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No-Code is a No-Brainer for the Legal Sector

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By Alex Smith, Global Product Management Lead for iManage RAVN

According to Gartner, low-code application development will be responsible for more than 65% of application development activity by 2024. Similarly, Forrester forecasts that the total spending in low-code will hit $21.2 billion by 2022, representing a compound annual growth rate of roughly 40%.

Clearly, the no-code/low-code movement is a trend with momentum – and it offers a lot of potential benefits to the legal sector.

Why? Because lawyers are subject matter experts, not computer programmers – and they shouldn’t need a degree in coding to be able to support a business process within a corporate legal department or law firm. The idea of just being able to drag-and-drop “building blocks” or “components” that will help automate or streamline a process – all without having to write a single line of code – is highly appealing.

Think here of an AI tool being used to help review a large set of contracts to find ones that contain specific clauses. A lawyer doesn’t need to know how to write code to make that happen. Instead, they just interact with the user interface of the tool, plugging criteria into certain fields, creating a drag and drop training set, deciding the logical workflow, and then clicking a button. 

In many ways, this no-code approach isn’t a new idea. Products that are already present in just about every law firm on the globe, like Microsoft Excel, already offer this ability for end users to automate a calculation or logic based process without having to get under the hood and write code. 

Excel lets users automatically pull in numbers, run calculations, and get an output like a chart or a visual dashboard – all without needing to know what Excel is actually doing behind the scenes. Likewise, common business tools like Salesforce or Survey Monkey enable all sorts of automation without requiring any coding knowledge. This is a user experience (UX) challenge and not a learn to code one. 

Making Use of What’s Already in Place

Against the backdrop of COVID-19 and slimmed down budgets, the legal sector will continue to look to no-code/low-code tools and technologies to drive efficiency. It’s unlikely that there will be budget or sign-off for purchasing shiny new products right now. Instead, there will be a keen interest in allowing lawyers and business users to make better use of the platforms that are already in place. 

Part of the logic here is meeting people where they “live.” If they spend their days surrounded by emails, documents, and spreadsheets – as most knowledge workers do – it makes sense to expand on the environment they’re used to, rather than introducing something new. The ability to identify a need around those emails, documents, and spreadsheets that they work with every day – a process that needs to be automated, for instance, or a piece of knowledge that needs to be extracted – and quickly implement a solution is hugely valuable.

A few words of caution are necessary here. Building a full-fledged application isn’t simply a matter of writing code: it’s about understanding people, process, and needs within an organisation, and then designing a solution that makes sense for that context. Low-code/no-code solutions are not exempt from these considerations. 

Put another way: just because a business user can quickly and easily put together an app or solution using low-code/no-code methods doesn’t mean they shouldn’t understand good practice around building digital applications.

If it’s a simple project or undertaking, then it’s likely fine for end users to jump in and create their own solution. If it’s more complex, the gap in product and best practice knowledge might become problematic. 

For example, if a business user creates some type of survey or information-gathering tool, but doesn’t really understand all the implications around GDPR – including what disclaimers are necessary at the outset around data collection, or what type of governance or retention policy is required – things can quickly get tricky.

For this reason, IT teams would be well advised to evaluate projects upfront to determine whether a no-code approach is appropriate. Empowering employees with no-code tools – but not providing best practice-specific knowledge around corporate governance, ethics, and compliance, if the project calls for it – could create more problems than it solves.

A Positive Development

There is much talk about the need for more “data literacy” in the workforce, and this is true – data literacy is essential to thriving in today’s fast paced and ever evolving digital landscape. But data literacy shouldn’t be confused with coding. 

The no-code/low-code movement doesn’t eliminate the need for understanding what pieces of data are valuable and what best practices or project management skills might be needed to automate a process around that data. It simply means that the development of apps is no longer the exclusive domain of a small handful of people with computer science degrees.  

Overall, this is a positive development, empowering domain experts to easily build technology that will improve the way they go about their day-to-day work. For law firms looking for greater agility as part of an ongoing digital transformation, this approach fits right in. In fact, many firms come to the iManage AI University with their own real-world data to gain first-hand insight and experience of using the AI tools to innovatively solve specific business problems. It allows them to focus on applying AI without having to worry about coding or the underlying data science.  They genuinely find this approach empowering.    

The cost savings for firms are not insignificant, either. The fact is, developers are expensive. For example, it can cost upwards of $100,000 to develop a mobile app. By saving money on these types of development costs for smaller workflow solutions, law firms can pass these savings on to their clients – all while tackling work more efficiently. 

The no-code/low-code movement even has tremendous potential in improving access to legal services, since the price of legal counsel can be out of reach for many individuals. Rather than paying a lawyer to fill out an official form for court proceedings, what if lawyers could develop a simple, survey-like app that collects and files the relevant information for the individual?

This sort of thing is possible when the people who sit close to those processes – the domain experts who deal with that information every day – are empowered to create solutions themselves.

This is good news for all parties across the legal sector.

About the author

Alex Smith, Global Product Management Lead for iManage RAVN, has over 20 years of experience in product management and service design, including new and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, semantic search and linked data, as well as content management. Prior to iManage RAVN, Alex has held positions at Reed Smith LLP and LexisNexis UK.

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