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By Alex Hobbs at BackBone
Over 1,000 UK firms (predominantly SMEs) have closed in the past 12 months; the population of solicitors has reached an all-time time high and Direct Access is changing the nature of being a barrister....
But technology could offer light at the end of the tunnel, not a silver bullet that promises to fix every problem, but certainly a roadmap for commercial success.
PwC’s 2013 Annual Law Firms’ Survey shows how there are huge opportunities and challenges facing UK law firms, and my experience is that these pressures are amplified at SME level.
Understandably, cash-strapped firms have been holding back on investing in infrastructure projects, particularly IT. But many firms are beginning to understand the need to invest in technology in order to grow. They recognise the direct impact of technology on financial performance.
PwC’s survey reported that 20% of firms admitted they saw their IT systems as “a weakness that needs improvement”, and 80% identified their top priority as the need to implement or upgrade their IT systems.
The results indicate an urgent need for law practices to innovate and find new offerings that will draw clients in, while streamlining their operations and services. Investing in technology is key to achieving this, as confirmed by the Legal Support Network’s recent reports.
Technology is changing at a tremendous pace. Enterprise technology is being influenced by the consumer world and major trends such as social media integration, mobile working and cloud technology. This ultimately means clients expect more from a law firm’s IT infrastructure and functionality. Technology that facilitates secure file sharing, client relationship extranets, knowledge portals and matter management are now essential for the future of the UK legal sector and not nice to haves.
In a climate of decline, investing in improved efficiency, reduced costs and improvements in client experience are essential for the recovery and growth of UK firms, particularly those from the mid- and lower-tiers. By streamlining and centralising operations through technology, firms are able to reduce fees, introduce alternative billing, increase transparency and provide the added-value services to clients that they want and can expect in today’s ultra-competitive environment.
PwC predicts that 2014 will be seen as a year that marked a major shift in the legal sector. Perhaps we have reached the tipping point where firms finally realise they need to invest in “modern” technology in order to move forward and stay competitive. Up until now, growth hasn’t recovered by following traditional practices. Innovation is needed, and luckily for law firms, the options are out there to help them grow.
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Alex Hobbs is a trusted advisor to partners, practice managers and heads of IT at mid-tier / mid-market and small legal practices / law Firms, both solicitors & barristers’ chambers.
Commercially minded IT innovator: his articles and conference keynotes, where he shares proven best practices, have helped many UK law firms to gain competitive edge.
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