Steve Agnoli, CIO of the global law firm Reed Smith, describes how a new set of client facing technology tools is benefiting clients, the IT organization, and the firm's bottom line.

The global legal services market is changing significantly, and the old ways of working and interacting with clients are no longer accepted. This is forcing those of us in leadership positions at large law firms to rethink how we deliver legal services. 

Richard Susskind, an acclaimed legal technology strategist and thinker, has said that “Law firms can think they are innovative because they are automating in an innovative way....but the more technical meaning of innovation is really bringing about change in the underlying process.”  

The challenge is deploying transformational technology and processes that noticeably help capture new clients, increase revenues, make legal work easier, share lawyer knowledge, and raise resource utilization. 

At Reed Smith, we created a client facing solution that moves us forward in making digital transformation the key to how we address the challenges our industry is facing. 

Suite of Deal Closing Tools 

Our Deal Performance Platform (“DPP”) is a suite of digital M&A deal closing tools, web-enabled processes, and alternative staffing models designed to increase efficiency, reduce costs, make expertise actionable, and improve client communications. 

As an added benefit, the process of developing DPP has highlighted to me how IT, engaged closely with business functions, can produce solutions that change the conversation about technology within an organization.  

The DPP provides our clients with up-to-the-minute access to deal information and due diligence for their review. It brings clarity and aids understanding of deal requirements, and provides real-time closing status through tailored checklists and alerts. Deal information is accessible from any computer or mobile device utilizing a responsive design approach.    

Use of this platform reduces clients’ internal costs and outside legal fees for both large and small matters, in some case by nearly 50%. It reduces messaging volume and related deal closing administration by as much as 70%. It also streamlines communications between clients and their outside counsel, and automates deal term sheet preparation. 

Issue resolution is expedited by the toolset, as is the client’s follow-on loan administration and loan closing processes. 

Client Satisfaction and Business Growth 

Our clients have commented to us on the ease and speed of deal closings when using our platform, including: “Your team really knows how to close a transaction smoothly.” and “You have really reduced the amount of noise that usually comes with closing deals.” To us, this indicates that our platform is a differentiator in the legal marketplace.  

The DPP has won a significant number of new clients and deal engagements for our firm, increasing our revenues. In addition, we are leveraging alternative staffing models to make the expertise of our most senior lawyers more readily available for others to learn from, which strengthens our practice capabilities. 

In December 2017, DPP won a Digital Edge 50 award from IDG Enterprise.

Perhaps most importantly—at least to those of us in IT—the experience has proven that digitally-enabled business processes can add measurable value to our client service offerings, and that technology will continue to be a key enabler of our business growth. 

IT and Business Aligned from Day One 

In IT management, the biggest lesson we learned from the DPP engagement was that in order to derive maximum value from technology-enabled transformation efforts, IT must partner actively with business groups. This means being at the decision table from Day One and establishing and maintaining the trust to stay there. Doing so has ensured that the solution has relevant business value, and aligns with the business’s overall digital strategy. This IT-business partnership has also minimized IT rework, and maximized adoption among our employees and clients. 

For example, by working closely with our Knowledge Management team, who focus on practice innovation goals, IT was able to quickly confirm the value of diverse technology solutions (e.g. decision logic automation) and assess which had the highest transformational potential. Working with Practice Management led to a direct understanding of our clients’ needs, lawyer staffing requirements, and how those two factors intersect. Bringing the inputs together from both groups enabled IT to make informed decisions regarding the appropriate technology and process implementations given client requirements and practice goals.  

Halo Effect on IT

Technology and process, when closely aligned with business goals and realities, can be transformative within and outside of an organization. IT can simultaneously be an innovation leader, key contributor, and valued team member in bringing new and beneficial solutions into use. This has cast a “halo effect” on IT and raised our profile within the firm as well as outside of it.  Our IT team is now increasingly seen as a “demand shaper” rather than “order taker”.  

While everyone says that business-IT alignment is critical, we don’t always strive to do it well. The DPP process has given us at Reed Smith a real-life example of how such alignment and IT-business engagement benefits both the business and IT capabilities, and can help other organizations adapt to changing markets and client expectations.

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