Just as technology has reshaped how we communicate and do business, it also is making a significant impact on the practice of law. A just-released industry report from Robert Half Legal explores how emerging technologies are affecting management strategies in law firms and corporate legal departments, and changing how legal services are delivered. The report, Technology’s Transformation of the Legal Field, is part of Robert Half Legal’s 12th annual Future Law Office project, which also includes video interviews with leaders in the legal profession.
For its annual Future Law Office project, Robert Half Legal surveys lawyers among the largest law firms and corporations in the United States and Canada, conducts research to assess how legal organisations might operate in the future, and obtains the insights of key Robert Half Legal staffing and recruiting professionals throughout the company’s branch network in North America.
- Law firms are making a greater investment in IT. Nearly six in 10 (59 per cent) lawyers interviewed for the Future Law Office project said their law firms will increase spending on technology in the next two years. Law firms plan to purchase software (79 per cent), hardware (72 per cent), desktop PCs (62 per cent), laptops (49 per cent), tablet PCs or handheld computers (44 per cent) and smartphones (41 per cent).
- Web-based tools are improving client communication and the delivery of legal services. Lawyers surveyed said their law firms used e-filing systems (83 per cent), meeting or audio-conferencing tools (79 per cent), document storage sites (58 per cent), collaborative or information-sharing sites (51 per cent) and client portals or extranets (30 per cent).
- Law firms’ office footprint is shrinking. With mobile devices and wireless networks enabling lawyers to work remotely from any location, law firms are reducing the size of their offices and reconfiguring workspaces.
- Technology is leveling the playing field. With firms of all sizes now using similar products, services and tools, small firms and solo practitioners are able to establish a bigger presence online and, in some cases, better compete with larger firms.
- Corporate legal departments are using tech tools to manage higher workloads. Nearly one in three in-house counsel (30 per cent) interviewed said their legal department’s greatest challenge is reducing budgets/controlling costs. They are utilizing technology solutions to streamline communications with outside counsel and improve efficiencies.
- Technology has dramatically changed the realm of discovery. As the amount of electronic data grows exponentially, e-discovery remains both a growth area and a challenge for law firms and their corporate clients.
Law Firms Take a Strategic Approach to Technology
“Technology has changed the practice of law – from the way legal teams prepare for trial and present cases, to how they communicate with clients and colleagues,” said Charles Volkert, executive director of Robert Half Legal. “Knowledge-sharing platforms, portals and intranets are being used by an increasingly mobile legal workforce. These systems, along with laptops, tablet computers and smartphones, have become essential to law firm productivity.”
A growing number of firms are marketing their professional services to different audiences via social media, the research found. However, law firms using these online networks, as well as cloud computing-based services to store data, must address new privacy concerns regarding the security of privileged information. This has prompted many firms to allocate additional resources toward protecting their systems and safeguarding confidential data.
Corporate Legal Departments Use Technology to Reduce Costs
Software designed to monitor expenses and improve the work process is gaining in popularity among corporate legal departments, the research showed. “Many companies are using project management tools to track spending, and streamlining workflow with group calendaring and online collaboration tools,” Volkert said.
Technology is influencing the type of work being assigned to outside counsel, as well. “While litigation and e-discovery projects are typically outsourced, if internal teams have access to the same software programs and systems as their law firms, general counsel might keep certain matters in-house to contain costs,” Volkert said.