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Build vs Buy: Making the Right Choice for LegalTech Solutions

As part of our ongoing commitment to supporting the LegalTech industry in its effort to transform the processes used by law firms and legal departments, Accusoft recently sponsored an educational webinar in conjunction with Law.com entitled “Build or Buy? Learning Which Is Best for Your Firm or Department.” Hosted by Zach Warren, editor-in-chief of Legaltech News, the webinar featured Neeraj Rajpal, CIO of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, and Kelly Wehbi, Head of Product at Gravity Stack, a subsidiary of the Reed Smith law firm. 

Together, the panelists brought two unique perspectives to the ongoing “build vs buy” debate, both from the software vendors who provide LegalTech solutions and the decision makers working at the legal firms who make difficult decisions regarding technology solutions.

Build vs Buy: The Choices Before the Decision

Both Rajpal and Wehbi agree that any decision involving building or buying technology solutions has to begin with defining the problem a firm needs to solve. Regardless of whether you’re working with an independent legal firm or a legal department within a larger organization, it’s critical to understand the business problem, existing pain points, and potential value of a solution.

“When you start asking the right questions,” Raijpal notes, “you sometimes come across a situation where the requirements are not very clearly defined and that is a big red flag to me because when requirements are not defined, you’re not solving anything.”

Wehbi shares that concern about the requirements gathering process, pointing out that things tend to go wrong when firms fail to consider both the scope and magnitude of the challenge they’re trying to overcome. “Organizations can struggle a lot when they jump a little too quickly to a solution or to thinking about just what the return would be on a potential new product or service offered.”

It’s also critical to make sure that the firm is willing to accept some degree of change. If existing business processes are unclear or if no one is willing to consider changing how they work, then no amount of technology is going to make a difference. Understanding the culture of the firm and securing the buy-in from leadership is absolutely critical to making any technology integration succeed whether you’re buying a solution or building one from scratch. 

The Pros and Cons of Building LegalTech Solutions

For an organization that has the resources, methodologies, and skill sets necessary to develop a solution that’s specifically designed to meet its unique requirements, building can be a great decision. The key advantage here is that it focuses specifically on the firm’s processes and user pain points, allowing developers to design a solution that is much more targeted than an “off-the-shelf” product.

Benefits of Building

  • Applications can be customized to your exact specifications, allowing them to better address your specific business needs.
  • Since you manage the solution from end to end, you retain much more control in terms of application features and functionality, how data is managed, and access security.
  • Developing a specialized solution creates room for innovative technology that can provide a competitive edge.
  • A custom-built solution presents fewer integration challenges, especially when it comes to interfacing with legacy systems used by many legal organizations.

Risks of Building

  • Building a new solution from the ground up requires a great deal of time and resources that might be better spent elsewhere.
  • Investing in custom software creates substantial technical debt that must be maintained over time and could create integration problems in the future when additional upgrades are required.
  • If the new solution doesn’t contribute enough to the bottom line to justify the cost of operations, it could lead to negative economies of scale that make it difficult for the firm to grow its business.

The Pros and Cons of Buying LegalTech Solutions

Not every organization has the development resources to build a customized solution from the ground up. If they’re not ready to make that capital investment, a cloud-based offering may be better suited to their needs. Leveraging a proven, ready-to-launch SaaS solution offers a number of advantages, but could impact how the company makes technology decisions in the future.

Benefits of Buying

  • Since SaaS services are usually cheaper and easier to implement, they are often the best option for companies with limited IT resources.
  • Cloud solutions are good for solving common technology problems that smaller firms face.
  • Already-live functionality means SaaS solutions can be implemented on a faster time frame.
  • The cloud vendor handles all building and maintenance costs associated with the platform.
  • Since the vendor sets up workflows and integrations as well as troubleshooting, your internal team is freed up to focus on other tasks.

Risks of Buying

  • Off-the-shelf solutions offer less customization and control over infrastructure and data.
  • Even industry-specific SaaS solutions are built for a general market in mind, so their features may not solve your firm’s unique requirements.
  • Since the vendor manages security, customers have less oversight over how their sensitive data is managed.
  • Working with a SaaS provider exposes firms to market risk. If the vendor goes out of business or sunsets a product, it may be difficult to repatriate data or transition to another provider.

When to Build

For firms with the development resources that are already using in-house document management solutions to streamline processes, SDK and API integrations are often the best way to enhance functionality. Accusoft’s PrizmDoc Suite leverages REST APIs and advanced HTML controls to provide powerful document viewing, conversion, editing, and assembly capabilities to web-based applications. Our SDK integrations also allow developers to build the functionality they need directly into their software at the code level.

Document Assembly

Law firms need automation solutions that allow them to easily create and manage multi-part, multi-stage contracts. Thanks to Accusoft’s PrizmDoc Editor, legal teams can rapidly identify and assemble sections of pre-existing text into new content that is both editable and searchable. PrizmDoc Editor integrates securely into existing applications and delivers in-browser support to help lawyers assemble assets without resorting to risky external dependencies.

Case Management

LegalTech applications can manage and review cases much more efficiently by integrating data capture, file conversion, and optical character recognition (OCR) capabilities. The ImageGear SDK helps legal teams access case data in a variety of formats without the need for downloading additional files or relying on third-party viewing applications. It can also convert multiple file types into secure and searchable PDF/A documents, making it easy to tag files with client numbers, names, and other identifiable information. Thanks to PDF/A functionality, ImageGear ensures that firms can stay on the right side of federal regulations.

eDiscovery

The rapid transition to predominantly digital documents has fundamentally altered the way legal organizations approach the discovery process. Innovative eDiscovery processes can streamline case management while also protecting client interests. In order to implement these strategies effectively, firms need applications that provide extensive file format support and search functionality as well as redaction and digital rights management (DRM) tools capable of protecting client privacy. PrizmDoc Viewer delivers these features along with scalable annotation capabilities that make it easier for collaborators to proofread, review, and make comments to case files without creating version confusion. As an end-to-end eDiscovery toolkit, our HTML5 viewer also includes whitelabeling support so it can be fully integrated into your application’s branding.

When to Buy

For smaller legal teams looking for broad functionality without development hassles or a new firm taking its first steps toward document automation, it often makes more sense to implement a bundled, buy-in solution like Accusoft’s OnTask SaaS platform.

Document Completion

OnTask makes document management easy with drag and drop data routing. Users can quickly create legal contracts, route the appropriate data to documents, deliver contracts for approval, and facilitate signing with secure eSignature technology. 

Customized Templates

With OnTask, legal teams can create customized document templates and manage them on a section-by-section basis. Individual clauses can be added or removed as needed, allowing attorneys to repurpose document templates instead of creating them from scratch for every client. 

End-to-End Support

Two-way communication support helps firms to build better dockets and negotiate more effectively. Documents can be updated automatically and version controls ensure that everyone is always looking at the most up-to-date version of a contract. OnTask also allows users to prioritize key tasks with collaborative redlining and notification tools.

Long-Term Storage and Security

OnTask stores data for up to six years to meet eDiscovery requirements. To better protect client privacy and meet changing compliance requirements, firms can also set destruction dates for contracts, templates, and case files. OnTask is SOC2 compliant, featuring multi-layer encryption to keep data under tight lock and key.

Hear the Full Conversation

To hear the full webinar and learn more about how legal firms make the difficult choice between building or buying their next technology solution, sign up now to get access to an on-demand recording of the event. If you’re ready to learn more about how Accusoft technology is helping to power innovation in the legal industry by delivering the latest in content processing, conversion, and automation solutions, visit our legal industry solutions page or contact us today to speak to one of our product experts.