Law technology solutions abound – but how many are actually needed by a small- to medium-sized law firm and how many law firms are embracing new technologies?
The development of new law technologies is one way that law firms can more powerfully and creatively move into new services and strengthen their ties to clients – both old and new.
The adoption of new legal tech solutions will also help drive law firms towards greater competitiveness, more transparency, greater efficiency and help define their future. It is a clear path towards their future prosperity – or doom.
Digital transformation is occurring – spurred on by the pandemic for sure, but also driven by the demand for the greater need for modernization and growth.
A recent UK survey of law firms showed that although more law firms were using technology – particularly Zoom-style video conferencing technology – many others were wary and structural issues remained an impediment to developing the growth of legal technology software and solutions.
Previous Law Tech Solutions
Previously, (like the past couple of decades) technology for law firms was mainly centered on e-discovery, contract management, billing management and similar tools. Mainly the key parts of lawyers’ work was untouched by technology.
But that has changed as more technology startups have lead to the famed ‘disruption’ of the sector and how law firms deliver their services, leading to a bunch of legal tech tools and associated legal tech companies providing the new technology and tools. Why More Law Firms Are Using Technology
In one word: COVID – law firms are changing to more technology solutions for their legal services and the delivery of them.
However, the ‘step change’ that has occurred across almost all jurisdictions has drawn a distinction between law technology and innovation in the law practice.
An Oxford University report commission by the UK Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) saw 55 per cent of UK law firms surveyed improving or increasing their use of technology, with over one-third of the surveyed firms introducing new technology.
However, some were also innovating in how they delivered their services, by for instance combining additional services along with legal services to deliver to their clients.
What Sort of Technology Solutions Are Law Firms Using?
The sort of legal technology being implemented by law firms has tended to be specific rather than generic IT software and among the most favored software were –
e-verification or e-signature software.
By far the most popular has been the videoconferencing software with almost 90 per cent of firms using the technology.
Barriers to Law Technology Solutions
The key barrier to firms deploying legal technology software or solutions has been lack of capital.
The Oxford University study also showed that the major additional barriers was a lack of staff expertise, and regulatory uncertainty regarding the use of technology.
Among the regulatory barriers confronting law firms were issues relating to client confidentiality and data protection requirements, and professional indemnity insurance.
The increase in cybercrime, hacking, ransomware attacks and the like has hiked both insurance rates and concerns for law firms and lead to issues for firms seeking to deploy technology in their practices.
“There is, therefore, a role for regulators and policy makers to promote innovation and legal technology adoption,” the report said.
“Among the policy implications of our study are the need to enhance trust in the use of legal technology by various means, clarifying the coverage of technology risks in professional indemnity insurance, and facilitating regulatory compliance in data protection requirements.”
“What’s In It For Me?’ Attitude
The Oxford research in the UK suggested that for law firms serving individuals, future innovations were most likely to be linked to generic technology or products with one surprising inhibitor to adoption of lawtech software was from the technology providers themselves.
“Several interviewees complained that existing vendors made it difficult for firms to roll out new solutions, because vendors failed to provide API access or undertake the necessary development work that would allow different technologies to work together.”
There was also a ‘what’s in it for me?’ attitude with many firms showing they were unsure of what the benefits of adopting new legal technology might be for their firm.
Uncertainty and fear of the unknown has always been something of an issue for many firms, but the survey demonstrated a tangible concern with most law tech investment going into Big Law tech ventures or partnerships, even though most of the technology applications were focused on ‘people law’ rather than transactional law issues.
The alternative business structures (ABSs) entitles, most of which were ‘people law practices – were identified as being significantly more innovative and more likely to adopt legal technology than non-ABSs.
Thirdy one per cent of ABSs launched new services in the last year, compared to 13 per cent of non-ABSs, as well as focusing much more upon new technologies.
This was even though 97% of private investment in UK lawtech start-ups over the past decade went into BigLaw ventures – despite the fact that nearly half of them targeted PeopleLaw.
Better Law Technology Funding Paths
The report recommended greater more coordinated support be provided to legal technology through government, tech developers and regulators and a general raising of trust in law firms towards adopting new technology solutions.
The report said there was a need “to build greater user trust in legal services and in legal technology”, which it said could be done by a register of providers of unregulated services and technology or greater use of sandboxes.
An unmet demand in the UK from smaller and medium-sized businesses was estimated to be worth up to £11.4bn in annual revenues for the UK legal technology sector.
A 2021 global survey by the Association of Corporate Counsel reported that – “The list of technology areas that apply to the legal function has increased from 22 in 2018 to 26.”
The legal disruptors are on the rise. So too are the areas where legal technology software and solutions will continue to expand.
New Areas of Law Technology
Among the new areas of legal technology are case management tools, which have seen an upsurge in deployment by firms.
However the real driver for technology solutions have been in-house legal teams who have pushed the changes that are now sweeping the profession.
Marianne Baroud, regional channel manager for New York-based legal practice management solutions provider App4Legal, was reported in LawAsia saying that they demand the tech approach to many jobs. “Most often, they become advocates for legal tech because they can see the return on investment and how it improves the way they work, increases collaboration and efficiency, and how it is driving better results,” she said.
The demand to adopt technology differs according to different jurisdictions. The issues vary, be they privacy, technology, data, security or whatever. But it will be decision-making and leadership that defines just how law technology solutions work to build the law firm of the future. The digital clock is ticking.