Legal IT industry insight from Thomson Reuters: Check yourself before you tech yourself

This article was also featured as an industry insight piece in the LPM Legal IT landscapes 2017 report. Click here to download the report for free.

The pace of technological change in the top 100 law firms can be taken for granted, to an extent – but it’s encouraging to see that a willingness to explore new solutions and try new approaches is thriving at the SME legal level.

LPM’s Legal IT landscapes 2017 report presents a mixed picture, but there’s an underlying recognition that technology is central to a firm’s ability to grow – a fact that will become ever more stark over the next few years.

The picture becomes mixed when SME firms try to form a clear idea of the most impactful areas where they can adopt technology. The vast majority of law firms keep their IT operations in-house, and most firms also leave them in the hands of ‘non-lawyers’.

Certain key indicators are compelling: over a third of SME law firms are planning to use some kind of AI within a couple of years, and another 31% within five years. Almost all firms are sufficiently worried about cybersecurity. And, as a group, SME firms recognise a gap between the level of automation in their practices and the amount of work that could potentially be automated.

However, what isn’t clear is that firms have identified the most efficient and impactful strategy to address these aims with technology. It’s telling that a majority of firms now have some kind of web-based portal that allows them to share case or matter information with clients – a welcome tipping point. But if SME firms have embraced techenabled client collaboration in the matter management space, why not automation, with self-serve contracting portals? Why not integrated, automatic time recording? Why are a third of SME firms still relying on manual spreadsheets to generate their business intelligence metrics?

Although the legal IT landscape is, in part, encouraging, there is significant room for improvement – which will only drive growth and profitability for fee earners. Firms need to focus on those areas to which they devote most of their time, and find incremental improvements wherever possible: document automation, matter management, time recording and legal research offer quick wins. A commitment to adoption in these areas will have a real impact on SME firms’ success.

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