Why law firms are still reluctant to adopt technology

Why law firms are still reluctant to adopt technology

One of the recurring themes running through all of our LexisNexis reports this year is the growing importance of technology. The vast majority of lawyers we’ve interviewed agreed that they “must” invest in and adopt new technology to survive the next five years.

But, according to the latest Bellwether Report; The Riddle of Perception, it seems many lawyers are still reluctant to use it throughout the business. And a whopping 87% of firms don’t see the advantages of using artificial intelligence tools to inform their decisions at all.

So what’s the problem? Why if we’re agreed that law firms won’t survive without investment in technology are so many lawyers still not adopting these powerful new tools?

The report suggests that it’s because most lawyers have a tendency to believe their own practice is better equipped than others to confront technology challenges. That it’s simply a matter of seeing what they want to see.

It also suggests that lawyers are not always clear about what it means to adopt new technology. Some think that simply having a website and social media account is embracing technology, while others are looking at technology solutions throughout the business, driving efficiency of client servicing, adopting Bespoke Precedents and Calculators, Drafting and Proof-reading tools, Checklists and Flowcharts.

Those lawyers interviewed criticised their own profession for “not understanding the client’s commercial realities”, for being “too concerned with words and black letters” and for “becoming more focused on the argument than on resolving the issue”. And at the same time distanced themselves from the pack – the subtext being that “other lawyers are like that… but we’re not”.

As one lawyer put it: “I don’t think many lawyers are terribly innovative. The grounding you get at university is you read what someone else has said and how that would apply to a different situation. It doesn’t challenge you to think about what things could be changed or how to do things differently.”

Most of the responses from those interviewed suggest that lawyers feel that they have embraced technology, but the figures from the report tell a different story.

Technology Audit

Although over 80% are using technology for Forms and Research and Guidance, the figures drop to nearer 50% for Automated Precedents and Calculators, Checklists and Flowcharts, down to around 20% for Drafting and Proof-reading tools. More widespread use of these tools would almost certainly speed up the handling of matters, regardless of staffing levels and firm size.

It’s encouraging to see that Bespoke Precedents and Calculators, Checklists and Flowcharts, at least, are being used more extensively by the more successful growing firms.

But in terms of the smooth running of both the practice and individual matters, only around half of the firms interviewed did have Practice, Case and Document Management technology. And, even more worrying, those who don’t use these types of technology, less than 10% see them as “essential”. This seems likely to put these law firms on the back foot when it comes to freeing up lawyers’ time to service a growing volume of business.

Another disparity is that although “compliance” remains the number one challenge, less than 1 in 3 firms have invested in “online risk and compliance resources” to help tackle this issue. Using Client Relationship Management (CRM) software is even further down the list, with only 1 in 5 claiming to have it – and less than 10% seeing it as a priority.

These figures suggest that there is not simply an investment barrier operating here, but also an unwillingness to accept that practices will need to become more automated to increase efficiency, even if lawyers are working in more specialised branches of the law.

The report asserts that law firms can no longer afford to think they’ve embraced technology unless they’re using it to address the gap between the level of service their clients expect and the level of service they actually deliver. The only way that these law firms will survive is if they start to see themselves as part of the service industry, look beyond their own profession for answers, and embrace new technology and ways of working.

The full Bellwether Report 2016: The Riddle of Perception can be read here.

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About the author:
Sarah Plaka is Editor of Halsbury’s Law Exchange and Future of Law blog. She is Communications Manager at LexisNexis, specialising in corporate communications, content marketing, digital cultures and legal reform.