Law Firm Technology Challenges and Opportunities in 2020 & Beyond
June 22, 2020
How firms are positioned to operate differently going forward and the corresponding tech challenges and opportunities that lie ahead
Now that law firms have been practicing virtually for months, there is no doubt they have become acutely aware of their remote working technology capabilities and deficiencies. Many industries have placed digital transformation as a high priority for years; however, much of the legal industry was not as prepared. Law firms have struggled to keep up with the proliferation of technology and data due to security concerns, lack of technical resources, and limited budget dollars being allocated to technology enhancements or software.
We touch on this later in the post, but the concept of keeping client data on-premise vs. in the cloud has provided a false sense of information security. Firms that have taken the short-term savings approach by not budgeting dollars for technology are slowly finding holding out on that investment could become more costly in the long run. The fears they have around data security have presented the issue that running outdated or legacy solutions only increases the firm’s exposure to a data breach.
As companies of all sizes, across every industry, have pivoted how they operate, the trusted advisors to these businesses have been experiencing their own sets of technology challenges and hurdles to overcome. However, many, if not all, of these challenges can be overcome and seen as opportunities to evolve.
It is without a doubt, a post-coronavirus world will continue to accelerate the pace of digital transformation in the legal industry — and no law firm should wait to see how current events pan out before starting to determine what their digital transformation process looks like.
Of utmost importance within the professional services industry is the security and control of client data. Due to this need and requirement to have complete control of client details, the legal industry as a whole has been one of the late adopters to fully migrate to the cloud. However, we will start to see an uptick in cloud migrations going forward.
Due to late cloud adoption by the legal industry at-large, some of the legal-specific solutions are lagging when it comes to being a true cloud offering. For example, legal-specific time & billing systems, CRMs, and document management systems can be very difficult and expensive to convert to provide secure and seamless remote access. What firms may find in this case is the best solution is to replace a legacy time & billing software with something new as opposed to hoping the vendor will modernize the product.
Security is always a concern when transforming a firm to have more remote capabilities. The key here is ensuring the implemented security controls truly protect a mobile workforce and, if done correctly, should offer more security for less money and less “friction” with attorneys and staff. For example, many firms are set up to be highly secure within the office, but those protections don’t extend to a home office or co-working space. Having the same level of security assurance in a remote work and cloud technology environment requires a different approach to implementing the same level of security controls.
Solutions & Integrations
There has been a rapid rise in the use of web meetings and video conferencing over the last two months, such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Google Hangouts. Many firms have invested large sums of money into legacy/proprietary video conferencing solutions that don’t interoperate well with these other services. Firms must adapt their VTC technology to work with these services as client expectations will be that attorneys will be able to seamlessly connect with clients using the conferencing technology of their choice.
This rushed approach to meeting the current demands points to the greater need for a technology roadmap assessment. What is your firm trying to accomplish, what is the strategic plan, and what solutions will you need to successfully meet your client’s and firm’s expectations? Each scenario may be unique, but if the time is allotted to go through a process of creating a technology roadmap that combines the firm’s and clients’ solutions and integration needs, your firm will find it can stand on its own two feet no matter the operating environment.
With new technologies and increased need for new security practices, comes the need for training your workforce. Training can be challenging as firms are more conscious than ever right now about maximizing realization. This can lead to lower participation in training, which can lead to a more negative impact on realization due to the firm struggling to use new tools. To be successful when implementing new solutions, firms need to take the time to come up with a training plan that takes place as soon as the new technology is available to avoid future interruptions or, worse, security breaches.
Hiring & Retention
The competition for talent in the legal space is a common pain point. A firm that differentiates itself as being innovative is important when seeking new talent; therefore, firms that can provide quality remote work offerings can stand out among the competition. Work-from-home policies are sought after by job seekers and beneficial when it comes to employee retention.
Plus, some degree of work schedule flexibility has nearly become the norm. Now more than ever, quality remote work environments allow for more efficient work environments for attorneys. Implementing technology, tools, and processes to enable firms to collaborate more in a remote setting also means increased productivity in and out of the office. This level of productivity can directly translate to a higher ratio of staff-to-attorneys, allowing the firm to save on administrative payroll.
Communication & Collaboration
As part of the increased remote work environment expectations as a trend, but now overall need in 2020 will be solutions to ensure communication and collaboration are possible. Not only is it important to have the resources allowing attorneys to collaborate and communicate effectively when working remotely, but clients now expect more personalized, prompt, and digitally enhanced services. Both scenarios point to the growing need, and now a requirement, to adopt technology solutions and best practices that enable communication from anywhere, any time on any device.
Another common theme we are seeing is the concept of having smaller satellite offices around the suburbs vs. large offices in the downtown area of a city. Implementing a solid remote work strategy translates directly into being able to securely and cost-effectively move to this type of office real estate model. Additionally, this type of move can translate to lower rent/overhead, higher attorney satisfaction and retention due to lower commute times, and, most importantly, being able to meet with clients closer to where they are instead of inconveniencing them with a trip to a central office. Lastly, by having lower overhead costs, it positions firms to be more competitive on their rates, which is certainly a concern of many firms.
Easier Compliance With Client Security Requirements
Historically, only very large clients would require a legal firm to undergo a formal security audit as part of their vendor due diligence process. We are starting to see more and more clients request this, including mid-market clients who, like the larger organizations, are holding their law firm to this expectation.
In many cases, overhauling the technology used at a law firm to be more remote capable has provided the bonus of actually being able to pass/comply with the increased number of security audits requested from clients, with much less effort, opening the firm up to new prospects.
As we witness industries transform their technology capabilities to meet evolving consumer or client expectations, law firms will need to keep up or be left behind. In today’s world of convenience solutions and immediate responses, digital transformation has become the norm, and law firms will no longer be allowed to be the exception.
As client expectations change and the market for legal services shifts, firms providing innovative solutions will increasingly take the spotlight and business from the competition. Additionally, those firms will be best positioned to cut overhead costs and bolster their efficiency. Firms may find themselves at a crossroads in their current environment, waiting it out by making incremental fixes and updates or finding now is the time to accept the current crisis as a chance to reinvent the way they operate. The key takeaways are the following:
- Fully adopting cloud technologies
- Expansion and formalization of remote work technologies, control, and processes
- Maintain and extend information security model to remote work and client information access
- Improve client service through convenient information and attorney access using video conferencing, self-service capabilities, and remote access
- Accept the idea the legal industry can fully take advantage of the benefits of the cloud without sacrificing security
Looking forward, it is inevitable that firms need to embrace these challenges as opportunities to stand out from their competition, exceed their client’s expectations, and start plotting their course to digital transformation.