Technologies shaping the legal landscape

If you want to find out which technologies will be shaping the legal business, the Legal IT Landscapes 2015 report by Legal Support Network can serve as a crystal ball. The report is based on a survey with collected responses from UK firms of £10 million revenue upwards, with a special focus on the top 100 law firms in UK.

Some interesting fast facts from the report are that

  • the average spend on IT in a top 100 firm is 4,1% of revenue, which according to experts is way too low to innovate and build competitiveness;
  • most firms will be running significant systems like document management and CRM systems in the cloud in a near future;
  • the technologies considered best for driving competitiveness and efficiency are project management, workflow and business intelligence tools, yet 20% of the responding firms still does analytics and reporting just using spreadsheets; and
  • the area that many think will completely reformat the delivery of legal service is document automation, which already a majority of the firms are using.

According to the report, the next five years to 2020 will possibly redraw the ways legal businesses work and make law firms behave more like other businesses. The technologies named by legal IT leaders in the survey as being most useful in the future reflect a push by clients and the world to work much more like they do. Apparently, many people on the technology side of legal know that their firms have to change the way they work and deal with the outside world to thrive in tomorrow’s economy, and adopt the technologies of other kinds of business to do it. When asked which technologies will have the biggest impact on how competitive their law firm will be over the next five years, the key areas mentioned by most respondents were case management, business intelligence, process management and workflow, mobility and cloud. But an area that many think will completely reformat the delivery of legal services is document automation and assembly. A majority of the respondents said that their firms use document assembly/automation tools to deliver legal work already today and, it seems, much more implementation of these technologies lies in the near future. Over half of them said they could see their firms using more document automation to deliver work within the next year, and a further third said their firm would be turning more to document automation within the next two years.

Another interesting report, Legal Futures Special Report Innovation in the City, focuses on the industrialization of the law, by innovation around technologies and processes, from a UK city firm perspective. Many of the city firms are responding to the drive to industrialize law by using new technology to break work up in a smarter way. For example, Clifford Chance, is rolling out a firm-wide training program akin to Six Sigma, as way to turn the practice of law into a standardized process.

Addleshaw Goddard has one of the more radical views of how the market will change and expects to become “a different legal business” as a result. As part of its ‘Law rethought’ programme, the firm predicts that the legal market of 2020 will have 25% fewer lawyers and 20% fewer firms, with new business models and disruptive legal technologies sitting at the core of the provision of legal services. But they are by no means the only firm going down this road. Recently Berwin Leighton Paisner launched Streamline, a “process improvement service” designed to cope with the legal challenges of big construction projects and complex or high-volume litigation.

The drive to industrialise law has also shifted focus from internal innovation to partnerships with external providers, thereby getting access to tools like document automation and precedents without the internal investment. As explained by Thomson Reuters in the report, now also the leading law firms are making use of external precedents banks and standardized know how to provide a high-quality commoditized service to their clients:

“While once the largest law firms might have balked at the idea of using market-standard precedents as basis for transactions, most now agree that starting from a standard template benefits all parties, allowing fee-earners to focus on substantive matters that really matter to the client.”

The effects of using external providers like Practical Law and Westlaw UK (and for that matter, our own VQ Legal service for the Swedish market) is to drive legal professionals up the value chain and allow them to focus their time on high-value work. According to Thomson Reuters “a few firms initially saw this as unhelpful competition. However, once the economies of scale were understood, the majority of law firms saw these solutions as just that: a cost-effective means of ensuring that their fee-earners start with the tools, knowledge and know how they need to do their jobs. A change, for sure, but one which presented opportunity, not threat.”

As concluded by Neil Rose, Editor Legal Futures, this report “is evidence of just how much has changed in the legal market in the last few years. What was not so long ago considered unthinkable is now routine, and indeed there is now little that is unthinkable for the future.”

Download the complete reports here: