When we use the word ‘technology’ in the context of law firms, we relate it to virtual courts, paperless offices, a seamless work-from-home environment, and the use of software to streamline the operations. However, in this article, we move a step beyond these aspects of technology and discuss the pervasive adoption of technology in the functioning of law firms.
Today, technology has acquired the role of digital revolution, whereby law firms are envisioning how several aspects of working of a law firm can be transformed with the use of technology. In other words, the true essence of technology in law firm management is the amalgamation of disruption with resources, efficiency, and ability to adapt to the changing commercial-legal environment in which law firms are operating.
While technology started making inroads in the law firm operations at least a couple of decades back, its role was limited to automating operations that were prone to human error. These primarily included time-keeping, deadline monitoring, document management, and the likes. This gradually paved the way, not only for more sophisticated management software systems like Client Relationship Management (CRM) software, Managing Partner Dashboards, but also software that eases the practice of law by facilitating access to court judgments and allowing triggers/reminders related to the court cause lists.
The dependence on technology, however, saw an all-time high once the world came to a halt due to the Covid-19 pandemic. For the first time, law firms had to fall back on technology and adopt an altogether new way of conducting their operations, with technology playing an integral part of this makeover. While traditionally, law firms are able to leverage their goodwill to continue to attract clients, they realised that lack of technology could severely hamper them permanently, pushing them out of service. Technology acquired the status of a ‘necessity’ from a ‘luxury’.
It inspired the law firms to look for alternate and long-term solutions, rather than relying on available resources. In the midst of crisis, the adoption of new technology became critical to survival and success of law firms. Right from remote workplaces, e-filing to conducting technology-based research and virtual hearings, the role of technology in streamlining the functioning of law firms enhanced manifold. Today, technology has assisted in minimizing the amount of time required to handle cases, the cost of providing legal services, and the probability of human errors. It has also streamlined communication with clients and is fostering the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for improvising and innovating legal services and ensuring compliances.
Perhaps, it’s important to highlight here that the biggest advantage of technology is the efficiency it lends to the management of law firm operations. As you read this article, several law firms have already adopted software that works on algorithms to automate repetitive tasks, scrutinize users’ behaviour, and drafting style to create drafts using AI. Analytical tools are being combined with user behaviour to optimize the time spent on basic factual research. AI is also increasingly being considered to scrutinize documents and automate other mundane work, allowing lawyers more time to practice law and work on matters that require their core legal expertise. Ultimately, it enhances the value proposition of the legal service provided by law firms.
However, we can’t just focus on the silver lining and must also understand that while navigating the law firm technology landscape, there are challenges that need to be addressed as well. The three challenges that are key to imbibing technology in law firm management are the security threats, the cost of creating a digital environment, and most importantly, the acceptance by human resources.
Security and confidentiality remain at the top of the possible concerns of digitization. When the pandemic hit the world in 2019-20, most Indian law firms were swift to announce that they are available 24/7 and that their teams are equipped to work from home. However, not many of them realised that without adequate security systems in place, their data is prone to serious threats. A few law firms had to incur considerable costs in getting their IT systems audited for security and obtain certification to convince their multi-national clients. Law firms handle sensitive information and there is zero-tolerance for any compromise on confidentiality. Firms must adhere to security best practices on all devices used by their resources, whether at workplace or home. Most breaches can, however, be prevented by technical security measures deployed by the company (for instance, firewalls). However, law firms must ensure that digital security is as much a priority as digitization, to enhance clients’ confidence in the firm.
The second limitation is cost. Setting up a tech-based environment could appear to be expensive, especially in cases where the initial outlay is large. However, most of the technology or software providers now offer ways in which the investment is spread over a long-time. Of course, costs incurred towards maintenance, upgrade and security will be of recurring nature and require a financial commitment from the firm. However, if the firms have capital to make the initial investment, the switch to technology is profitable in the long term. The Return on Investment (RoI) on technology is not just positive, but massive in most cases and cannot be achieved through any other alternative when evaluated over a period of time.
Lastly, the adoption of technology can neither be done because ‘others are doing it’, nor because it’s the ‘in thing’. It’s a shift of mindset to move to a more seamless working environment and the willingness to adopt the change whole-heartedly, even if it entails initial teething issues. The focal point of imbibing technology in your law firm has to be twofold - the clients and the human resources. The technology must operate for the benefit of the client and must make your human resources more ‘enabled’. The initial human reaction to every change is aversion, but with the right dialogue and messaging, human resources can be made to understand that technology can also be to their aid by addressing mundane and repetitive tasks. This also enhances lawyer satisfaction as they can be engaged in more meaningful and high-end tasks.
To sum up, technology has had an impact on every aspect of legal industry - from corporate practice to law firms and courtroom proceedings. With ever-increasing competition and to ensure that India’s law firms walk shoulder to shoulder with their foreign counterparts, law firms cannot function oblivious of technology. Technology can upgrade the operations and efficiency of law firms, provided the challenges are addressed. Today, technology is forward-thinking, solution-oriented, and is changing the face of the way law firms are being managed and run.
The article has been authored by the team of Legal League Consulting comprising of Bithika Anand, Founder & CEO and Nipun Bhatia, President - Strategic Legal Management. The research has been contributed by Tejas Khurana, Consultant and Kashish Grover, Knowledge Intern.