Law firms and utilising technology

29 Jan 2016

Technology is (and has been for some time) changing the face of the legal landscape, new technological products are streamlining processes, increasing contact with clients and changing the way customers have access to law firms. All fantastic news, if you can stay on or ahead of the curve. However, lawyers are busy people, and with what feels like constantly changing technology, it seems they just do not have the time to keep up.

The recent Legal Week Technology Survey 2015 showed the extent to which lawyers, particularly fee earners are missing out on critical technology training. The survey revealed the views of support staff and fee-earners at top law firms, of which the general census gave high regard for technology training offered by their firms. The problem is the rapid pace of change, software and systems are often too complex to grasp quickly, resulting in sufficient time and energy needed for training. This combined with the progressive, ever changing nature of technology means that lawyers cannot receive the constant training they require to fully grasp the latest technology.

In the survey one respondent sarcastically requested “Language courses – the IT department appears to speak a completely different language from me”. Slightly comical, but not a million miles away from the truth. Lawyers would not be the first people to be slightly overwhelmed by the technical terms used with new technology.

DWF’s Chief Technology Officer, Richard Hodkinson spoke recently at the Legal Services 2016 conference about future technological issues the legal sector could face. He admitted that progress has initially been slow for technology within the sector, something unlikely to shock anyone. Although it is trailing behind many other sectors, inevitably it is now picking up. Hodkinson claims this is mainly being led by price and regulatory pressures, with IT being seen as a relieving salvation. Furthermore, when used as a strong commercial enabler, technology brings options to managing Partners to manage their firms out of challenging times.

Hodkinson also noted client experiences have changed exponentially in other sectors, for many people almost all shopping is now done not only online, but through a smartphone or tablet without the use of a computer, something unimaginable only 10-15 years ago. Shops have reacted to this and adapted the way they sell products. Although law is a more tangible offering and not something you could simply buy on a phone, the legal sector is beginning to enter this space. SMEs will begin to look at doing their lawyering online, they do everything else on a digital medium, so why not this. It can offer greater transparency and communication between them and their lawyers. Firms who can adapt and integrate this into their offering will be at an advantage.

A recent survey on office hours revealed partners are on average now in the office for an hour more per week than a year ago, whereas junior lawyers, senior associates and the overall average hours are down in comparison to previous years. Perhaps more recent utilisation of technology has help to reduce this, methods such as hot-desking and flexi-time enable the office to become mobile and utilises time spent sat at a desk.

Technological advancement is happening in the legal sector, it is inevitable and better late than never. Those who embrace it and stay on top of the curve or ‘learn the language’ so to speak, will feel the greatest benefit. It can be expensive and time consuming keeping up to date with the latest training, however to utilise future office hours and create market advantages, it would appear, in the long run worth it.