REUTERS / Yara Nardi
One aspect of the changes brought on by COVID-19 is the significant increase in the numbers of lawyers and their staff working remotely. As law firms and legal departments activated business continuity plans, they have accelerated a shift towards using cloud-based platforms to help staff work together and deliver client needs. In doing so, they can harness the considerable advantages of leveraging legal technology (legaltech) to benefit their businesses.
Many legal businesses are already using this technology, while others have plans to do so, through cloud-based software-as-service options (SaaS)—defined as a ‘web-based software service or solution’.
Of the respondents in a 2019 American Bar Association survey, 58 percent utilised the cloud—a slight increase on 55 percent in 2018. In 2019, ‘LawTech Adoption Research’ was published by The Law Society of England and Wales. The report states that law firms “have been moving increasingly to cloud delivery over the last few years”. The delivery of such services is seen as crucial to the expansion of legaltech.
Change is naturally resisted by most, especially when the practice of law has been the same for so many years. Moreover, change can be perceived as time-consuming—and not all firm leaders appreciate the value of using legaltech and rewarding lawyers for adapting to new ways of working. However, there are indicators of a shift in perception on the horizon for acceptance of adopting legaltech. The 2019 Technology Survey by the International Legal Technology Association showed that 72 percent of law firms predict an increase in usage of cloud-based solutions. Aderant’s 2019 Business of Law and Legal Technology Survey suggested that 74 percent of law firms are at least “somewhat” or “slightly” cloud-based – and another 12 percent were “mostly” or “completely” cloud-based. Although, there are still points of legitimate concern in moving towards more use of legaltech—even before the heightened restrictions brought on by the General Data Protection Regulation—the importance of keeping client data safe is paramount.
According to the 2019 report from the Law Society, “…movement to the cloud will act as a competitive advantage for technology-focused law firms looking to improve security, accessibility, and collaboration”. Although some concerns about cybersecurity do remain, many law firms are already adapting to the benefits offered by utilising the cloud. Now, the adoption of legaltech has been significantly spurred on by COVID-19, which resulted in most everyone working from home.
Positively, the increased movement to the cloud is met by significant developments. Many cybersecurity concerns have already been mitigated by sophisticated supplier solutions, enabling better client care, matter management, and financial management systems to protect both legal privilege and data security in the same instance.
So, the benefits well outweigh the risks in moving to cloud-based solutions. In doing so, law firms, and law departments, are merely harnessing the flexibility and usage of the cloud, to develop autonomous solutions to the challenges they face, without extensive reliance on internal solutions. The Solicitor Regulation Authority also notes that the cloud provides affordable data storage and reduces the risk of data loss by providing an efficient backup system.
Given the current implications of remote working, reliance on the traditional office based solutions is no longer feasible, withy firms seeking faster and more independent project management, including the automation of internal processes and case management. Indeed, there may be a learning curve for some. Helpfully, The Law Society of England and Wales have published a guide ‘Cybersecurity for Solicitors’.
Clients are increasingly asking their advisers to show them more efficient ways of getting things done, to which law firms are increasingly responsive. Initiatives, such as the Association of Corporate Counsel’s ‘Value Challenge’, suggest that law firms are working with businesses on shared initiatives – including across cloud-based platforms.
As a recent article suggested, with the costs and commercial barriers to using the cloud falling, law firms are seizing the opportunity to use the cloud for functions such as communications, personnel, marketing and business development.
It also enables the management of financial issues such as billing, pricing and accounting, while IT personnel are able to harness enhanced data storage and management solutions. Fee-earners, meanwhile, have the benefit of online document and matter management, as well as managing the specific demands of deal rooms or dispute resolution processes.
That, in turn, enables the major functions of law firm businesses to endure, thanks to business continuity plans that minimise the impact of ongoing crises such as the coronavirus, while also speeding the end of legacy case and practice management systems.
PwC’s 2019 law firm survey previously found that larger law firms increasingly saw technology as important for growth in the next two to three years. Moreover, a 2020 survey by the Law Society of England and Wales suggests that the greater use of technology in general could streamline businesses and reduce headcount costs.
The speed at which the practice of law changes will only be enhanced by the effects of COVID-19—and the cloud will be a significant part of legaltech and the future of law.