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The legal technology renaissance

In this article, we discuss the legal technology renaissance that is occurring. We look at the recent legal technology boom, at some examples, and at the benefits. We observe what is driving this renaissance and what obstacles it has to overcome. We look at the consequences for the legal market, and at how to make it work for you.

The Recent Legal Technology Boom

In recent years, we have experienced a veritable legal technology renaissance, or legal tech boom, as some call it. A multitude of factors contributed to this. We have more computing power than ever before, with cloud computers doing the heavy lifting. We have made significant breakthroughs in artificial intelligence. The legal market has been changing dramatically and the legal technology market has followed suit. Finally, the pandemic too has been a catalyst for change. Law firms were forced to reorganize the way they work and invest in technology to be able to do so. In the process, many law firms took this as an opportunity to also invest in technology to improve their service delivery model. As of June and July 2021, we witnessed the first legal technology IPOs.

This boom is expected to continue in the next few years. In fact, some say this renaissance is only starting, as the demand for legal expertise is exploding. Gartner, e.g., made the following predictions:

  1. By 2025, legal departments will increase their spend on legal technology threefold.
  2. By 2024, legal departments will replace 20% of generalist lawyers with non-lawyer staff.
  3. By 2024, legal departments will have automated 50% of legal work related to major corporate transactions.
  4. By 2025, corporate legal departments will capture only 30% of the potential benefit of their contract life cycle management investments.
  5. By 2025, at least 25% of spending on corporate legal applications will go to non-specialist technology providers.

Big law firms and legal departments have taken the lead in this legal technology renaissance. By now, mid-size law firms and small law firms are catching up and starting to reap the benefits as well.

Some examples

Let us have a look at some examples where legal technology has changed the ways law firms and legal departments operate. A first area has to do with streamlining the administrative operations of the law firm or legal department. Examples here include document automation, E-Billing, and E-Filing. A second area has to do with streamlining casework, where progress has been made with eDiscovery software and with case management software. In both areas, far more aspects of the overall process have been automated than ever before. A third area has to do with collaboration and exchange of ideas. We are seeing a steady rise in online collaboration tools, in the use of AI-enabled chatbots and virtual legal assistants, in online education, and in video conferencing, where the pandemic resulted in a sharp increase in the available tools. Finally, major progress has also been made in the availability and usage of different kinds of analytics. These provide us with new insights in how law firms and legal departments can be run more efficiently. They also offer new insights into patterns when conducting legal research. Predictive analytics, e.g., allow to predict the chances of success in specific cases.

Benefits

The benefits of this legal technology renaissance are threefold. A first benefit is greater efficiency and better service delivery. Automation reduces errors, speeds up and improves the quality of legal service delivery. It also allows for greater scalability. A second benefit is the greater insight we gain. These are the result of Machine Learning and analytics, but also of analyzing our workflows for automation so they can be optimized. Finally, the boom in legal technology is helping to bridge the Access to Justice gap.

What drives this legal technology renaissance?

There are three key concepts that are central to this legal technology renaissance. First, it Is about automation. The technological progress that has been made allows to automate far more of the legal service delivery process. The mantra has become to automate where possible to increase productivity and efficiency. If law firms want to remain competitive, automation is inevitable.

A second aspect of this boom has to do with Legal Digital Transformation. The Global Tech Council describes it as the digitizing all areas of legal expertise, including service delivery, workflow, procedures, team communication, and client interaction in the legal sector. The Internet has changed the way we live, where we spend part of our lives online, in a digital world. With some delay, the legal sector is becoming part of that digital world, too.

Finally, the legal technology renaissance is about a new legal services delivery model that is more efficiency-driven, more client-centred, and provides all stakeholders with more insight.

Issues / Obstacles

Not everybody is reaping the benefits yet of these technological breakthroughs. Lawyers are traditionally rather conservative when it comes to their adoption of new technologies. Richard Tromans points to two main issues that are obstacles to greater adoption.

A first issue is “the belief that any of the above applications that relate to automation and improved workflows are somehow an answer in and of themselves, rather than part of a much larger integrated approach to legal services delivery.”

The other challenge stems from the fact that these technologies change the way law firms operate. It isn’t as simple as plug and play. The technologies may not meet over-elevated expectations. And the implementation of new technologies needs to be part of a bigger strategy around service delivery. In essence, these changes need an engagement from not only the IT team, but from the lawyers as well, who will need a hybrid mix of skills. Tromans warns that this can lead to disillusionment and people backing away.

Consequences on the legal market

This legal technology boom is changing the legal market. We already pointed out that it changes the way law firms and legal departments operate. As mentioned above, this technology boom is introducing new legal services delivery models that focus on being more client-centred, on increased efficiency, and increased insight.

As second consequence is the introduction of new players on the legal market. There are plenty of alternative legal service providers. Some of these offer services to legal consumers. These include, e.g., legal chatbots like DoNotPay or DivorceBot. Most of them, however, offer specialized services for law firms and legal departments. These include services like eDiscovery, document automation and review, legal research assistance, analytics, etc.

A third change has to do with the hybrid skill set that is needed in this changed service delivery model. More and more bar associations are opening up to changes in the corporate structure of firms offering legal services. Law firms are allowed to have shareholders, co-owners, and directors that are not lawyers. At the same time, corporate entities are being allowed to offer certain legal services. Some bars are even considering giving accreditation to some alternative legal service providers.

How to make the legal technology renaissance work for you

Making the legal technology renaissance work for you is not a guaranteed immediate success story. Here are some considerations that may be useful.

There are four key elements to planning your digital transformation process. The first two are the selection of 1) the best legal platform, 2) and the best IT infrastructure for that platform. This includes deciding whether to host on-site or in the cloud or opting for a hybrid solution. 3) Understand that optimizing workflows involves legal engineering. And 4) If you are going to use AI-powered solutions, you will need Machine Learning support.

When choosing your best legal platform, consider that the 2021 ABA Legal Tech Survey support observed that as a rule, most solutions work out-of-the-box, and that no customization is required. Experience has also shown that directly using the solution out-of-the-box allows to reap more benefits and faster.

Experience also demonstrated that an incremental implementation strategy tends to be more successful than a once-off big-bang transformation. Such a staged approach leads to success faster and more consistently.

Digital transformation projects tend to be more successful if the firm has some product champions, i.e., users who commit to familiarizing themselves with the solutions first. They can then assist others, show them how to reap the benefits of the new technologies, and convince others to start using them, too.

While implementing a digital transformation process, focus on business outcomes rather than on features. And set realistic ROI benchmarks.

Conclusion

The legal technology boom is disrupting the legal market for the better. As implementing these new technologies changes the way we work, some growing pains are to be expected. A balanced and staged implementation approach offers the biggest chances of success. To remain competitive in a changing market, law firms and legal departments have no choice but to adapt. Some fear that all these changes will make law firms obsolete. The experts don’t agree. Tromans points out that, while technology is very important in moving today’s legal sectors forward, there will undoubtedly always be a need for a human presence and personal connection with clients.

 

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Trends in Legal Technology in 2021

Every November, the American Bar Association (ABA) publishes its annual Legal Technology Survey Report. In it, it gives an overview of the trends in legal technology in 2021. And while the data for the 2020 report were mostly collected before the pandemic, the 2021 report does reflect the impact of the pandemic. Those effects were reflected, e.g., in the primary hardware people use, where their primary workplace is, in the flexibility of work hours, and in telecommuting.

Each year, the Law Technology Today website publishes a series of articles, providing a summary of the key findings of the report. Here are the most important highlights.

Demographics

The average age of respondents remains high, at 57 years old (compared to 58 last year). More than 60% of respondents have been practicing for 30 years or more. The youngest age group (25-39) made up only 13.6% of respondents.

The respondents came from firms with the following sizes: 24% came from solo firms, 20% from firms with 2-9 attorneys, 20% from firms with 10-49 attorneys, 6% from firms with 50-99 attorneys, 15% from firms with 100-499 attorneys, and 15% from firms with more than 500 attorneys. The size of a firm is significant in the survey, as larger firms typically have greater budgets for investing in legal technology and the necessary corresponding technology training.

Websites and Marketing

The survey pays a lot of attention to communications with clients and the role websites, and more specifically client portals play in these communications. (We have previously published an article on client portals for law firms). The report recommends using secure client portals because communications are more secure than through email or traditional mail. But even though client portals have been around for years, only 29% of respondents say their firm website includes a secure client portal. They are most common in firms with 100+ lawyers (51%), followed by firms of 10-49 lawyers (22%), 2-9 lawyers (19%), while only 9% of solos offer a client portal. Most lawyers use traditional email to communicate with their clients, with only a minority using more secure email modalities like registered or secured email (23%), encryption (43%), or password-protecting documents (32%).

