Canada: VIDEO: The Flipside Of Failure - Learning From Legal Technology Innovation

There is tremendous pressure on law firms and law departments to increase the use of new legal technology to gain efficiencies and improve the delivery of legal services. Yet successfully implementing these innovative new technologies is challenging, difficult and time consuming, and is fraught with pitfalls for the unwary. In this candid case study video, I share our experience with a failed pilot project, the lessons we learned and things we have changed that have set us up for success in projects that followed. (9 minutes, 58 seconds)

> See all Stikeman Elliott multimedia content


Innovation is a Contact Sport

The statement "innovation is a contact sport" is first attributed to AnnaLee Saxsenian. Back in 1994 she compared the fortunes of Route 128 companies in Boston to those in Silicon Valley. She came to the conclusion that innovation is really about the nature of networks among people, and the interactions between those people.

To be honest, that's not really what I had in mind when I started thinking about this topic.

As I started thinking about the failures I have had around legal technology, I started thinking along the lines of legal technology innovation as being a full contact sport.

Leading innovation and implementing new legal technology is hard work. We are going to make mistakes and we are going to get beat up by the experience. When I work on these initiatives I know I am going to have to roll with the punches and suffer a black eye or two.

I am going to share with you the story of a project that failed for us. The five mistakes we made that led to its failure and the lessons that we learned from the experience. Unfortunately, I can't tell you that this particular project eventually turned into a success. But I can tell you that others which have followed have been successes because of this failure.

I have to keep details confidential so I have anonymized everything. When I did that, I realized that this is a case study that has probably been repeated many many times across a wide spectrum of legal technology applications.

Safety in Numbers

The story: A number of years ago, we embarked on a pilot of a new legal technology tool. We had been encouraged to check it out by one of our partners. I was excited about the product and we had a few lawyers willing to try it out.

Mistake #1: KM was the champion of this project.

Huge mistake. It was not enough. Despite being led to the product by a partner, that person did not have a vested interested in using it themselves. As a result, they were not standing shoulder to shoulder with us telling their colleagues that they should use the application and why. When the project failed, KM was left holding the bag.

As a result of this mistake, we have changed our approach. We will not start on something new unless we have one of two things:

  • Someone (a partner) is prepared to put their name on the initiative in a meaningful way; or
  • We have a critical mass of lawyers who are all asking for the same thing.

It is incredibly frustrating to know that there is a new technology tool out there that will make things easier for your lawyers but you don't have the buy-in to push it forward. No matter the temptation, you can't go it alone. If the technology is not sparking enough interest, it is better to understand why than to push ahead.

Beware the Snake-Oil

The story: We saw several demos of the product in question and asked a lot of questions. We thought that we knew what we were getting. Still, there were a number of technical issues we encountered. It could not do everything that we needed, and our lawyers did not think it was as easy to use as the vendor thought it was.

Mistake #2: Wearing rose colored glasses.

To be fair to working in this space, I don't believe that anyone is trying to sell us snake oil. I actually think that a number of problems our technology vendors are trying to solve are really difficult. And we are difficult customers. We move slowly and we have very high expectations.

However, for those of us trying to implement and use new technology, it is never as easy as we are led to believe.

If you are trying a new technology then be prepared. Plan for the fact that it will probably not work as you think it will. Plan for the fact that you cannot anticipate every possible use case. Plan for the fact that you will need to give lots of feedback to the vendor.

Prepare for Failure

The story: Forging ahead with our pilot, we promoted the software, gave demos to multiple practice groups, and tapped individuals to try it. In all of these interactions, we were enthusiastic, optimistic and talked about how great the software would be.

Mistake #3: Not anticipating failure.

We treated the pilot of this new innovative software the same way as pilots of established proven software. Knowing that new technology is NOT going to be perfect, you need to manage expectations with the lawyers in your firm who are willing to try it.

We now communicate in a way that sets the stage for possible failure. It is a fine line between "selling" use of the tool so we have pilot participants and being realistic with participants that trying it out will require effort on their side.

We support them in ways that we don't for proven software. And we give lots of kudos to those participating who are "taking one for the team".

Timing is Everything

The story: As I noted, this was a new technology product. While a couple of firms were using it, we would be early adopters. Some of the functionality we were interested in was not quite ready but the vendor promised it would be released during the pilot.

Mistake #4: Bad timing.

Our timing was terrible. It was way too early for Stikeman Elliott to be trying this software. If being an early adopter gives you a competitive advantage, it makes sense to do so. Otherwise, if you do not have the time, patience and resources to be an early adopter, I would think twice about it. Let others do the work for you.

This is really difficult for everyone in this room. We are here because we think that new technology is going to make a difference and we often can't wait to get our hands on it. But, you have to understand and appreciate your organization's culture and what drives its business model.

People, Processes and THEN technology

The story: As with most of our pilots, someone on the KM team was responsible for arranging the demos and the training, working with IT to install the software, testing the tool and finding pilot participants. While this has been successful approach in the past, it didn't work in this in this case and we weren't sure why. We had trouble finding pilot participants and those who tried it did not really like it. What was worse is that some of the participants thought it made them less efficient. That was a terrible result for an innovative legal technology pilot.

Mistake #5: Underestimating the importance of people and processes.

New legal technology tools that embed legal knowledge or legal processes often require lawyers to change the way they work in order to take full advantage of the software. If you don't change the way you work or approach your work, the software may not help and may in fact hinder your existing way of working. A successful pilot and implementation of these new technologies must take that into account.

One of the key take-aways that has informed our innovation efforts going forward is that these tools are not like other technology tools in the firm. They are designed to be used by lawyers but not necessarily on a day to day basis. We need to have the people resources necessary to support the lawyers in using these tools in order to get the most out of them.

Lessons Learned

I would like to tell you that this project was ultimately a success but it was not. It was a failure. Full stop. We kept at it for about 6 months before we finally threw in the towel, gave up and turned it off.

I know we all talk about being agile and failing fast. But when you work in an organization where there are professional, ethical and legal obligations that are core to the services you provide, failure is not really something that happens. So having a project that failed and explaining that failure was an interesting experience.

The lessons we learned have set us up for successes that have followed.

Lesson #1: Don't go it alone. Look for that key champion or make sure you have a critical mass of lawyers who are prepared to back the project.

Lesson #2: Be realistic about what you are getting into. Using brand new technology is not for the faint of heart. How much tolerance do you have to be an early adopter.

Lesson #3: Manage expectations. Prepare participants that getting up the learning curve will take time. Prepare management that it may fail.

Lesson #4: Sometimes, it is just better to wait.

Lesson #5: It is not really about the technology. There is a reason the phrase goes... people, process and technology.

I hope that by sharing these mistakes, you will make different ones. And if you are feeling a bit beat up by legal technology innovation, that probably means you are doing something right and are making progress. My only advice is to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep at it!

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions