In his book, Tomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future, Richard Susskind asserts that changes in the legal sector will be more radical over the next two decades than they have been in the last two hundred years.
The last few years have seen some major changes, from the way services are provided to how individual firms are managed. Clients are becoming more focused on the premiums paid for high-quality services. Firms are struggling to find new skilled attorneys to hire. Amidst all these changes, one common theme prevails: Technology is playing a major role in the future of law firms.
Challenges such as decreased staffing, the speed of business, and fewer individuals seeking legal services all demand that firms incorporate systems that make them more agile. Potential clients have modified their level of service expectations as well, meaning the attorneys must adopt new delivery methods to respond in an innovative and effective way.
While firms are struggling to quickly implement new strategies and procedures for the changing market, they are opening the door to potential errors that can lead to malpractice claims. These claims have grown in certain areas of law over the past 5 years, discussed in a previous blog post.
Today’s law firms can use technology to help prevent malpractice – streamlining processes, eliminating downtime, and increasing the bottom line. However, the technology must be used properly and with comprehensive and high-quality data entry to ensure accuracy.
Changes in Technology
Near the end of 2016, Forbes Magazine published an article titled, “The Future of the Legal Industry.”
In the article, Jeff Unger, Founder and CEO of eMinutes, stated, “Technology will allow firms to adapt to changes in the market, constantly improve efficiency, and track new success metrics.”
These technologies have been improving the client-attorney relationship for many years now. For example, many law firms have created portals for their clients to securely log in and receive updates regarding their cases, enabling consistent communication between the two parties even when they can’t meet in person. Considering that lack of communication has traditionally been one of legal clients’ most frequent malpractice complaints, anything like a client portal that promotes better communication should be near the top of the priority list for law firms.
According to Legal Tech News, as clients become increasingly restless to receive high-quality services at a lower price point, law firms must find ways to deliver.
One solution might be cutting the time it takes to deal with matters and calendar items.
New technologies allow law firms to put automated processes in place so attorneys can spend more time on the case and on responding to client needs, often at a lower cost to the firm.
Todd Scott, VP of Risk Management with Minnesota Lawyers Mutual Insurance Company notes that the middle class continues to struggle to gain access to legal services because of financial challenges, putting even more pressure on smaller-town attorneys who may depend on referrals and walk-ins to stay afloat.
“It is more challenging to work in smaller towns because of debt,” he said.
Innovation May Require Mindset Change
Spending less time on administrative tasks is just one adjustment for attorneys. With so many challenges hitting at the same time, it can be hard not to feel overwhelmed. The key is taking it one step at a time so you’ll have a better gauge of what’s working and what’s not.
Today’s firms have to be willing to take risks and stray from the conventional ways of the past to thrive in this new market. They must also be innovative in approaching firm management.
As Scott Rechtschaffen, Chief Knowledge Officer of Littler Mendelson, an employment and labor law firm in San Francisco, said in a 2016 article in Wired, “Automation is not going to interfere with lawyers appearing in court or providing advice and counsel,” he adds. “There’s all sorts of work to be done.”
Smaller firms will become more proactive in running like a business. Today’s clients demand delivery of services in a multifaceted approach, almost a la carte, and small firms need processes that can respond. Jim Calloway, Director of the Oklahoma Bar Association Management Assistance Program, says: “Myriad types of tools are available and the small firm lawyer ignores them at his peril.”
Preventing Malpractice Risk
The ABA has stated that 4 out of 5 lawyers will have at least one malpractice claim during their career. Moreover, previous studies have shown that the number one problem leading to malpractice claims is poor lawyer-client communication. Having technology in place to streamline and automate client communication and case management is critical for success in this new market.
Calendaring is another top area for errors leading to malpractice claims. The that docketing and calendaring errors were the primary cause of malpractice suits from 2012-2015, with more than 34% occurring in this area.
New technologies allow attorneys to have a mobile calendar and case management platform. These systems include tickler alerts for deadlines and milestone notifications. The client and case information is in one place, accessible to the attorney wherever she or he is.
According to attorney and insurance VP Todd Scott, more than 35% of lawyers now use case management software. He believes this number could be affected by newer technologies being easier to use and the number of younger attorneys starting firms or moving into leadership roles in larger firms.
Better lawyer-client communications and task and deadline management are two ways to prevent malpractice risk.
Deloitte’s Legal Future study found that in the next five years, more than 50% of in-house legal tasks will be performed by some type of technology.
The Future is Virtual
If Susskind is correct, the future of legal services will look like this: internet-based legal businesses that are global; virtual courts; production of online documents; new jobs and employers; and web-based simulated practices.
Technology is here to stay, and law firms will need to adapt in ways that make them more responsive to their clients in less time. All while maintaining the code of ethics and due diligence as an advocate to the case and the clients.
The software is available to make this possible. The change just requires a thoughtful approach by attorneys to determine the best option for them.
By implementing the right programs with accurate data, law firms can maintain a client-centric practice that will continue their success.