How Can Law Firms Effectively Digitise?
One truth that has remained reliable in historically uncertain times is the legal sector’s growing need for technological innovation. The profession’s reliance on modern IT infrastructure became evident during the COVID-19 pandemic, but many unseen opportunities remain for firms to take their performance to the next level through technology. Chris White and Robert Rutherford of Quostar elaborate on some of those opportunities below.
It is often said that law firms are behind the curve in their use of technology, and slow to embrace the benefits that it can bring. This may have been true in the past – and there are undoubtedly firms still in this camp – but things are changing rapidly.
Large firms have been investing heavily in technology for many years, and this is a phenomenon that is now filtering down to smaller law businesses increasingly embraces technology and digital transformation. But what is driving this change and what does it really mean for the legal sector?
Move with the times
Perhaps the most powerful reason to embrace digital transformation, whether your clients are global corporates or individuals dealing with high street firms, is client expectations. Increasingly, people expect to interact using technology when shopping, banking, or dealing with professional advisory businesses. People now expect to be able to order groceries and manage their banking tasks at all times through apps and online, so why should they not expect to be able to conduct business with their lawyer in this way too?
Bringing a firm up to speed with the latest technology can be a slightly laborious task in the short term, but it can increase the attractiveness of a particular business for clients. It can also help with streamlining processes, which can pay dividends to a firm in the long run.
By contrast, not having the kind of accessibility that technology brings can eventually become a barrier to business as people increasingly seek flexibility and move away from the constraints of traditional opening hours for ‘routine’ legal work such as residential conveyancing, probate and wills. There are, of course, some clients who still want to visit firms and appreciate talking to their lawyer face to face, but there is also a place for this new kind of interaction.
Perhaps the most powerful reason to embrace digital transformation, whether your clients are global corporates or individuals dealing with high street firms, is client expectations.
At the far end of the scale, the largest firms are using more and more technology to both speed up and reduce the cost of legal processes. Machine learning technologies are now widely used for due diligence work, replacing teams of lawyers in data rooms, whilst document automation tools are creating more straightforward documents and contracts. As such, firms who cannot work in this way risk finding their clients choosing a firm that can. At best, their clients may choose to stay with them, but the business will see profits take a hit as they work in old manual ways rather than benefitting from the cost, speed and accuracy that the correct technology can deliver.
Pandemic accelerating adoption
A technological revolution has taken place during the COVID-19 pandemic. In three months, businesses achieved what would have normally taken three years as everyone was suddenly required to work from home, leaving firms to wonder if their IT would cope.
In the first few weeks, many firms went into ‘survival mode’ and adapted extremely quickly to this new way of working. Legal services got used to logging in remotely and working off the screen without access to powerful multi-function displays to print their output. E-signatures, using technology such as DocuSign, became the norm, as did hours that were spent daily in Microsoft Teams or Zoom meetings with clients and colleagues. Since then, the profitability of many firms has in turn hit record levels as new ways of working were adopted simultaneously to costs in other areas such as travel, print or hosting clients being slashed.
There is little doubt now that the firms that had invested in newer technology – and which were more advanced on their digital transformation journey – had an easier ride during the height of the pandemic.
The pandemic has really put the focus on the value that IT contributes to businesses and the way in which they work. There are many firms (large and small) that are currently reviewing their IT strategies and speeding up their digital transformation journeys as a result. Additionally, the rise of online courts and electronic court bundles is something that has been accelerated because of the pandemic and that will only increase in the future.
Quite simply, without technology most firms would not have survived the switch to remote working caused by COVID-19.
A technological revolution has taken place during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Efficiency and profitability
Even with the worst of the pandemic now seemingly over, the drive towards digitalisation continues. Part of the reason behind this drive is that clients always want more for less. The market at all levels is hugely competitive and at the top end, global law firms are increasingly automating basic legal processes or moving to less expensive parts of the world. For smaller law firms, there is also an increasing visibility of cost for legal services via the internet.
If firms are to continue to compete and maintain profit levels, more efficient ways of operating need to be found, whilst maintaining quality of service. Firms are increasingly using case/matter management tools which automate or deskill certain work by automatically sending out emails or requests for information at appropriate times, allowing the heavy lifting of the work to be done by more junior staff.