Lawyers mainly use their websites for marketing purposes. By now, 94% of lawyers have a website. 69% of respondents said their website was mobile-friendly, 5% said it was not, and 26% did not know. Virtually all websites for law firms contain profiles of the lawyers. By now, 59% of law firm websites also provide legal articles and 51% provide information on recent cases of interest. 37% of law firms said they have a blog, 57% said they did not, and 6% did not know. The larger the law firm, the more likely it had a blog. Law firms are still underutilizing their websites and use them mainly for one-way communication. Lawyers need to find better ways to engage with their target audiences, rather than just push information out to them. And simple things like client-intake or scheduling of appointments also remain the exception, rather than the rule.

Social media have become an important marketing tool for law firms. 87% of respondents said they were active on LinkedIn, 61% on Facebook, 37% on Twitter, and 13% on Instagram. Client email alerts remain important, too, with 72% of law firms using them. Video is a medium that is barely utilized, with only 28% of respondents saying their law firms use video for marketing purposes. (If you would like to find out more about using video in your law firm, we published an article on the subject).

As was the case in previous years, the report concludes that law firms largely lack a strategic approach to marketing. They also are not paying attention to analytics, so they do not really know which strategies are working, and which are not.

Practice Management

Overall, the report found few noteworthy changes when it comes to practice management. The main exception pertains to hardware trends and changes. This is an area where effects of the pandemic were most clearly felt. With more attorneys working from home, for the first time, the majority of respondents (53%) indicated that they were using a laptop as their primary device, while 44% still use a desktop as their primary device.

The number of attorneys using e-books for legal research has remained unchanged at 52%. Website libraries remain the most convenient tool for legal research.

Document-related software can be split up in five categories: document assembly, metadata removal, document and records management, redlining, and PDF creation. All five categories stayed relatively constant in the last year.

Communication software can also be broken down in five categories: voice recognition, CRM (customer relations manager), instant messaging, electronic fax, contacts, and remote access. Here, too, there are no noteworthy changes compared to last year.

General office use and management software can be broken down into nine broader categories: project management, databases, presentation, accounting, electronic billing, time and billing, spreadsheets, calendaring, and word processing. Overall, “general office use” is the most popular reason to have software. Of these nine categories, usage of project management comes in last position, but did grow from 27 to 31% of law firms using it. Counterintuitively, the use of accounting software dropped from 78% to 72%.

Maybe surprisingly, the use of web-based software and cloud computing only rose from 59 to 60%. The firms not using cloud software mention concerns about confidentiality, privacy and security as their main reasons. Many of those concerns, however, are unfounded. (See below in the section on cloud computing).

Legal-specific software can be broken down into four broad categories: specialized practice, docket/calendaring, case/practice management, and conflict checking. Like other software areas, the access rates to these categories have stayed relatively constant.

Budgeting and Planning

2021 saw law firms increasing their technology budgets. The increases were most notable for solo practitioners and small firms. The report found, however, that solos and small firms still fall short when it comes to budgeting for security to protect confidential client information. The report urges all law firms to increase their budgets for security.

Technology Training

In the introduction, we mentioned that the larger the firm is, the larger the budget is for technology training. By now, 39 out of 50 states within the US have imposed a ‘duty of technological competence’ on their lawyers. More are in the process of doing so. This corresponded to 68% of respondents replying that they had a duty to stay abreast of the risks and benefits of technology.

Another important consideration regarding competency is whether attorneys have input into the types of technologies they use. 74% of respondents said that they were involved in the selection process for the technologies employed at their firm, which is down from 81% in 2020. The report recommends each law firm should set up a committee of potential users that identifies their needs, evaluates existing solutions, and make recommendations. 88% of respondents state they asked peers for advice for the chosen solutions.

While 74% of respondents mentioned they had the duty to be technology competent, only 59% considered themselves very comfortable in using the technology they had at their disposal, and only a dismal 29% thought they had received adequate training. 67% of respondents said they had some sort of technology training available at their firm, but this availability varies widely based on the size of the firm, with only 35% for solo practitioners, 56% for firms with 2-9 attorneys, 71% for forms with 10-49, and 99% for firms with more than 100 attorneys.

