing the way we operate, think and behave.
ALB: How much of it is being driven by keeping up with the tech that clients are using right now? What are client expectations in this regard?
“The usage of technology tools by the legal team would definitely improve the technology adoption of the legal industry. In the long term, it has an impact on how lawyers and law firms offer services.”
- Benjamin Zhao, Dentons China
Zhao: Each industry is using technology to increase efficiency and reduce cost, promote business innovation, strengthen overall competitiveness, and improve business growth. The usage of technology tools by the legal team would definitely improve the technology adoption of the legal industry. In the long term, it has an impact on how lawyers and law firms offer services, which law firms should pay attention to and make strategic arrangements for. Dentons has improved its services and efficiency by using information systems and digital tools. Positive feedback from clients will also prompt law firms to gradually improve their technology tools.
Fu: The legal team’s application of IT and legaltech significantly drive the upgrade of technology within law firms, and we are actively exploring it.
I do not think clients pay great attention to how law firms use technology to provide services. Rather, they tend to feel that law firms improve work efficiency by using legaltech tools. Meanwhile, we can tell clients that technology plays an important role in it, which could improve clients’ recognition of law firms to some degree.
Li: Currently, our legal team’s application of IT or legaltech tools is not an apparent driver for our tech upgrade. Rather, our clients’ needs for an electronic billing system, online document collaboration tools, highly reliable document transfers, document sharing, real-time project monitoring and remote meetings have a bigger influence on our tech upgrade.
With the growth of legaltech, more demands are coming internally from law firms and externally from clients, regulatory agencies, and partners. Under the dual driving forces, we expect that technological capabilities will become an important criterion to evaluate the comprehensive strength of law firms.
ALB: Are clients becoming more sensitive to cybersecurity issues, and how is your firm responding?
Zhao: The Chinese government places a high value on cybersecurity. Industries across the country further strengthened their cybersecurity measures following the issuance of regulations, including cybersecurity law and data security law. Dentons has been focusing on building a complete, advanced, and preventive cybersecurity system.
“Clients attach great importance to cybersecurity, and we often get questions about it.”
- Victor Fu, Haiwen & Partners
Fu: Clients attach great importance to cybersecurity, and we often get questions about it.
We usually answer their questions and meet their IT-related requirements. For example, clients have certain requirements of intranet traffic control and web-browsing behaviour control, and we purchase access control equipment to address the issue.
Meanwhile, we also meet clients’ needs by improving our IT systems.
Li: We have received many questionnaires on cybersecurity issues from clients in recent years, which shows that they are becoming more sensitive to the issue.
Cybersecurity and system security are important tasks for our IT department. We appoint third parties regularly to conduct cybersecurity assessments and we are recruiting an IT security manager to enhance our cybersecurity.
ALB: How are you training your lawyers and other staff to adopt a tech-forward mindset?
Zhao: Technology terms, including artificial intelligence, blockchain, AR/VR, digital twin, cloud, big data, 5G, are widespread as China is actively developing technology, and people are also using some of them in their daily life and work. At a time of informatization and digitalization, we need to promote the usage of such systems and tools. Dentons intends to train lawyers and employees to promote the use of this technology. We usually use an internal mail system, enterprise WeChat, and Dentons’ official WeChat account to advertise, as well as do training via the Dentons App or offline to upgrade the overall level of technology usage. Meanwhile, some lawyers at Dentons have working experience in technology companies. With a deep knowledge of both law and technology, they are actively promoting the building of information technology at Dentons.
Compared to technology companies, the manufacturing industry, and the retail industry, law firms have relatively fewer resources to build such systems. There are few big software companies promoting technology usage in law firms. Meanwhile, it takes a while to hire technology talent in law firms. Being a knowledge-intensive industry, law firms need not only traditional platform systems, but also customized tools, such as natural language processing tools including smart translation and intelligent text processing. Talent is needed to develop all these smart tools in law firms.
Fu: We put emphasis on advertising and promoting legaltech and AI tools. We encourage employees to use legaltech tools in scenarios, such as translation and legal search, where technology performs better and train them how to make better use of technology. We believe we need more compound talent with knowledge of both legal and technology matters. But it does not necessarily require them to have a technical background from a lawyer’s perspective. We think it means people with legal knowledge taking on more training and getting used to using technology to improve our overall efficiency.
Li: Training lawyers and employees to be tech-savvy is another way to reflect our efforts in digital management and digitalisation. Firstly, Jingtian & Gongcheng has put in place well-established management system, IT department management system, rules, and authority configurations on our terminal servers. All users within the firm have restricted access to data and documents. Secondly, employees will have continuous training to know what they should do and what cannot be done within the system and form good habits that help reduce risks and standardize management.
Law firms will need more compound talent who have knowledge of both law and technology, which will play a key role in the development of data-driven law firms. As different law firms have different management models, they cannot just use standardized applications and products without customisation. They have to customize their services and products, which requires them to hire talent having capabilities of both business and technology.
To contact the editorial team, please email ALBEditor@thomsonreuters.com.