Against the Odds: Thriving in a Challenging Legal Tech World

legal software

Against the Odds: Thriving in a Challenging Legal Tech World

By Deane Price on November 10, 2021, as Appeared in

Before leaving her post, Aderant CEO Deane Price counts down the principles she’s learned for how legal tech companies can overcome common obstacles in providing technology solutions to law firms.

Legal tech can be a tough business, at least in part because of the powerful nature of our law firm client base. Tech providers are focused not only on solving problems, but trying to convince firms to adopt those solutions, often in the face of considerable resistance. Law firm IT staff rely on skill and patience to do their jobs well. In turn, their technology providers must be creative and precise in building tools to support them and the rest of the firm’s staff. For those of us in the legal tech world, the challenges involved in solving law firms’ problems is what makes success so rewarding.

Early in my career, I was a software developer for a financial planning product used by utility companies. I moved on to technical support and implementation and then eventually into executive leadership roles. My entire career has been spent in software, combining computer science with business in various ways. When I entered legal tech, I was surprised by how similar the problems are to those of many other verticals. At our core, software companies are all trying to deliver the right technology and support with successful implementations that end users will adopt and drive client success.

Over a decade ago, I joined Aderant, a provider of business software for law firms, as CFO. I then served as COO before becoming CEO in 2017. My varied background in development, support, and implementation/integration has allowed me to engage deeply with our product development teams and clients. My financial background as CFO at Aderant and other companies has helped me to understand the world from our clients’ perspectives, since many are on the administrative side of law firms. I will complete my journey as CEO at the end of December 2021 as Aderant’s president, Chris Cartrett, takes on the CEO role. I anticipate a smooth leadership transition and am looking forward to gaining more “free time.”

As I reflect on my tenure in the legal tech sector, I predict that the most successful legal tech software companies will be laser-focused on solving their client’s problems. That seems quite basic, but sometimes technologists can get caught up in the bright shiny new technology and miss the business problem they are solving. The more legal tech providers strive to be empathetic and understand law firms’ pain points, the more effective they will be at solutioning. Both law firms and legal software companies are united in the pursuit of optimal solutions for their respective clients.

In my experience, here are the principles that legal tech companies can rely on to overcome common obstacles in providing technology solutions to law firms:

  1. Recognize the Unique Problems Law Firms Face. The more legal software providers can understand what challenges law firms are facing, the more productive their technology will be in solving those problems. Be naturally curious; ask firms questions and then listen to the answers. By listening throughout the sales process and learning from the implementation and technical support processes, legal software companies can become better-informed about law firms’ struggles and preferences. Law firms and their problems are evolving, so technology must change with them to stay relevant and helpful.
  2. Identify and Pursue Qualified Talent. Even before the pandemic, it was difficult for legal software companies to find and onboard qualified talent. Effectively bringing in top people while maintaining a strong corporate culture is tricky and requires flexibility and communication. In early 2020, we introduced a new centralized training team responsible for onboarding talent across the company. This fortuitous decision became a huge asset shortly thereafter, in March 2020, when COVID lockdowns began. Our company’s onboarding training team has become indispensable, allowing us to bring on new team members around the world and get them off to a running start even if they are not all sitting in an office together.
  3. Recognize That Change Is Painful in the Short-term, But Often a Relief in the Long-term. Like most people, I do not particularly like change. However, embracing change catalyzes major leaps forward. Legal tech companies are always asking law firms to change, but firms need to first understand “why” in order to be convinced. Lawyers are often overloaded and understandably rely on traditional manual methods instead of a newer approach. Though painful in many ways, the pandemic and work from home surprisingly led to the relief of some technological pain; the widespread adoption of new technology translated to enhanced efficiency at many law firms. Due to the pandemic, we saw a huge increase in the usage of our technology. This boost was not just from new account sales, but also from firms expanding their use of our tech from small groups to firm-wide rollouts.
  4. Become Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable. Many times in my career, I took on opportunities before I felt 100% comfortable with taking that step. I often over-extended my comfort zone, and it served me well. I was sometimes the only woman in the room, particularly during mergers and acquisitions meetings. However, if I had a seat at the table, I used it to take risks and speak my mind.
  5. Avoid M&A Pitfalls. Before joining Aderant, I went through several different mergers and was determined to learn from those experiences. We have acquired several legal software companies during my time at Aderant, and the key to our success has been focus. We are a legal software company, and everything that we have acquired has also been a legal software company. This strategy has reinforced our laser focus on law firms and has steadily brought in new complementary products that we can integrate into our existing product line.

I can confidently say that the future of the legal tech industry is bright, and I have been honored to witness its evolution over the past ten years. During my transition over the next few months and beyond, I look forward to seeing our company continue to grow and expand under its new leadership. My greatest hope for law firms is that lawyers will continue to embrace change and prioritize efficiency to make everyone’s work life easier. The challenges legal tech faces are formidable ones. However, having established great partnerships with law firm clients, they can overcome these obstacles and come out much stronger than before.

Deane S. Price is CEO of Aderant, a provider of comprehensive business management software for law firms. The company’s popular technology brands include: Aderant Expert/Expert Sierra for practice management, Handshake and Drive for knowledge management, iTimekeep, OCG Live & Thrive for timekeeping and compliance, BillBlast for eBilling, CompuLaw for docketing and calendaring, and Expert Case for legal case management. Aderant operates as a unit of Roper Technologies (NYSE: ROP), a constituent of the S&P 500 ®, Fortune 500 ®, and the Russell 1000 ® indices.