Technology adoption among established law firms has for ages been a snail-paced reform, but the global health crisis, pressures from clients and competition from younger firms and alternative legal service providers are forcing the hands of sluggish doubters. In the first of a two-part series exploring legal tech, Mithun Varkey asks the experts where the evolution is heading
The legal industry, finally, seems to be embracing technology. While the change was a long time coming, the pandemic has left little choice for legal practitioners but to accept it, even if grudgingly. The need for collaboration in times of social distancing has forced even the courts, those bastions of traditionalism, to allow themselves some tech disruption, which then meant lawyers had to follow.
It is not that the legal industry is led by luddites. The importance of conventions and the nature of the profession mean they are trained to adhere to time-honoured protocols. Also, because their business models remain unchanged, where clients are charged for billable hours, clocked in six-minute increments, there are few incentives to bring in massive efficiencies.
For the past couple of decades or so, when law firms started investing in technology, it was primarily around e-discovery, contract management, billing management, and some online collaboration tools. While these were necessary steps, the core of a lawyer’s job remained relatively untouched by technology.
However, in the past few years technology startups have tried to disrupt the way lawyers work and how law firms operate, which has led to a profusion of tech tools and solutions, and an explosion of legal tech companies.
A 2021 global survey by the Association of Corporate Counsel notes: “The list of technology areas that apply to the legal function has increased from 22 in 2018 to 26.”
Drivers of change
Most law firms have been mindful of the need to adopt technology, but the pandemic has accelerated this need and been the most crucial driver for tech adoption, bringing IT and innovation teams at law firms to front and centre.
“Obviously, the pandemic has been transformative in so many ways,” says Andrew Klein, founder of Reynen Court, a legal tech aggregation platform. “On the one hand, an industry that had never supported virtual remote work, people not being in the office, and the deal documents not being in the conference room, had to change overnight.
“That was very positive for IT departments at the big law firms because they scored very high points, they did very well. They made that transition look very smooth, and I think with almost no real exceptions. They were very successful at becoming virtual. So the change is very real. It’s coming from clients who see opportunities to get more for their money and have the industry modernised.”
Ofer Bleiweiss, founder and chief executive officer of Everchron, a Los Angeles, California-based litigation management software company, says he has noticed higher legal tech adoption since the pandemic, especially in the case management space. “The need for effective remote collaboration has forced law firms to accelerate the transition,” he adds.