“You Are Here” Webinar Series, Part One: How Law Firms Fell Behind on Technological Advancement

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected people across a wide range of industries, prompting leaders to rethink how they run their businesses. Across industries, many organizations are currently operating remotely, using a variety of technologies that connect staff and clients with one another virtually.

With respect to the legal industry, the recent Intapp Pulse Survey respondents resoundingly confirmed that the virtual business model is here to stay:

  • 100% reported that their firms will sustain work-from-home flexibility
  • 95% reported interacting with clients via video conferencing
  • 86% reported virtual marketing, business development, and networking activities

This means that the deferred technology investments that have placed the legal industry behind the eight ball are coming back to haunt.

I recently spoke with Richard Susskind and Daniel Susskind, Co-Authors of The Future of the Professions, for a three-part program titled “You Are Here.” Part One of this program examined the evolution of law firms and how — even before the pandemic — the industry was long overdue for operational improvements and technological advancement.

Changing the Way Firms Interact with Clients

Daniel Susskind, Oxford Economist and Counsellor to the U.K. Prime Minister, initiated the conversation, expounding on how society views professions. “Professions act essentially as gatekeepers,” Daniel explained. “Each profession is responsible for its own unique body of knowledge. Lawyers look after legal knowledge, accountants look after accounting knowledge, doctors look after medical knowledge, and so on.”

Unfortunately, the manner in which gatekeepers share their expertise and knowledge now comes across as out of touch. “They still rely on the traditions of sharing information for oral and print-based cultures, not for technology-based, internet-driven societies,” Daniel said. “Considering that the vast majority of people communicate digitally, it would behoove law firms to use technology to connect and interact with clients at the level of sophistication they expect.”

Leveraging Cutting-Edge Technologies to Reduce Expenses

Richard and Daniel agreed that there are two ways to apply technology to reduce expenses:

  • Automating manual processes
  • Solving previously unsurfaced novel problems

“Using technology allows us to do things that previously weren’t possible, and it often takes on tasks and activities that we thought couldn’t be automated,” said Richard. “We’re seeing fairly advanced artificial intelligence techniques that are allowing systems to perform these tasks to a higher standard than junior lawyers.”

Beating the “More for Less Challenge”

When used correctly, AI and other technologies not only streamline clunky processes, but also produce more reliable results. This gives law firms a fighting chance against competition within the industry, and helps lawyers overcome what Richard calls the “More for Less Challenge.” This challenge arises from the top three pain points in-house lawyers face:

  • Mandates to limit the amount spent on external law firms
  • Pressure to reduce internal headcount
  • Backlogs of legal and compliance work

Adopting technology — including AI — and automating rote processes allows in-house lawyers to overcome these pain points. By delegating certain tasks to AI, lawyers are able to:

  • Minimize expenditures on external firms
  • Reduce personnel expense
  • Maintain competitive pricing
  • Focus on fee-earning activities
  • Provide better client service

Although the “More for Less Challenge” certainly presents a compelling argument for implementing AI, some legal professionals worry that technology will render them obsolete. This is not the case, Richard reassures: “The need for legal services in an ever more complicated, regulated world is increasing.”

Moving Forward with New Ways of Working

Legal professionals may find that certain aspects of their roles have changed as a result of technological innovation inside their firms. “There are still plenty of tasks and activities to be done,” Daniel explained, “but those tasks and activities require different skills and capabilities, which reflect the requirements brought on by digital transformation.”

To keep their skills current, professionals must learn how to use the technologies required to take on new responsibilities. When firms implemented new technologies to enable a virtual business model resulting from the pandemic, many professionals found themselves doing precisely that.

“This is essentially a major unscheduled pilot, where so many of the enabling technologies that a number of us have anticipated for years have actually been put into use,” Richard said. “COVID-19 is certainly a major driver of change in the evolution of the legal profession.”

Although this pandemic is only temporary, many observers believe that some of these adopted changes and technologies will be permanent. My own view is that the pandemic has been a gateway to change. It exposed people to how other models work. There’s been a psychological shift for many people with respect to how they view technology, in my view.

To learn about changes your law firm should consider making now, read the recap of Part Two of the “You are Here” webinar series.

Written by:

Ralph Baxter

Board Member

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