Lawyers and modern technology are a fascinating—and complicated—combination. On one side is a unique business model that is owned and led by partners and provides professional services. On the other side is an ever-changing industry that sells products and services aimed at disrupting the way things are done. And stuck in the middle? Lawyers.
The crux of the problem is that many law firms just are not making the investments in modern technology fast enough to remain competitive and deliver success for their clients. The fact that you are reading this article likely means you are in this situation yourself or acutely aware of it.
Further complicating things is the fact that running a law firm is uniquely challenging. There is the firm partnership structure, which is much different than the typical corporate model where a small group at the top consisting of board members, a C-team, and senior executives run things. The complex, nonlinear relationships that law firms have differ greatly from the top-down, linear structure that most corporations employ. There is also a fee-based revenue model for firms, as opposed to straight product and service (e.g., SaaS) revenue, and let’s not even get into all the regulations and conflicts that must be addressed!
Hundreds of lawyers in the United States and the United Kingdom—many of them partners with ownership stakes in their respective firms—weighed in on their attitudes toward technology in a survey recently conducted by Intapp in partnership with YouGov. The survey polled 258 lawyers at firms with 50+ employees: 133 in the United States and 125 in the United Kingdom.
The survey shows that lawyers recognize the importance of using software that is purpose-built for their needs and those of their clients as opposed to generic solutions. Yet, despite the growing awareness of the need for modern technology solutions that help deliver a level of service that delights clients (in the hopes of doing more work to help them solve complicated issues), the survey reveals that law firm use of technology designed specifically for legal applications is lagging.
Here are some of the key findings from U.S. lawyers:
Lawyers are not happy with the tech they have.
- Forty percent said little to none of the software they use regularly has been designed with a law firm in mind.
There is great hope for artificial intelligence (AI).
- Thirty percent said that AI could help draft legal documents.
- Another 30 percent said AI could help track billable time.
- Others said AI’s value lies in conflicts clearance (25 percent), compliance with client billing requirements (20 percent), and estimating fees of an engagement (19 percent).
The tech must change.
- Forty-one percent indicate that user interface is a problem, followed by a need for software more tailored to the business of law (29 percent) and more intuitive operation of the software (29 percent).
What U.S. lawyers say their clients want.
- Thirty-five percent reported that clients are demanding faster service, whereas 24 percent say their clients want more transparency about the status of matters.
- Regarding fees, 25 percent identified lower fees as a client demand.
- Unsurprisingly, the opinions on lower fees vary between large and other-sized firms, with large law firms valuing lower fees at 33 percent versus 15 percent for other-sized firms.
The survey results map closely to what I hear from clients, colleagues, and industry thought leaders every day. They also align with the larger business trend of organizations recognizing the need to shift to industry-vertical technology solutions and away from the one-size-fits-all model. Given their unique structures, law firms require more collaboration among those who run and own the firms and the professionals who staff the functional areas like IT, HR, business development, marketing, and practice management. Thus, the technology they use must reflect this business model.
The legal game has changed. One of the biggest catalysts is the ongoing upheaval in the way legal services are delivered. The competition from other law firms, the Big Four consulting firms, online legal service providers, and in-house attorneys is too fierce to not take advantage of modern, purpose-built technology.
Based on the survey results and my own deep experience in the legal tech space, I can say with confidence that the “modern” law firm is one that integrates people, processes, and data. Doing so fosters collaboration, fuels growth, and delivers client success.
The good news is that the technology is available for firms to modernize their tech stacks. There are purpose-built solutions that span the entire client lifecycle, from business development to client service and internal processes. Do your homework and go into the search and procurement process with an open mind. Your ideal modern tech stack is out there waiting for you, but you must move quickly or your firm will be left behind.