In the current job market, it’s getting more difficult to find competent associate lawyers. Law schools aren’t producing enough law grads to meet the demand. Meanwhile, many lawyers who have retired have figured out that they don’t miss the long hours and the heavy workload. The result? Demand for lawyers is high while supply is low. Enter legal technology.
Legal technology is the answer to the lawyer shortage. By providing law firms and legal departments with AI and machine learning solutions, firms are able to automate much of the mundane work, freeing up lawyers to focus on higher-value work such as taking on-site client meetings and making strategic decisions. Technology can also help to reduce the amount of time that lawyers spend on mundane tasks, allowing them to take on more cases.
Legal Technology: The Challenge
The Thomas Reuters Institute’s 2020 Report on the State of U.S. Law Firms found that lawyers employed by small firms only spend about 60% of their time working on cases. The remainder of their time is spent on managing the administrative burden; business development, marketing and social media, or managing routine business functions. Small firms in particular do not have the luxury of outsourcing these essential yet costly tasks so not only are there fewer lawyers available than needed, those lawyers are already hampered by an administrative burden that further reduces the time they can focus on clients.
Complicating the issue further is the fact that the legal field has been on the slower end of adopting new technology. Issues of attorney-client privilege, keeping data private, and other security concerns have amplified the problem. In addition, the legal field is one of the few industries where work is more likely to move slowly rather than quickly; complex or high-profile cases can drag on for years. Keeping up with ever-changing technology advances can be a hard sell in an industry that is not known for a fast turn-around. In addition, the 2018 Gartner report found that 81% of legal departments weren’t just uninterested in digitalization efforts, they were completely unprepared to make the transition.
The national lawyer shortage, the increase of administrative duties, and the aversion to adopting new technology are a triple whammy that puts an increasingly high strain on lawyers, legal firms, and the clients they serve. Small firms in particular can be at an even bigger disadvantage because of the perception that moving to the cloud or implementing productivity tools will be cost-prohibitive.
Legal Technology: The Solution
There are several options for implementing legal technology and the beauty of it is that you can thoughtfully consider the options and customize a suite of services that are most applicable to your firm. The fact that technological implementation isn’t an all-or-nothing game goes far toward easing the fears of lawyers who still have concerns around privacy or cost.
For example, virtual meetings can be used in lieu of meeting with clients in person. In fact most clients prefer video conferencing to phone calls, making this an easy transition that will only increase client satisfaction. The pandemic has also increased the use of digital services such as e-signatures, e-filing, digital documents, and using virtual notaries.
Tasks that can be easily and efficiently managed through legal technology include eBilling, document drafting tools and document automation, AI-based client intake, case and matter management, practice management, and rules-based docketing. There are technologies that create automated processes, provide better resource management, increase transparency while reducing errors, function to ease research needs, and enhance the client experience.
Widespread use has made it easier for legal firms to make small changes to incorporate those services and more. And for firms that are still wary of cloud technology, Clio’s 2020 Legal Trends Report found that 79% of responding firms store data in the cloud while 69% of consumers prefer to share documents electronically.
It is clear that the tide is turning. Not only are more legal firms willing to take a chance on the cloud and other technologies, their clients are increasingly expecting it as part of the services they receive.
Again, a legal firm need not implement all of the solutions listed, and there certainly may be financial barriers that would stand in the way of full implementation for smaller firms. But thoughtful consideration of what options will provide the most value can help a firm address short-staffing while turning the dial up on their productivity. Legal technology can ease the administrative burden by offering systems to complete tasks more efficiently, allowing lawyers to devote more of their time to clients.
The Added Bonus
With COVID-19 driving the majority of business transactions and communication online, lawyers have been more willing to make the switch and adopt digital technology since as noted by Clio’s trend report, more firms are using software and the cloud to store their data. There has been an increase in technologies that can facilitate three key software solutions: online payments, client intake, and CRM (constituent relations management) software.
And the benefits go beyond the immediate ease of connecting and communicating with clients. An ABA Journal article published in 2020 reviewed a survey that reported a 16% increase in revenue per lawyer for firms that accepted online payment. For firms that adopted all three technologies listed above, the increased revenue percentage per lawyer jumped to 40%. The Gartner report we referenced earlier also found that legal departments that were found to be “digital-ready” had the potential to increase their on-time project deliveries by 63%. Even a small firm can expect that, after the initial investment in legal technology, they’ll reap financial benefits that more than offset the cost of implementation.
Using the right technology not only eases the lawyer shortage, it reduces administrative burdens and increases productivity while improving client satisfaction rates.
Want to learn more about how legal technology can give your firm an edge? Tech Masters offers a free business assessment that evaluates 9 crucial points where your technology can break down. We are experts at providing technical support in the legal field and can offer personalized recommendations for the best value improvements for your business.
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