Technology has been a key growth driver for law firms over the last few years. Faced with tighter budgets and more competition, firms are increasingly looking to tech as a way to boost productivity and stay competitive.
In a 2019 report from HSBC UK and The Lawyer, 81% of firms cited technology as their most important area of strategic development activity.
And so it stands to reason that tech investment is also a major priority for firms, although how that money is spent may be changing.
Here are five key tech priorities for law firms in 2020.
An increase in collaborative working
Of all the factors mentioned in The Lawyer/HSBC report, collaboration came out top – with 44% of firms citing it as a top reason for tech investment.
Collaboration tools are seen as a vital step in fostering ongoing client relationships – as they provide greater transparency, as well as a much more efficient, more digital experience than the traditional, often paper-based legal practice.
The rise in cloud technology makes client collaboration even easier and more effective than ever, which has fueled interest in this type of technology. For example, a tool like SharePoint – the document management system in Office 365 – allows you to view documents collaboratively with teams and clients in any location.
Collaboration tools also make a huge difference to internal working practices, as staff can work collectively on documents from anywhere in the world. Edits can be made simultaneously by all parties and changes are immediately added and updated onto a master copy.
The remote nature of modern day legal work, along with the rise in flexible working, makes collaboration tools an extremely valuable investment when trying to bring teams together and manage workload efficiently.
Maintaining cyber security
Cyber security is, and always will be, a big focus for the legal sector – as protection of sensitive client data is of paramount importance.
However, as the emphasis on security has grown over recent years - helped by the introduction of the GDPR - many firms have already made sizable investments in this area. As such, it’s likely that investment in security will actually level out during 2020, to a level focused on maintenance, rather than remediation.
Also, as more and more firms utilise public cloud services, such as AWS and Azure, as well as services like Office 365, law firms are increasingly relying on the huge security investments made each year by third-party providers - investing less on bespoke, on-premise security solutions.
So, investing in cyber security will remain a priority during 2020 – not least to be able to show to clients that robust systems are in place – but it will likely be at a reduced level.
Enhanced reporting and analytics
Every law firm generates a huge amount of internally-produced data, which can be analysed to draw conclusions and help inform decision making.
However, the data-driven law firm is far from the norm in 2020, with many still without a “dashboard” representation of their business’s performance.
This is not unsurprising, as manually pulling this data together is often a difficult and time-consuming task. And technological business intelligence solutions that automatically do the job are often rejected due to the prohibitive costs involved.
But in 2020, as the cost of business intelligence (BI) software becomes more accessible, we can expect many more law firms to invest in tools (such as Microsoft’s Power BI) to make the most of their valuable client data.
But despite its low cost, managing the set-up of these tools, and the systems integration often required to make them work, is no simple task. Firms need to invest time into their BI project, if they would like to realise its full potential.
More investment in automation
Law firms are increasingly looking to invest in tools that automate systems, thereby streamlining processes and boosting productivity. Apps like Microsoft Flow, for example, can automatically imitate an approval process when a document is saved to a particular location. This cuts out a lot of work and hassle and mitigates against human error, thus boosting productivity.
Emerging technologies will get less uptake
The big emerging technologies over the past few years have been AI and machine learning, which have the ability to tap into Big Data and produce astonishing insights through analysis. But the signs are that investment in this area, while still a priority, is slowing down.
In The Lawyer/HSBC report, only 19% of firms indicated an intention of investing in this area. This likely has a combination of contributing factors.
The vast investment in emerging technology in recent years suggests that many law firms have now made their initial investment in these technologies. But equally, it’s clear that - in a drive for greater productivity - firms are focusing more on business as usual (BAU) systems. Seeking to improve internal processes, rather than investing in transformative (and often disruptive) systems.
Even further down the list – at 2% - came blockchain, suggesting a widespread uptake of this technology across the legal sector is unlikely, at least in the near future.
It’s obvious that investment in technology is seen by law firms as a vital aspect of building for the future and staying competitive in a crowded market. The legal sector looks set to use tech in 2020 to improve security, streamline processes, and improve collaboration – all factors that help build trust and credibility with clients and, ultimately, boost productivity and profits.