48% of respondents replied they have internal support staff, and again those numbers grow depending on the size of the firm, with 94% of +100 firms, and only 9% of solos.

By now, 62% of law firms have a technology budget, and about half of them have increased it in 2021. For solo lawyers, hardware was the biggest expense, while the largest firms invested more than ever in security. Noteworthy is that virtually no budgets were needed for software customizations.

2021 also saw an increase in law firms creating technology policies and procedures, with 83% of respondents replying that their law firms have them in place. (The pandemic and lawyers working from home plays a role in this).

Solo and Small Firms

2021 saw changes for the hardware solo and small law firms are using, with laptops becoming the primary work computers. Windows remains the most popular OS (77%), but the usage of MacOS devices has grown from 16 to 21%. The iPhone remains the most popular smart phone, with 81% of lawyers in small firms, and 61% of solos using one.

Probably the biggest change caused by the pandemic is the primary workplace. Where in 2020, 22% of solos listed their home as their primary workspace, in 2021 that number had nearly doubled to 43%. This major change in primary workplace also happened in the big law firms with more than 100 lawyers, where the number spectacularly jumped from 3% to 46%. In smaller and medium sized firms, the changes were not that dramatic.

Along with the shift in primary workplace came a shift in implementing a flexible work schedule. In 2021, 79% of solo practitioners had flexible hours, 75% of lawyers in law firms with 2 to -49 lawyers, and 93% of lawyers in firms with more than 100 lawyers.

In line with these shifts, telecommuting, too, increased due to the pandemic, with 64% of lawyers saying they had telecommuted in 2021, compared to 55% in 2020. Notable is that of those who did telecommute, 39% of them did so full time.

Cybersecurity

Law firms are primary targets for cybercrime. They have a lot of valuable, sensitive information, which makes them “one-shop-stops” for cybercriminals. And law firms’ security set-up often is not very advanced. This combination of more data and easy access is what makes them prime targets.

While about three quarter of law firms use solutions like antivirus and antispyware, only half use firewalls, multi-step authentication, or encryption.

The report urges lawyers to spend more resources on security and on teaching staff to use the security tools that are available to them.

The report also recommends law firms should a) create ‘Acceptable Use Policies’ that outline the use of the firms hard and software; b) adapt cloud-based technologies, as they are considerably more secure than on premise or hosted software; and c) develop an incident response plan.

 

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The 2021 Social Law Firm Index

Some weeks ago, Good2bSocial published its eighth annual report on how law firms use social media, the 2021 Social Law Firm Index. In this article, we look at its key findings, at social media practices to avoid, and at predictions for 2022.

Key Findings

Some of the findings were expected. As the pandemic endures, everybody is still having Zoom meetings, but as vaccines are rolled out, more and more people are returning to the office. And now that lawyers spend more time online professionally, their budgets for digital marketing are also still increasing with more spent on advertising. The report also notes that by now, all the major law firms are on LinkedIn. Apart from that, there are four key findings.

The number of law firms that are creating podcasts has grown exponentially. In 2020, 38% of the biggest law firms in the US had a podcast. In 2021, that number has grown to 75%, and many of them had more than one podcast. Overall, podcasts are popular, with 40% of the US population listening to at least one podcast a month. For law firms, they are an ideal way to establish themselves as experts in a given field and to attract a new and interested audience. For those law firms who consider starting a podcast, the report points out that it is important to maintain a consistent schedule. (For more information on starting a legal podcast, read our article on podcasting for lawyers).

The use of video has increased across social media. Video content is the most popular content on social media and has become one of the most mediums for law firms too. Videos tend to appeal more because they are more engaging and more memorable. (People are more likely to remember something they’ve seen than something they’ve read). Video also tends to score better when it comes to SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization). Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok are the most popular platforms for videos. The report encourages law firms to produce more videos. It urges law firms to make sure their content is relevant and to include captivating headlines and descriptions. (For more information, read our article on using video in your law firm).

There is an increased focus on diversity, equity and inclusion and corporate activism. Over the last years, there has been an increase in intolerance towards minorities. Law firms have joined the movement to turn the tide. They “issued press releases emphasizing their commitment to improving their diversity efforts, upped their donations to BIPOC causes, increased pro bono efforts, and showed their support for LBGTQ audiences with rainbow flags.” (p. 7). Some went further and created fellowships and/or they created partnerships with racial justice organizations.

