The legal field has been known to be resistant to adopting new technology. Some of this has to do with issues of security and privacy. Some of the resistance is due to the way law school is set up: lawyers are trained to be experts in law, not in technology. Many legal firms feel that they are just too busy to devote the time needed to learn about and then implement new technology. And finally, while many lawyers may scoff at even the thought of this, there is the underlying fear that legal technology could replace the role that lawyers have in society. Let’s look in more detail at why the legal field has valid concerns with the use of technology, and also the ways that technology can be an asset and can create a more client-centered approach to the practice of law.
Four top reasons that law firms resist legal technology
1. Security and privacy concerns
Client privacy is of utmost concern in the legal field. Lawyers pride themselves on protecting their clients and information, particularly in high-profile cases. Why would they want to upset the status quo and take a risk on sensitive client information getting leaked due to a data breach?
This is a valid concern, and why we’ve put this as the number one reason that law firms tend to resist legal technology. The effects of a data breach don’t just put the client at risk, they can put the reputation of the legal firm on the line.
The legal field is a highly regulated industry. There is a healthy fear of being sued for malpractice or losing your license. With such high-stakes, for both lawyers and their clients, the legal field is rightly skeptical of new or unproven technology. A firm isn’t going to jump to implement a product if they can’t guarantee that it is going to be reliable.
While this is an understandable concern from a legal perspective, it may not be one that is necessarily obvious to clients. We live in an age where people are used to banking online and have full trust in the financial industry to offer safe and tested online products. Clients are starting to get frustrated that the legal industry hasn’t stepped up to offer vetted products for their benefit as well.
2. Legal fundamentalism
There is widespread concern in the legal field that the profession of law will be compromised if the technology industry is allowed to interfere. Again, these are valid concerns. Do we really want to live in a world where AI is making legal decisions? What happens when non-lawyers are creating technology that affects the legal field? And let’s not forget that there are already instances of tech-driven companies like Rocket Lawyer dealing with accusations of unauthorized practice of law.
A recent Forbes article makes the argument that the field of law is becoming a global marketplace where the market, rather than lawyers, are taking control. This is understandably frightening for lawyers, particularly those that began their careers before the advent of companies like Rocket Lawyer and Legal Zoom. But the article goes on to say that the solution is for lawyers to lean in and embrace technology so that they can play a role in how the use of technology will be shaped by the legal field. The article makes a great point by using medicine as an example. Technology in medicine hasn’t replaced doctors, because doctors have leaned into the benefits of technology for their patients. Telemedical appointments skyrocketed during Covid-19, meaning that patients were able to have “face time” with their doctors without putting themselves or others at risk.
Following a client-first model means thinking critically and creatively about how technology can make legal services accessible to a wider array of clients, while improving efficiency so that lawyers are available to handle the influx of clients.
3. Lack of training
The nature of the legal field means that there is a high value placed on precedence. The legal system as a whole rests on guidance from previous case laws and interpretations of intent. Not only does this affect the way that the legal field operates, it affects how lawyers are trained.
For my fellow Trekkies out there, Dr. McCoy’s oft-repeated phrase, “I’m a doctor not a . . .” fill-in-the-blank comes to mind. To his point, lawyers are lawyers, not tech experts. Law schools really haven’t caught up in terms of teaching how law and technology can intersect in ways that are positive for the field. So while we certainly have a generation of millennial and Gen Z’ers entering the workforce and knowing how to interact with a variety of new technology and social media platforms, they haven’t necessarily been trained or empowered to implement the advantages of technology in their roles as lawyers. There isn’t a precedent for it yet.
4. Lack of time
In our last blog we talked about the administrative burden that is hampering lawyers from devoting their full work time and attention to clients. Even for law firms that see the benefit in embracing technology to relieve that burden, they simply don’t have the time to make those changes.
A 2019 ThomsonReuters article addresses what they call a “speed trap.” Some firms hesitate to get on board with new technology because in an industry that charges by the minute, new technology may create lag time. This lag time is non-billable work, also known as sunk time. This fear is based on the perception of lost money as changes are implemented.
