How the UK legal sector can avoid future digital transformation projects from failing


Written by Ash Finnegan, Digital Transformation Officer, Conga

A new cloud-based system upgrade for the UK’s criminal courts has been heavily criticised by staff in recent months. Used by 143 courts – with around 60 percent of those in England and Wales – system integration issues have cost officials more than £300 million over the past two years. Originally intended to allow public offices to locate case details in one place, officials report that the new court system is regularly losing and altering files. 

Despite the UK Government investing up to £4 million to boost the digital transformation of Britain’s legal sector, the National Audit Office (NAO) identified a clear disconnect between what government and public bodies intend to achieve with their digital transformation projects and what is being delivered. It’s critical that the UK Government readdresses its approach to digital transformation and implements the technology it needs, rather than what it wants. 


Understanding why digital transformation projects fail

Whilst digital transformation offers many advantages, it does not always mean that it is easy to define, plan, or execute. The legal sector has been particularly slow in tackling legacy IT and data issues, and most legal leaders may not have conducted digital transformation programmes of this size or complexity before. The challenges experienced with the new cloud-based system is a clear indicator of that, as subsequent errors and inefficiencies have led to expensive consequences. 

The majority of public sector digital transformation initiatives fail due to the skills and knowledge shortage. Most officials and legal business leaders do not have the experience needed to deliver such complex and multifaceted programmes – especially at such a large scale. They do not have a true understanding how it will improve their services. Often, leaders pick a new solution and implement it at speed, prioritising technology over strategy, and do not consult the teams or departments most affected by the change. 

As NAO’s report revealed there has been a consistent underperformance with regards to the digital transformation across vital public services. Despite ambitious targets, transformation efforts are hindered by issues resulting from legacy IT systems, ongoing developer skill shortages and budget constraints. In fact, most projects overrun costing £17,460 a day – on average, £1.1 million per project. The sector needs to address this fast, especially as the UK Government increases its investments in lawtech.


What can be improved

Organisations looking to undergo a major digital transformation project should do so with the aim to improve the use of their data, technology and internal operational processes. Given the complexity and size of government departments and the legal system, digital transformation projects should be approached more strategically and in a phased manner.

Legal organisations should consider following the guidance of a revenue operations (RevOps) framework to establish a comprehensive roadmap throughout the transformation process and oversee its progress along the way. Under the direction of a RevOps framework legal officials can examine their legacy technology, consolidate the influx of data, and integrate all internal digital systems. This way, legal organisations can align their systems, data and processes to ensure that all workflows are appropriately structured and fully optimised – which should be done before fully committing to a transformation programme.

There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to executing a digital transformation project and can be difficult for many legal organisations to undergo. Not to mention, the transformation process can also differ from business to business. To increase the chances of success of a transformation project, the right personnel with the right know-how should be involved in guiding the project. With their experience and knowledge, they are best equipped to identify key aspects of the organisation in need of improvement and focus on processes that matter most in order to achieve the greatest return on investment (ROI). 

Too often major technology changes are made without considering the teams involved and how it may affect their workloads. It is best practice to notify any significant digital changes with departments prior to implementation, as they may be unaware of current processes or inefficiencies. More importantly, it is critical to the success of the project that employees are on board from the start and truly understand the need for such change across the organisation. To achieve this, legal leaders must reassure their employees by discussing how these changes will in fact improve their roles and explain why the solution is necessary for the betterment of the organisation. These discussions can also serve as an opportunity for employees to offer their own input into how data sharing and internal communications can be improved too.

The lawtech market is showing great promise. In fact, it has increased by as much as 101 percent in the last three years, faster than other tech sectors during the same period, according to LawtechUK’s 2021 Shaping the Future of Law report. Legal organisations, both private and public, must think more strategically about their investments, especially when receiving substantial government funding. Only with open communication, thorough assessments, strategic planning and following a comprehensive RevOps framework, can the legal sector ensure a high and lasting ROI following the government’s lawtech initiatives. Ultimately, the digital transformation journey cannot and should not be rushed, but done gradually – ensuring that all systems, processes and data are aligned.

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