The past decade was, as Bob Ambrogi wrote in his reflections, one that will “forever transform the practice of law and delivery of legal services.” One particularly meaningful trend that Ambrogi highlights is “the ascension of the client.” Clients have more power than ever before in their relationship with their law firms, and law firms must evolve in order to maintain their position in the market. The most recent Legal Executive Institute Law Firm Business Leaders Report validates this insight, noting that 37 percent respondents see downward pressure on fees from clients as a high risk to their profitability. However, what is also notable in this survey is that internal forces are seen as an equal threat to profitability. Lawyer recruitment and retention was noted as a significant risk by 37 percent of respondents, while underperforming lawyers are seen as a significant risk by 32 percent.
In our legal tech predictions for 2020, we lay out the ways in which we believe that technology will help law firms not only be more profitable but also enable their lawyers to be more productive and be happier in the workplace.
According to Deloitte’s 2019 Global Millennial Survey, nearly 75 percent of millennials say that a “work-from-home” or “work remotely” policy is important, and 69 percent believe that a physical presence in the office on a regular basis is unnecessary. The legal industry is not immune to this trend, which Bob Ambrogi calls “the untethering of law practice.” But remote working policies are not sufficient to ensure that lawyers can be productive when they work outside of the office—the right technology must also be implemented.
In light of this growing trend, we predict that in 2020, as law firms look to adapt their technology stacks to accommodate more flexible working, legal technology across the spectrum of email, document management, and time capture and entry will need to be designed with a mobile-first approach. As one of our contributors in our blog series on The Lives of Lawyers notes, many law firms’ tech stacks are falling drastically short in that respect. From this writer’s perspective, the lack of technology available at her firm was not only frustrating but actually demoralizing enough to make her want to entirely leave the practice of law. We expect to see more of this sentiment in 2020, with millennial lawyers expecting technology that is seamless across laptops, tablets, and phones. Vendors will need to ensure that their technology works across all major devices, while also thinking through the overall user experience, data privacy, and security concerns for data delivery.
Fear of AI in the legal sector is dissipating, as lawyers realize the potential of AI to enhance their abilities, not replace them. At law firms specifically, which still primarily rely on the billable hour as the major source of revenue, intelligently automating the most onerous and laborious administrative tasks for lawyers will result in a meaningful increase in revenue, as lawyers will have more time to focus on higher-value work. Tasks that can be automated include email management and time capture, which ZERØ addresses on both desktop and mobile.
For law firms, investing in AI solutions that automate this low-value work will help them mitigate two of the key risks noted in the LEI Law Firm Business Leaders Report. Recruitment and retention will improve if lawyers are happier, which they will be if they have more time to focus on stimulating and high-value tasks. Lawyer productivity will also improve as morale is raised. (Read more about the benefits of AI-powered technologies in ZERØ’s Partner Briefing on AI-Powered Email Management and Mobile Time Capture.)
Clio’s most recent Legal Trends Report points to a dismal trend among law firms with its shockingly low estimate of utilization rates industry-wide; the average lawyer spends only 2.5 hours on billable work each day. This data point highlights the increasing importance of maintaining high utilization rates for driving growth. Law firms will prioritize productivity gains by adding new tools that will help lawyers focus on performing more billable work. Boosting productivity can’t be underestimated; even an additional hour a day can lead to significant revenue gains for law firms when compounded.
Most law firms currently struggle with the ability to accurately forecast profitability. In 2020, we predict that AI-powered products will be a game-changer in this respect. This is because AI technologies improve as they are exposed to more data, leading to a dramatic increase in the precision and accuracy of the resulting predictive insights. For example, we expect that in 2020, law firms will be able to analyze email activities to identify which clients consume the most non-billable time, which lawyers are most efficient at performing specific kinds of tasks, which tasks create the most administrative drag, or which matter types or practice areas are eroding the firm’s bottom line.
While more law firms are implemented cloud-based technologies, security is still a top concern. The ABA’s 2019 Legal Technology Survey reported that more than 50 percent of respondents were concerned about confidentiality and security, as well as lack of control over their data. This problem is particularly salient when discussing mobile technology, which typically necessitates that data be analyzed in the cloud.
Edge computing circumvents this concern by processing data directly on the device and never sending it to the cloud. Instead, the raw data is fetched from on-premise or cloud services and then analyzed on the user’s device to provide real-time data analysis and insights without ever compromising data security or user privacy. As edge computing proliferates, the trade-off between security and efficiency will no longer exist—rather, law firms will be able to deploy modern software that is both powerful and extremely secure. This is good news for lawyers, who will have access to the most cutting-edge technology solutions available in the market, and will also benefit clients by ensuring that their firms are able to invest in software solutions that allow them to deliver legal services more efficiently.
Do you have a prediction of your own? Email us to let us know what you think is in store for legal tech in 2020!