Another issue related to time is that even with resistance from the legal field, the technology options that can be implemented within it continue to grow. There are more technology firms than ever specializing in legal software and efficiency solutions. Legal firms that are ready to take the next step are realizing that narrowing down their options is a massive task in and of itself. A 2019 article in the Financial Times noted that Stanford compiled a list of more than 1200 legal technology start-ups. To date, that Stanford list now includes more than 1700 companies in the field of legal technology. With options abounding, it is no wonder that the 2019 Future Ready Lawyer Survey found that only 29% of respondents felt prepared to address the trend of technology in the legal field. Choosing to implement even a small amount of legal technology requires a significant investment in time to research the most feasible options.
What are the benefits of adopting legal technology?
So with all these valid fears and factors in place, is it any wonder that legal firms are hesitant to jump on board with legal technology? What case can be made for innovating, and does it really matter to clients? The short answer is yes, and here’s why:
1. Technology helps win cases
Earlier this year a video went viral when a district attorney realized that a victim’s abuser was in the room with her, preventing the victim from speaking honestly about the abuse for fear of retribution. Fortunately the police were nearby to apprehend the abuser and protect the victim. But without the pandemic forcing the acceptance of teleconferencing in the legal field, the truth of the coercive behavior of the abuser in this case might never have come to light.
While this was an extreme situation, one that caught even the judge off guard, it does demonstrate the way that technology has been used to both protect and support clients. And this is just one example of how an easy-to-use, low risk technology like video conferencing improved the outcome of the case for the client and the attorney representing her.
Other examples of technology that improve the outcome of a case include tools that aid in and speed up legal research. Systems like Westlaw and Lexis Nexis have powerful advanced search functions that can greatly reduce the time needed to comprehend a new legal issue in addition to understanding precedence for similar cases. This efficiency leaves more time for lawyers to focus on the clients or support a higher volume of clients without a reduction in the quality of legal service.
Now a search engine is a wildly different tool from a video conferencing system, but both are good examples of how technology can be effectively used in law. Other examples of tools that are low-risk and highly efficient are word processors that aid in drafting documents and e-filing solutions. Again, these are both tools that allow lawyers to work more efficiently and free up time to focus on legal strategy and client needs.
2. Technology attracts and retains more clients
All of the tools listed in the previous section are things that can demonstrate technological competence and a client-first approach. We live in the digital age of one-click Amazon ordering, getting meals and groceries delivered via apps, and banking online. Almost any service you can think of can be accessed through a cell phone. Good businesses need to think like their clients and consider the steps they can take to support their clients’ needs. The legal field is no different and a firm that demonstrates technological competence is one that is more likely to attract and retain clients because they’ve made efforts to anticipate their clients’ needs.
When a client seeks out a lawyer, they are doing so because there is a crisis in some area of their lives. They want a trusted expert to advise, support, and fight for them. And in the emotion of whatever crisis they are dealing with, they can be quick to make snap judgements about who will represent them.
We’ll never live in a world where lawyers aren’t needed. The legal competence that they offer is something that really can’t be duplicated by technology. Even AI doesn’t have the level of competence needed to even begin to think about lawyers being obsolete. But for an increasing number of clients, it is important for lawyers to also demonstrate technological competence, and innovating with appropriate technology does accomplish that.
Technology and innovation can be used to streamline workflows, allowing attorneys more time to devote to their clients. Technology can offer more convenient access to information and case files between lawyers and their clients. It can also create more convenient and efficient workflows among legal teams. All of these things benefit the client, not just the legal team, and they demonstrate that the firm is using technology effectively.
The alternative is that law firms who don’t innovate are going to lose business to those that do. Innovation is the new normal, so even if a law firm has a history of providing excellent representation, if they don’t keep up with technologies that improve outcomes for their clients, then they risk negative perceptions of the way they practice law. If a firm’s potential clients think their attorneys aren’t keeping up with the times, or aren’t willing to utilize technology that can make their clients’ lives easier, then they may be less willing to trust that firm when a serious need arises.
Tech Masters are experts in the field of legal technology. We provide a free technology assessment that includes an executive level summary and recommendations for the best value improvements for your legal firm. We can help you find the right technology to demonstrate to your clients that they are in safe hands.
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