Covid-19 resource centres. During the pandemic and its different waves, what people, businesses and organizations were allowed and not allowed to do often changed. Many law firms offered resource centres on their websites to keep their clients and potential clients up to speed with a variety of in-depth information and insights regarding the fast-changing developments.

Social Media Practices to Avoid

Every year, the report also highlights the worst practices that are still prevalent and should be avoided. This year, it lists five of these practices that law firms should avoid in their usage of social media and their website.

Poorly defined target audience: this is one of the most persistent errors law firms keep on making, i.e., they do not target a sufficiently defined audience. Many law firms still seem to cling on to the misconception that they have to target as wide an audience as possible. The opposite is true. If your message isn’t specific enough, it will just get lost in the information overload Internet users are bombarded with. The more specific your target audience, the higher the chance you will stand out for those potential clients that actually need your services. In other words, the more accurately you define your target audience, the higher your conversion rate will be.

Failing to engage in conversations: legal consumers want their lawyers to listen to them. Engaging in conversations demonstrates that you are listening and offers a chance to show your expertise. Respond quickly and consistently to the comments your law firms receive. The report advises to occasionally do a Q&A on certain topics or do an ‘ask me anything’ session.

Poor reporting and analytics capabilities: to know what social media and content marketing strategies work, you need to analyse the metrics. It helps you to evaluate your ROI, and to finetune your strategies and your budget. Unfortunately, most law firms don’t do a great job at regularly tracking the relevant data. (For more information on web analytics and metrics, you can read our article that provides an introduction to web analytics).

Treating all social media platforms the same: different social media attract different user groups with different expectations. LinkedIn has a more professional audience than Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or TikTok. What works on one platform does not necessarily work on another. It is crucial to understand each platform and to use the correct type of content, as well as the optimal rate of publishing content for that platform. (For more information, read our article on planning your social media activity).

Too much focus on firm-centric and promotional content: Another big mistake law firms tend to make is to mainly focus on self-promotion. Legal consumers may well be interested in what you can do, but they rather would know whether working with your firm will be a satisfying experience, and whether your firm will meet their expectations. (For more information, read our article on making your law firm more client-centred).

Predictions for 2022

Sticking to tradition, the report also makes some predictions for the year ahead.

Continued increase in paid online advertising: the pandemic more or less forced law firms to spend more on online advertising as the more traditional ways of business development – which for lawyers largely depended on socializing – were not available. Still, compared to regular businesses, law firms tend to spend a far lower percentage of their budget on marketing and advertising. This is especially the case for small and medium-sized law firms who hardly spend any money on marketing and advertising. The report expects that law firms slowly will start catching up with the rest of the market and will continue to spend more on online advertising.

Focus on account-based marketing and related technologies: as we explained in a previous article, the idea of account-based marketing is to identify key accounts and then customize your marketing strategies for each one of them individually, rather than having one general marketing strategy for all accounts. It is more effective, and makes it easier to track and measure goals, and identify a clear ROI. As it focuses on the client’s journey and experience, it also results in a boost in client loyalty.

Evaluation of firms’ marketing technology stack: the report defines the marketing technology (often shortened to MarTecK) stack as “the collection of marketing tools that your team uses to place ads, post on social media, and gather results and analyze ROI.” (p.11) Digital marketing campaigns use several different tools, and now additional tools are appearing that either combine the functionality of those tools or allow them to work better together. It is advisable for law firms to evaluate the tools they are using and see where improvements in the stack are possible.

Exploration of programmatic advertising and intent-based targeting: the report predicts law firms will start experimenting with intent-based targeting. What are we talking about? In a previous article on the digital marketing concepts lawyers need to know, we explained what a conversion funnel is. Intent-based marketing is a type of marketing that specifically targets those prospects who are in the last stage of the funnel, i.e., those who have shown an intention to make a purchase.

The report also expects an increase in programmatic advertising, which it describes as “a way to automatically buy and optimize digital campaigns, rather than buying directly from publishers” (p. 12). This used to be something only the largest law firms could to. But more and more tools are becoming available that allow smaller law firms to use programmatic advertising, too.

 

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