Five Questions with Aderant President Deane Price

Deane Price

Five Questions with Aderant President Deane Price

Law Firms, Legal Tech and Remaining Curious: Five Questions with Aderant President Deane Price

The legal industry is in a period of evolution.  While we’re not going back to the pre-recession days of annual rate hikes – this isn’t the new normal either. The business of law will continue to evolve, according to our own top executive Deane S. Price.

Earlier this year, Aderant announced Deane was promoted and taking the helm of the legal technology business following Chris Giglio’s retirement.  Of course, she’s no stranger to our company or clients, given she’s spent six years here and previously served as the Chief Operating Officer (COO).

What people inside and outside the company may not know is that Deane has a long and tenured history in technology. In fact, she’s held a range of executive and leadership roles before joining Aderant.  For example, as a working mother in her early thirties, she took part in a rather audacious management buyout after an acquisition went awry.  In many ways, she attributes that experience to her overall success as a business leader.

“We want to help law firms become more agile, to enter their time on their mobile devices, to take a tablet with them to sit down with their clients and review together where their matter stands.”

We’ve received a lot of questions from the legal community since she took charge, and so we’ve gathered up the most common and sat down with Deane for this question and answer (Q&A) entry for the Think Tank.

 

1) What do you think are the biggest challenges facing law firms over the course of the next year?

DP: This could be a very long list, but I’ll limit it to the three I’ve heard from managing partners and CFOs at two separate but recent law firm conferences.

The first challenge is alternative or complicated fee structures, the second challenge stems from increasing competition, and the third challenge centers on technology and the complicated process of change management that accompanies innovation.  Let’s take these each one at a time.

Law firm clients have implemented complicated fee structures through billing guidelines that are proving very challenging for law firms to meet. For example, I was having lunch with an AmLaw 200 law firm partner recently who explained some of the nuances he felt were overzealous.

If he and an associate attend a conference call, the two of them could bill for that time.  However, if he attended the conference call alone, and later met with the associate to bring him or her up to speed, the associate is not permitted to bill for that time.

That partner felt this was “ridiculous” and that just goes to show the problems partners are having to work through.

The second challenge is the rising competition.  Globally speaking, there are more options available to clients and as a result, firms are structuring themselves differently in order to meet demands in terms of price.

The third challenge is with technology.  Historically law firms have been slower to adopt new technology but that’s changed. The law firm desire for innovation has accelerated and so too has the pace of technology adoption.   However, that comes with the cultural challenges of change management; not everyone is open to change.

2) While the legal market has improved since the economic downturn in 2008, some say it’s never going back to the pre-recession levels – that this is the new normal. As head of a leading vendor serving this community, what is your perspective on that?

DP: I don’t think things will go back to the pre-recession era and I also don’t think that this is the new normal.  The practice of law and business of law are continuing to evolve.

Law firms want more analytics and better matter management.  These two capabilities are at the very core of their ability to deal with the demands that their clients are putting on them:  They want to be more agile and they want to be able to react more quickly. Our role at Aderant is to enable that for law firms.

We want to help law firms become more agile, to enter their time on their mobile devices, to take a tablet with them to sit down with their clients and review together where their matter stands – and to provide technology to the new millennial associates that make them part of an agile culture.

The generational aspect is important for law firms.   Millennials don’t want to deal with paper and law firms traditionally have been paper-based organizations. I think about my kids now who are both in college and the concept of printing something out is just completely foreign to them. They don’t print out anything – they submit their college research papers all online.

3) How would you describe large law’s relationship with legal technology?

DP: It’s speeding up. Law firms are more interested in doing away with paper.   It’s expensive to touch a piece of paper and it becomes more expensive the more times you touch it.  Law firms are concentrating workflow-enabled technology that eliminates paper.

The other important change is that law firms are warming to the idea of the cloud.  Five years ago, you would never hear the word cloud in large law circles.   Today, it’s no longer a dirty word.  Large law firms are getting their arms around the cloud and beginning to realize the cloud can offer better security than what they are able to do independently with on-premise technology.

4) Aderant leadership has spoken of a vision for the future of technology called “Your Firm 2020.” How has this vision changed over the past year (if at all)?

DP: The core of “Your Firm 2020” is a promise that Aderant will provide mobility, automation, and collaboration in everything that we do. Those three pillars really remain the same, but I think how we think about those pillars is evolving just as law firm needs are evolving.  For example, there’s a lot more discussion around artificial intelligence. Not as in A.I. will replace a lawyer, but how it can help make their lives easier.

One of the things that I was talking about with that AmLaw 200 partner was how inefficient it is for lawyers to do some relatively simple tasks like put an email from a client into the right place in their document management system. I think there could be opportunities for artificial intelligence in solving problems like this – to predict where and how an attorney wants to file a client email and just put it there for them.

5) You’ve been in charge at Aderant for a few months now. Were there any specific experiences, anecdotes, or mentors that significantly shaped your career or helped you along the way?

DP:  Yes, I was very fortunate. At a young age, I was part of an organization that was acquired by Electronic Data Systems (EDS) and it was a terrible acquisition. Anything that could go wrong, did go wrong and I learned a whole lot from that experience.

And so, at just 33 years old, and with two kids – a six-month-old and a three-year-old – I joined a team that did a management buyout of the business. I did that with two other very seasoned professionals who were absolutely great mentors to me, each in their own way. I learned a lot and I learned very quickly.

My career advice to people is to remain curious, take new approaches, embrace change, and do whatever needs to be done.  It drives me crazy if anytime someone feels like something is not their job.  It’s just better for everyone if you figure out what needs to be done, and how you can help get it done.

Ultimately, I believe that you should always surround yourself with the best available people and that is why I like Aderant so much. We’ve got an amazing group of people who are very passionate about providing the absolute best to our clients.

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