COVID-19 has had a dramatic bearing on lives worldwide for almost a year now. Countries across the world are experiencing changes in their daily practices. It has been difficult for scientists and health officials to envisage patterns in the behaviour of the pandemic. The continually lasting spree of COVID-19 has shrouded the entire world in a mist of uncertainty.
The business world has dealt with the complexities of economic recessions before; but the upheaval caused by the pandemic is unprecedented. Law firms in particular are going to see a heavy impact from the pandemic, especially when there is no return to normalcy in sight. However, like other business sectors, law firms have found comfort in law firm software platforms and remote work solutions such as using Zoom in place of the court room, which has thus far cushioned the pandemic induced economic blow.
With workplaces empty due to pandemic restrictions, digital work environments are a paramount business necessity – especially for the legal sector. Courts were shut down as national administrations were brought to a grinding halt, sending law firms into a spiral. Luckily, legal technology has proven a saving grace.
Given the current circumstances, law firms and lawyers have turned to remote working to ensure the continuity of business. Because of the state-imposed lockdowns and restrictions, lawyers are changing course from an analogue work culture to a digital way of working.
Cloud-based software in particular has allowed legal practices remain operational. Lawyers have had to adapt quickly to digital changes such as virtual court hearings and e-billing practices, but this may be to their long-term benefit.
Similar to what happened after the 2008 economic recession, clients are pressing law firms (and all institutions) to bring down costs. Major players in the legal profession are anticipating the emergence of a central role for artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies. This would improve efficiency for a variety of legal processes including drafting pleadings, analyzing documents, predicting budgets and legal e-billing.
Ian Burnett, Lord Justice of England & Wales, provided a statement to the House of Lords Committee in the UK in May stating that 80% of high court hearings in London had become virtual. “We won’t be going back to February 2020 in the courts – of that I’m confident,” claimed Lord Burnett, giving a clear indication that the digitization is here to stay.
The PwC annual law firm report also found that the adoption of technological processes is growing in legal circles. As per the study, the majority of top law firms have invested in some form of technology to assist with the work-from-home landscape. Mobile apps, document automation, artificial intelligence and e-billing have all been integrated into leading law practices.
A recent survey of legal professionals highlighted this impact of technology on the practice of law. In the 2020 Wolters Kluwer Future Ready Lawyer survey, 76% of legal professionals reported that technology would have a substantial impact on the structure of legal practices over the course of the next three years.
In addition, 74% of respondents reported improved efficiency and productivity. Ease of dealing with high volumes of information was also noted by 72% of those surveyed
Among the respondents that believed that technology will streamline legal practices, 82% projected that technology will also reshape the delivery of legal services and 56% estimated an increased investment in legaltech software in the coming three years.
Law firms were vocal in their support for legaltech investment with 60% of respondents calling for plans to increase general investment in legal technology. It can be concluded from this survey that law firms are ready to utilize legal software l to increase their productivity and streamline business processes for a better client experience.
An increase in cloud computing utilization in firms operations has been exacerbated by the onset of COVID-19. An industry wide survey stipulated that 90% of law firms are now using cloud-based software to streamline remote working. This is in comparison to only 79% using it pre-lockdown. Furthermore, roughly 70% of the surveyed lawyers were of the belief that cloud-based technology is now essential to maintain a firm’s financial prosperity.
62% of the law firms that have adopted technology reported more profits than last year as opposed to 39% of law firms transitioning to new technology. Only 17% of law firms that are yet to adopt technology experienced jump in profit margins
While a case can be made for law firms being cornered into technological adoption by COVID-19, the majority of lawyers have welcomed the influx of technology in the legal industry. Most lawyers also asserted that courts have also benefited from the incorporation of legal technology.
In this period of ambiguity, what is becoming obvious is that the battle against COVID-19 will be a drawn out affair. The unrelenting nature of COVID-19 means that the business developments being made to accommodate restrictions will likely be in place for a long time.
Does this mean that ALL law firms will integrate legal technology? The demand for technological advancements that promise efficiency might make totally digitized law firms a reality.
The long-standing attitude towards technology from most law firms can summed up by Robert Shooter, Head of technology at London law firm Fieldfisher. Shooter said that “We’re a traditional lot and cultural change - which is so important if we want our lawyers to adopt the use of innovate tech – is exceptionally difficult. People like doing things they have been doing for generations.”
He was also succinct in outlining that law firms are at a crucial juncture where a cultural shift to tech-reliant processes has the potential to define the future of legal practice.
“Our clients are squeezing margins, demanding faster turnaround times, and greater use of innovation. If law firms don’t change culturally, our clients will go elsewhere.”
It has taken a considerable amount of time for technology to gain traction among lawyers. The pandemic has brought law firms to a crossroads with their future, much earlier than they many have expected. Law firms can better equip themselves against inefficiencies and increase time and money savings by investing in legal technology. There is no doubt that with the implementation of adequate legal technology, law firms can survive- and even thrive amidst all the turmoil caused by COVID-19.