Other tools, such as time capture, can help overcome issues over lost or forgotten time, and speech recognition tools that can speed up the creation of documents can improve the efficiency of a firm. That enables these businesses to provide a better service to clients and ultimately improve profitability.
So, what do law firms need to consider when adopting technology into their businesses?
Matching technology to strategy
Technology advancement is facilitating a lot of change in firms and has helped them meet many of the challenges they faced during the pandemic, but it has also created new challenges. Issues such as security have climbed higher on the agenda for every firm over the last couple of years, while data sovereignty also remains a problem, particularly if data is held on the cloud.
If firms are to continue to compete and maintain profit levels, more efficient ways of operating need to be found, whilst maintaining quality of service.
One of the major challenges facing many firms at present is finding a way to navigate through this potential minefield of technology. There is so much technology now available that it is often difficult for businesses to know what to do first and to ensure that it will deliver value to the firm. As a result, it is essential for legal firms to have a clear understanding of the strategy of the firm on questions around where goals and priorities lie. Only then can technology be matched to support the business strategy.
Digital transformation must also be prioritised, with projects properly planned and managed to ensure delivery of expected value and benefits. Technology is the enabler, not the driver, and a robust governance structure to implement solutions effectively is now essential for every firm on this journey.
Stay proactive on security
Law firms are widely known as a prime target for cyber-attacks, exploitation and ransom. While the rapid digital transformation has brought benefits, it is also essential that legal firms take a proactive and structured approach to managing security, especially as the current threat landscape continues to evolve.
The only way that this can be done correctly is by implementing an Information Security Management System (ISMS), ensuring that business risks related to cyber and data security are clearly understood, documented and suitable controls are in place. A firm’s board must take ultimate ownership and accountability for IT security, and an ISMS, such as IASME or ISO 27001 is essential to these businesses at this time.
Law firms are widely known as a prime target for cyber-attacks, exploitation and ransom.
Leverage the possibilities of data
Technology is an asset when it comes to data, an area that many legal firms have not really considered yet. Legal firms sit on vast amounts of data, often not knowing what it is, where it is, and how to access it. The value of this data could be immense – and is increasingly being used by firms to spot trends in the market, share knowledge, and even help to predict the outcome of litigation. The data journey has only just begun, but once legal firms are off the ground technologically, data will certainly be the next big area of consideration for the sector, following on from areas such as retail and banking.
What the future holds
There is little doubt that the journey to digitalisation of the legal process will not only continue but increase in pace. Those who ignore this trend will fast be overtaken by those that embrace it.
Technology is advancing rapidly, and sophisticated search, machine learning, process automation and AI technologies are already allowing greater automation of the basic legal processes. Chatbots, too, are increasingly being used to answer simple, routine questions from clients, while blockchain will revolutionise the way in which many legal transactions happen as databases, financial systems and legal processes become integrated and talk to each other.
Done correctly, the right use and implementation of technology will allow law firms to provide the level of service their clients demand, at a price they are prepared to pay, profitably.
Chris White, Head of Consultancy
Robert Rutherford, CEO
Waverley House, 115-119 Holdenhurst Road, Bournemouth, BH8 8DY
Tel: +44 01202 055400
Chris White began his IT career in financial services and has held senior roles in NPI, Shroders and other firms. He then moved to become CIO at Ashurst and later held further CIO roles at Kennedys and Mimecast, before becoming Global CIO at Clyde & Co. He now sits on QuoStar’s board as a consultant to lead the CIO Service, providing ambitious businesses with CIO-level skills on a flexible, tailored basis.
Robert Rutherford is an IT industry leader with over 24 years of experience working with IT and business systems. He leads QuoStar by providing strategy and vision for the business whilst also remaining active with clients, providing insight and solutions for their various business challenges and opportunities.
QuoStar is a full-service IT provider that delivers fully managed IT support, consultancy, co-sourcing and cloud services alongside a range of other offerings for businesses with 30 to 500 staff. QuoStar has a track record of helping mid-sized law firms to grow and gain a competitive advantage by delivering specialist IT support, consultancy and security services in the sector.