The majority of law firms work in a way that hasn’t changed for generations. It’s an industry known for being heavily administrative with long paper trails, but it is also a generally well-trusted industry, with tried and tested ways of working that are of course, legally compliant. However, clients’ needs are changing. With other industries offering better value and improved ways to engage their clients, is the legal industry being left behind?
Within any industry, there are settled periods and periods of disruption. Disruption creates challenges, but can also provide opportunities for change. There will however always be barriers to change. Clients’ needs and expectations are driving change, so what are the barriers that firms might be facing?
Barriers in the system
Typically, the legal industry is not a first-adopter of new technology. In fact, some could argue that it is the one of the last industries to join the ‘automate it’ party. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, it’s an incredibly complex industry that relies heavily on the expertise of individuals, supported by a specialist team of administrators. Secondly, firms do not work autonomously. Law firms work alongside governmental departments and within an overarching judicial system that is struggling to modernize.
At the start of this year it was reported that the Ministry of Justice was spending huge sums of money on consultants to help deliver digital court systems. The online and digital court programmes are designed to save money and improve access to justice. Asked about the contract, an HMCTS spokesperson said: “This is the most ambitious programme of its kind anywhere in the world. We are investing more than £1bn over a six-year period to modernise outdated processes and create a swifter, more accessible and more efficient justice system for the public.”
Low-level offences such as fare evasion, traffic offences and fishing without a licence are among the first being dealt with online. More than 3,000 members of the public are said to have used pilot digital systems so far. But other countries are out ahead of the UK when it comes to modernizing and digitizing the judicial system. In Australia, the federal court was the first judicial setting to put in place electronic court files, and is now seen as global leader in how to manage digitised court documents.
Back in the UK, previous large scale government IT projects have always had their fair share of critics and usually run way over budget and beyond the initial timescale for delivery. It seems the modernization programme of the UK’s justice system is just the same with costs having already risen by £200m to £1.2bn.
Barriers within the firms
With any company, upfront costs are a potential barrier to innovation. There is the cost of the research, software and restructuring, but also the cost of training for staff. Within the legal industry, it is the customers rather than the professionals who are driving the change. Therefore, staff who hold tightly to their existing processes and protocols will need to be convinced to embraced new models of working. And of course, these new methods of working have to be consistent with legal requirements. Improving protocols is not just a matter of what’s best for the client. Any changes have to be consistently measured against legal standards.
So in the midst of all this, what can individual law firms do? While they wait for a new digital judicial system and educate staff, are there opportunities to be had?
A marketing opportunity: the growing expectation of digital services
Current clients have grown up with the internet and new technology. In the same way we Google our symptoms before going to the doctor, clients will often Google their situation to see whether they can gather free legal advice on the web. This process can lead to misinformation, but if you’re the legal firm that shows up in the Google searches offering clear advice with an accessible website and easy entry points to contact, you will capture that client. Modern clients are looking for modern law firms.
Is a new way of working always a better way of working?
In short, large companies will lose out to their leaner competitors who communicate in the way their customer base expects. But when efficiency gains are made, all parties benefit. There is value to pass onto the clients and profit to be made in the company. Alongside this, when heavy administrative duties can be automated, the result is that lawyers are able to concentrate on doing their legal role, handling the complexities they’ve been trained for.
The 24/7 consumer culture might conjure up ideas of lawyers having to be always on call, but the client isn’t the only one who can take advantage of this culture. If managed well, it creates opportunities for flexible and remote working for staff. The digitizing of documents, sharing screens and collaborative editing all support remote working and removes the need for extensive travel, costly meetings and even the movement of prisoners.
The world’s first robot lawyer
Do Not Pay has been hailed as the world’s first robot lawyer. Created by a British entrepreneur initially to challenge parking tickets in the US and UK, it recently launched as an app with 15 services. It’s currently available just for the US but there are plans to roll out the services for UK and Europe. Among the services, the app offers to bring a small claim for up to $25,000 at the press of a button.
Joshua Browder the apps creator has predicted that up to 70% of the law could be carried out by robots and all legal documents would be automated within a decade. Is this the real future of the legal industry?
Finding the balance
With any challenge, the wise amongst us will look for the opportunities. The challenge for legal firms is to strike the right balance of tech efficiency with human expertise, whilst remaining legally compliant and honouring the system they work within whilst delivering the best for their clients.
The complexity of the legal system and the nuances of each individual case mean that lawyers are unlikely to be replaced by bots just yet. However, new technology, and in particular, bespoke software could be embraced to disrupt the existing culture. The result is an offering that creates cost-effective and competitive ways of working that appeal to the modern client. Law firms will need to be brave and bold, making that initial investment and embracing change. If they lead the way, hopefully the courts will follow suit. (No pun intended)
The team at Kaleida work alongside legal and financial companies in Manchester to understand the complexities of the modern work place. Only when we truly understand the needs of the staff and their customers do we propose and build a bespoke software solution that improves efficiency for the company without a loss in expertise. To talk more about your company’s software needs get in touch today.