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Adapt or Decline: A Perspective on the State of Technology Adoption in Law Firms

On September 27th, the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) announced the publication of the 2019 Executive Summary for its annual Technology Survey. ILTA, a lawyers association, provides information regarding product and support services to member firms. The Executive Summary reflects the responses of over 537 firms—representing more than 116,000 attorneys—and attempts to predict future challenges for the industry based on technological trends. One such issue, identified by this survey and echoed by others in the field, is the startling lack of tech adoption by law firms. The report found that thirty-one percent of the firms surveyed are still using Windows 7, an operating system for which extended support will end in January 2020. Surprisingly, twenty-eight percent of the firms even predicted that their adoption of innovations, such as cloud-based technology or AI, will either remain stagnant or decrease in the next year.

While the ILTA report focused primarily on small-to-midsized firms, the impact of tech adoption is even farther-reaching. As reported by the ABA Journal, a separate survey regarding big law firms found that “96% of Am Law 200 firm leaders did not believe their colleagues were aware of the [technological] challenges facing the new legal marketplace.” With the legal marketplace rocked by the expansive growth in tech-savvy legal service providers like LegalZoom, lawyers looking to stay relevant should understand the benefits of adopting new tech practices. This applies equally to firms of all sizes who may soon find themselves unable to compete with other firms who more readily embrace changing technology.

Technological change is more than just a force to be feared: disruption creates opportunities for growth. A report published by Wolters Kluwer, a professional software solutions service, found a competitive advantage for firms that adopt innovative solutions earlier than others. Firms that were early adopters of technology are likely to report higher profitability than those that lagged behind in both the United States and Europe. Despite these findings, many firms still refuse to keep pace with technological change in the legal field. For the firms that are willing to forgo traditional methods and embrace innovative tech solutions, there is opportunity to capitalize on the stubbornness of slower players in the industry. Clients are hungry for law firms that are willing to embrace innovations in legal research and data security that best address their personalized needs.

Getting started can often be difficult, with older partners and associates eschewing technology in favor of more ad hoc approaches. Fortunately, tech adoption does not have to be intimidating; there are many intuitive changes that can make a firm more efficient. Products like Research Monitor, Onelog, and Lookup Precision allow firms to easily follow technological trends, implement technological changes, and review their effectiveness. Even changes as simple as updating the password management system can increase efficiency and save valuable time. Firm leaders can then pass those savings down to the client, effectively increasing their firm’s competitiveness and customer satisfaction with only minor changes to their operation.

Industry experts have identified red flags to help signal when legal technology adoption may be needed. One key indicator is a lack of information security between lawyers and their clients. Firms often fail to use encryption technology or cloud-based servers when dealing with client communications, and, as a result, are vulnerable to cyber-attacks. With seventy percent of cyber-attacks targeting small businesses, those claiming only large firms are at risk leave many small-to-midsized firms at the mercy of hackers. Another red flag is a lack of mobility and flexibility in communication and telework technology. As clients continue to demand more availability from law firms, the ability to work while not in the office becomes increasingly important. Finally, over-reliance on methods that use analog or ad hoc processes to solve problems is a sign that a firm is lagging in tech adoption. Replacing methods that rely on paper storage, manual proofreading, and outdated administrative practices with cloud-based or electronic solutions is key to improving client experiences. These indicators help identify problems that law firms may face when trying to adapt to an ever-changing data landscape.  Resolving these lapses through the implementation and adoption of key legal technologies will help ensure a firm’s survival in this increasingly dynamic industry.

Tyler Kaufman

GLTR Staff Member, Georgetown Law, J.D. expected 2021; Indiana University, B.S. 2017. ©2019, Tyler Kaufman