An SRA report sheds more light on technology use in the legal sector – and it’s helping law firms identify areas of opportunity for competitive advantage.
The study from the SRA and the University of Oxford revealed technology use across UK law firms.
In Technology and Innovation in Legal Services, a survey of almost 900 law firms shows that ‘the COVID-19 pandemic led [legal practices] to increased technology use “to manage or process work” (76.0%), “to attract new clients” (71.1%), and “to interact with clients” (63.8%).’
That technology has also, with the led to wider innovations, with the report showing 67% of firms who introduced new services introduced new technology.
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How do law firms use technology?Law technology adoption dominates across two areas: service and process.
Surveyed over the current purpose of technology in their firms, 71.5% said it improved service quality; 70.9% said it improved efficiency of workflows.
When asked the purpose for future legal tech in their firm, focus on processes dropped to 66.4%.
But 74.1% of firms surveyed said they’ll use technology to continuing improving service. The value of the customer experience – creating client journeys that are seamless, consistent, across offline and digital channels – is well understood in legal circles.
In a survey of over a thousand businesses across all industries, 45.9% say their five-year priority is providing a customer-centric experience. An understandable decision, when 92% of UK consumers told Microsoft’s Global State of Customer Service that ‘customer service is important to their choice of and loyalty to a brand’, and 58% would stop using a business offering a poor experience.
In a sense, both goals enable the other. When an estimated 23% of legal work could be automated, it frees up resources for improved service, using better tools to connect with new and existing clients.
What’s slowing lawtech adoption?Although caution around lawtech is well-documented, it’s not the main bottleneck to adoption.
For those that already (or plan to) introduce new technology, the barriers are clear:
- 58.2% can’t afford to invest in new technology
- 50.1% ‘lack staff expertise’ – despite almost 65% of firms select existing staff to use new technology
- 44.7% say there’s a ‘regulatory uncertainty barrier’
In firms where technology isn’t under adoption, the picture is slightly different:
- 50.9% lacked the financial capital to invest
- 50.4% claimed a ‘lack of consumer appetite’ – although self-service is becoming increasingly popular
- 48.4% thought it wasn’t a strategic priority
But it’s risk to business and the bottom-line that leads many law firms to be cautious of adoption. 34.1% say any new technology ‘may pose an unexpected legal or regulatory risk.’ And 55.6% fear an investment won’t deliver business benefits.
This picture remains when questioned over on-going innovation in the workplace: uncertainty of the business benefits remains the top concern (36%).
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Which law firms are doing best?The SRA’s report highlights a clear disparity in innovation among different-sized firms. Innovation is defined as ‘significantly improving existing services or introducing new services, or making improvements to the delivery or marketing of your services.’
Of practices most likely to innovate, those larger corporate clients or those established within the last five years are the ones taking advantage of technology.
In other words, big and small firms; the agile, tech-savvy start-ups and those whose sheer size and service needs require reliable technology just to operate.
Despite this, ‘a greater proportion of respondents considered themselves innovative with respect to the delivery of services (74.6%) than with respect to the marketing of services (48.8%).’
As the industry continues its march online, there are a lot of inexpensive opportunities to implement new tech and retain old clients and attract new ones across new services, and in new locations. Explore more in our guide, ‘How to build your online brand: the basics’.
It’s worth noting how little confidence many law firms have in innovating their marketing, too. In part, the SRA theorise, because marketing innovation is seen as more difficult. Again, this presents an opportunity for fleet-footed law firms.
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