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Law firm makes case for technology-enabled transformation

Top 100 law firm Jackson Lewis redefines how it provides legal services to clients as part of a technology-enabled transformation overseen by its first-ever chief digital officer.

Jackson Lewis P.C. has the usual cadre of lawyers and legal paraprofessionals committed to assisting clients in legal matters. But the firm also offers help via self-service apps, automated data-driven compliance assessments, artificial intelligence and, soon, chatbots.

These new services come as part of the law firm's commitment to technology-enabled transformation.

"We wanted to help clients achieve their goals by addressing their concerns more quickly. That's how we want to differentiate ourselves: doing [work] that first and foremost helps our clients," said Victor Barkalov, the firm's chief digital officer.

Jackson Lewis, a 60-year-old firm headquartered in White Plains, N.Y., with more than 850 attorneys nationwide, has had pockets of innovation in past years, with individual attorneys and certain practice areas using leading-edge technologies such as analytics, said firm principal Gregory T. Alvarez. But the firm, with 58 offices, hadn't developed a strategic vision for technology-enabled transformation of the kind that fundamentally changes how companies do business.

Then, in 2015, after seeing some of the firm's own attorneys embrace technology and noting the economic clout of born-digital companies, firm chairman Vincent Cino made transformation a priority.

"He made it a priority for us to engage the future and technology and embrace it," Alvarez said, adding that Jackson Lewis' journey cuts to the core of what the firm provides.

"It's about transforming how services are delivered."

Daniel NewmanDaniel Newman

In that regard, Jackson Lewis is like other leading companies that are embracing technology-enabled transformation, said Daniel Newman, principal analyst and founding partner at Futurum Research in Chicago and author of Futureproof: 7 Key Pillars for Digital Transformation Success.

"They're considering and reconsidering how they do business and they're taking a deeper look at how customers are consuming information, engaging with their brand, how they communicate and how they file share," he said.

He added, "That's why companies are transforming: They want to better engage clients and grow their business."

Most companies are not there yet, however, Newman said. He pointed to his firm's "2018 Digital Transformation Index," released in May, which found in its survey of 1,000-plus North American and Western European companies that only 18.3% of companies regard themselves as "digital leaders." Some 36.3% regard themselves as "digital adopters," 22% are "digital followers," and 23.4% regard themselves as laggards.

How it started

Gregory T. AlvarezGregory T. Alvarez

Jackson Lewis started its transformation with a recognition that the status quo wasn't going to work, Alvarez said. "If you just picked your head up and looked out in the world, or looked at surveys, you can't help but see that law firms have to embrace technology just like every other industry."

But, he added, "Without the leadership from the chairman saying this is something we want to do, then we could not have been successful. No way."

The firm's decision to promote Barkalov from vice president of strategic planning to chief digital officer was another big step forward on the journey of technology-enabled transformation, Alvarez said. In his new role, Barkalov oversees the 33-member IT department as well as serves as the point person for the firm's transformation roadmap.

Firm leaders early on engaged others on their quest, too, establishing in 2016 both a technology committee and an innovation committee to identify business needs and emerging technologies that could best lead to transformative experiences for the firm's clients and employees.

Doing, not talking, was encouraged. From the start, the firm "placed an emphasis on being as nimble as possible instead of trying to come up with the perfect plan," Alvarez said.

Victor BarkalovVictor Barkalov

One early technology decision, Barkalov said, was to invest in mobile solutions, collaboration tools and security measures that enabled a "work anytime from anywhere" culture and delivered a foundation for further technology-enabled advancements.

Furthermore, Barkalov said his IT team embraced low-code development and cloud computing as well as a commitment to buy commodity software to improve efficiencies. Internal technology resources focused on building only those applications that help differentiate the firm.

Client-centered transformation

With a strong foundation in place, firm officials launched several strategic transformative projects in 2017.

Some companies might have started with transformation in the core and then transform inside to the out, but we wanted to get to the goal of impacting clients quickly.
Victor Barkalovchief digital officer, Jackson Lewis

Barkalov said they focused primarily on initiatives that could transform how clients interacted with the firm and that could deliver significant new value to those clients, primarily through web-based intuitive self-service tools that help them assess risks, determine compliance or obtain relevant needed information.

For example, the firm's workthruIT tool helps clients quickly get answers to some of employment-related legal and compliance information. The web-based tool guides clients through different labor and employment scenarios, educates them on related regulations, and moves through assessments to help them pinpoint potential risks and ways to address those risks. The tool in turn allows clients to have more efficient, focused discussions with firm attorneys.

The firm also delivered a client tool that features an interactive map that allows clients get detailed information about disability leave laws by region, and the firm's Data Analytics Group delivered clients data-driven compliance assessments and legal support.

"Some companies might have started with transformation in the core and then transform inside to the out, but we wanted to get to the goal of impacting clients quickly," Barkalov added.

Moving forward

The firm is now building on those outward-facing successes with internally focused transformation initiatives.

This year it deployed an AI system from Ross Intelligence that uses natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning to streamline legal research. It also implemented its own tool that uses NLP to review timekeeping data to ensure legal teams are working efficiently by applying the right level talent for the right tasks for the expected amount of time. And they're launching chatbots to help clients better navigate some of its own automated assessment tools.

Furthermore, the firm has created an AI task force to explore how AI can be used in other areas.

That focus on the future is a smart move, as Newman said companies must realize that technology-enabled transformation isn't a one-time accomplishment, but a continuing path.

"Transformation is never finished," he said, even if the pace at which it happens can wax and wane. "And so, the key to transformation is creating a culture and organization that can adapt to changes, iteratively, progressively and disruptively."

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