Does teamwork trump technology?

By Craig Sharpe – Marketing Manager at Darlingtons Solicitors in London.

In an ever more competitive marketplace for professional services, lawyers, accountants and other professionals are looking for that competitive edge to differentiate.

The most obvious and current place to start in this quest seems to be technology – but is it the right place?

Few people would disagree that technology has impacted and revolutionised our world and that for sectors that appear old fashioned and slow to adopt, embracing the latest technology looks good to clients and prospective clients.

In my sector, law, some of the biggest law firms are spending big on investing in tech – here’s a few examples.

One of the most topical and “buzzy” areas at the moment is Artificial Intelligence (AI) – there’s talk of robot lawyers or accountants in the near future. Some might argue that there are plenty of people in these professions who behave like robots anyway!

Whilst there is no doubt that some processes and perhaps even contracts or accounts could be prepared with very little oversight from a human, surely robots cannot replace the advisory aspect? In many cases, it’s the trust and reassurance and the value of experience that clients are paying for plus the human empathy, which a robot can surely never replace or replicate.

There are lots of angles to being ahead of the game technologically. If you are a multinational magic circle law firm, it’s a good bet that some of your clients will include big tech companies, so you also need to be seen as at the vanguard, legally speaking. Allen & Overy have been pretty smart in this regard, launching their own tech hub, partnering up with movers and shakers in the tech sector.

Aside from attracting start ups and other tech businesses that could become the next Microsoft or google, this is smart business thinking – it’s very good marketing and PR, which are becoming increasingly important areas as professional services firms are forced to shift from marketing based on pure professional competence to a more brand focused approach.

Teamwork the sweet spot for smaller firms?

However, smaller professional services firms, which make up the majority of the market, don’t have the money to invest in technology in the same way.

For small to medium size firms, like my firm Darlingtons, it’s expected, and rightly so, by clients that they will keep up to speed with technology so as to streamline advice and services. Good systems and use of them are taken as a given by any savvy client. In professional services that includes good security and compliance systems but extends much further.

In terms of surviving and thriving, for the small and medium size firm, technology may not be the deciding factor, it may be something far more basic – teamwork.

It is a common feature of law firms and accountants that there is a silo approach. Partners and other senior fee earners in such organisations are often highly reticent to share clients and contacts with colleagues, instead seeking to ringfence their own clients so as to ensure they have the magical “following” if they opt to or need to move firms in the future.

I’m guessing that if you asked most other business types not in the professional services market whether they could afford to have staff members adopt the above approach they’d laugh at you because team work is surely an essential ingredient, among many others of business success.

So, in answer to the question posed in this blog, technology as a differentiator is probably more important for the biggest professional services firms. When it comes to the small and medium size businesses, teamwork may well trump the importance of technology.

Agree or disagree?