In recent months many different survey reports on the legal industry have been released that offer interesting insight and takeaways gleaned from the pandemic. I’ve written about quite a few of the recent legal industry surveys, each of which offers unique and useful data about the impact of the pandemic in the here and now and in the future.
Today I’m going to share key results from one of the newest surveys of the legal profession that was just released, the 2021 Wolters Kluwer Future Ready Lawyer Survey: Moving Beyond the Pandemic. This annual survey always offers an illuminating analysis of legal trends, and this year’s Report was no different. The 2021 Report includes data obtained from 700 legal professionals across nine European countries and the U.S. from a broad range of law firms and legal departments and provides a wealth of statistics about law firms, the effects of the pandemic, and legal technology purchasing decisions.
The increasing importance of technology
For starters, this year’s Report offered insight into the future of law firms, including data on how the pandemic will likely shape the practice of law. The authors explained that one of the top learnings gleaned from this year’s Report is that technology is integral to delivery of legal services moving forward:
“The ability to use technology to ensure performance became more important as the pandemic sent professionals out of the office and into their homes where they interacted remotely with clients, colleagues and the courts. The crisis made clear that technology solutions are essential to business resilience and client service. The survey also confirms that professionals see digital transformation and technology as a key driver of improved performance, efficiency and productivity ahead and that increased use of and investment in technology solutions will continue.”
Of course, certain types of remote working tools were key to the smooth transition to remote work during the pandemic, and as a result, those technologies were used the most in law firms. According to the survey respondents, the following technologies were among the tools that gained the highest levels of usage as a result of the pandemic:
- Document Management (48%)
- Internal Collaboration Software (46%)
- External Collaboration (38%)
- Secure File Sharing/Extranet (37%)
- Case/Matter Management (34%)
- Videoconferencing Apps (34%)
The struggles that law firms encountered at the very start of the pandemic as their firms transitioned to the remote working tools listed above significantly impacted overall perceptions about the need to incorporate technology into law firm workflows moving forward. In fact, 77% of survey respondents indicated that one of the top trends that will impact their legal organization over the next three years is the increasing importance of legal technology. The other top factor shared was the increasing volume and complexity of legal information (77%).
Importantly, only a small minority of respondents indicated that their employers were prepared to address both trends. 33% agreed that their employer was very prepared to address the increasing importance of legal technology and only 32% shared that their legal organization was ready to handle the increased volume and complexity of information.
Cloud technology spend to increase significantly
Because technology was central to solving the remote working issues that law firms encountered at the start of the pandemic, it should come as no surprise to learn that the majority of those surveyed (63%) reported that their law firms planned to increase technology spend, up from 60% in 2020. Another telling data point from the survey is that 78% of law firm leaders shared that they believed that their clients expected them to fully leverage technology. Another notable statistic was that cloud computing was the top technology that their firms planned purchase in the near future according to three quarters (75%) of respondents. This was not a surprising finding since without cloud-based tools remote work during the pandemic would not have been possible.
Finally, the leading cloud-based technologies that law firms planned to add were tools that facilitate remote work and collaboration. Survey respondents shared that some of the top remote-working tools that their firms would invest in included:
- Document automation
- Collaboration tools
- Document and workflow management
Technology adoption barriers still present
Historically, technology adoption has been an uphill battle in the legal industry. And while the pandemic certainly helped to set the stage for increased technology adoption, it did not singlehandedly solve the technology adoption problem. Rather, it simply moved the bar forward faster than anyone could have predicted.
That being said, many law firm leaders continue to resist rapid change. Changing minds take time, as the survey results show. Survey respondents shared that the following factors are the biggest barriers to change and technology adoption in their legal organizations:
- Organizational Issues (47%)
- Lack of technology, knowledge, understanding or skills (35%)
- Financial Issues (18%)
The organizational challenges that respondents cited included: 1)lack of an overall technology strategy, 2) a culture that fears change, 3) lack of change management processes, 4) resistance to changing workflows, and 5) leadership resistance to change. The technology knowledge, understanding, or skills that respondents pointed to as lacking included IT staff or skills, understanding of available technology, and technology training. Finally, when it came to the financial issues encountered, the top challenges that survey respondents highlighted were the overall cost of change and the inability to show a return on investment.
The bottom line: change is never easy, but as the pandemic showed, it’s often necessary and beneficial in the long run. Technology adoption is a worthwhile investment that will set your firm up for long term success. So if your law firm hasn’t already adapted to the changing times and invested in cloud-based technology, what are you waiting for?
If the hold up is change resistance in your law firm, then here’s a resource that can help. Make sure to download this FREE guide for even more statistics and advice on preparing your law firm for the post-pandemic world. This free guide that will walk you through the changes caused by the pandemic and how to best take advantage of them: Adapt or Fail – Industry Changes Law Firms Can’t Afford to Ignore.