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The relevance of the technology used within law firms is heightened by the current era of rapid digital transformation and the effects of covid-19. With an increasing number of transactions taking place online, especially with the rise of fintech, law firms need to keep up to remain competitive.
They have therefore adopted or developed various technologies (or look to do so) to meet the new demands and expectations of their clients, whilst also streamlining their day-to-day activities.
Benefits of technology
To save time, daily functions such as billing, contract and project management are all high-volume, low-risk tasks that can be automated. Doing so will maximise the lawyers’ time while benefiting the client due to reduced billable hours. For example, computer programmes can stitch together precedents, and software designed for case management, by checking laws and potential conflicts, to ease the time-consuming load of manually reviewing cases.
Documentation software can also increase efficiency by drafting templates that only need to be modified or filled in. Legal process mapping helps to increase productivity by graphically representing the firm’s process in a case, like a flowchart, including inputs/outputs and assignment of roles. Technology can also remove the risk of inaccuracies and human errors because a machine has the ability to proof and correct documents in a matter of minutes.
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Law firms can save time through these mechanisms that allows lawyers to spend their time providing individualised solutions to the clients. The use of legal technology can also lead to better work-life balance by decreasing the time it takes to complete certain tasks.
Law firms may also use more complex technologies that involve AI, such as decision support tools and predictive analytics (machine learning). These programmes work by gathering data, then analysing that information using a specific model, and finally processing that data and making decisions/predictions.
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AI and other automated programmes can also improve client relationship/experience. For example, by gathering data about the client to better understand their needs. Applications that manage customer relationships, like a client portal, can also keep the clients updated on the progress of their case.
By developing or investing in technology, such as data analytics for how the firm’s business is functioning, law firms decrease the costs of paying for external consultants. Moreover, as some law firms expand globally, technology facilitates communication between offices and allows for a delivery of faster services to a wider range of clients.
Finally, establishing a good digital presence is also vital, given that most consumers search for services/products using the internet. Most law firms have already done so through creating detailed and user-friendly websites.
Humans vs machines
Machines and technology cannot wholly replace human capabilities, especially in a profession that is influenced by, and requires, human interaction and judgement. By aiding in the performance of menial, monotonous tasks, lawyers can direct their focus on meaningful and analytical work.
Although machines can predict outcomes, clients derive value from considered judgments that only humans can make. Similarly, with documentation software, lawyers still need to learn and retain the skill of drafting bespoke clauses. The legal industry is a people business, so technology can only help to an extent.
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The increased use of technology and cloud-based data storage may have some drawbacks, the main one being that of cybersecurity and data breach. Law firms need to ensure their data security and protection of privacy is top-notch, or they may face large fines due to GDPR in the EU.
Moreover, the law firm's employees may need to adjust or receive guidance on using specific software’s/applications and must also be instructed in how to handle confidential data online. Even then, implementing new technology may be challenging, as lawyers may not have time to dedicate to learning how to use these programmes. Therefore, it’s crucial for technology to be user-friendly.
Lastly, technology can be expensive, especially with more complex programmes that involve AI. Whereas larger firms may make that investment, smaller firms without large financial resources may not be able to develop their own technologies.
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When applying to law firms you can research the technologies they have adopted or developed and discuss if it has given the firm some sort of competitive advantage. Here are a few examples:
Being tech savvy and learning new skills
Being tech savvy will be advantageous but you do not need to be a technology expert. After all, your focus will be on the legal tasks. However, being knowledgeable about what technologies are available and how they can aid with legal tasks will not only ease the workload and increase productivity, but also offer better solutions to the clients.
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Lawyers are expected to have problem solving skills, which can manifest in the way they use technology in their work.
So, if you have free time or are interested in technology in the legal sphere, you can take free courses tailored to lawyers. On top of this, it’s also useful to stay up to date with technology trends and news, as law firms’ clients may well be tech companies.
For more information on working with AI, read this Practice Area Profile!