With most firms moving to some form of agile working, Bronwyn Townsend, Senior Marketing Manager at InfoTrack, looks at the spectrum of technology solutions that can help firms to operate digitally.

The global pandemic has had a substantial impact on our working lives and technology has been key to the success of the remote working revolution that has taken place in the past year. In June 2020, The Financial Times reported that the COVID-19 crisis was accelerating the uptake of legal technology within law firms and while this has certainly been the case there is still a lack of clarity about what truly makes a law firm ‘digital’ in 2021.

Investing in tech

HSBC’s Legal tech analysis: investment and growth strategies in law firms 2019 report cited that 81% of respondents said technology was the most strategically important investment for firms to enable them to remain competitive. A substantial number (44%) also confirmed client collaboration services were a priority where technology investment was involved. So even before the pandemic struck, law firms were aware that they must adapt to benefit from the technology available to both them and their clients.

Unsurprisingly, a report from HSBC and briefing in October 2020 found 77% of firms were focused on investing in agile working tools, with 56% concentrating on process automation. While the catalyst effect of the pandemic has rapidly advanced adoption of innovation technology in the legal sector, if you dig deeper, it becomes apparent digital spans a spectrum of solutions – some less pioneering than others.

Is going paperless really digital?

A significant number of law firms have made the switch to operating a paperless model although exactly what the scope of ‘paperless’ means to individual firms varies. Email and PDFs are commonly used to communicate with clients and other parties within a conveyancing transaction but often this doesn’t entirely remove paper from the process. Without digital forms or portals, there remains a burden on clients to print, complete and post back documents. This process presents its own complications – from postal delays and the absence of printers in homes to the possibility of incomplete documentation – a common occurrence. Paper also increases the opportunity of fraud; digital verification offers greater security.

Even when correspondence is entirely managed online via email, conveyancing departments still have to save documents before uploading them to their case management systems. The lack of centralised data creates a disparate process that can make managing compliance difficult, not to mention slowing down internal processes.

Understanding what truly amounts to a digital conveyancing process can benefit firms who are aligned with objectives around scalable growth, excellent client engagement and reducing burnout at a time when the industry is feeling the strain of record transaction volumes. Integrated legal technology solutions are key if you are to move to a wholly digital conveyancing process. This centralises information, provides a digital record for compliance and enacts a single source of truth – ultimately reducing risk for firms.

Is there digital reluctance?

Despite an appetite for new technologies and increased adoption of digital processes (recently six years of digital transformation was completed in six months) there are still gaps. Thomson Reuters Tech and the Law 2020 Report found less than half of law firm employees believe their organisations, systems and processes are either efficient (27%) or can handle an increase in workload (38%).

How can this be the case if the adoption of legal technology across the sector is growing? It appears to come down to the barriers that firms are facing. The same report revealed 30% of firms find identifying the technology solutions they need to be one of the biggest obstacles they face and 42% noted budget restraints as an inhibitor for firms to approve investment.

So, while long understood and adopted methods such as email and PDFs have been embraced, the knowledge gap between available solutions offered by legal technology providers and which systems are the right fit is delaying digital transformation for a large section of the profession.

However, in The 2020 Future Ready Lawyer: Performance Drivers Survey, Wolters Kluwer positively established that interest in the right tools is growing. eSignature solutions came in on top, with 63% of firms making this their priority but only 34% were focused on workflow management and process automation tools. Workflow automation enables technology to do the heavy lifting and rewards users with more time to manage increased caseloads and better service their clients.

It’s obvious that law firms recognise the need to innovate and expand their use of technology but what is less clear is exactly what that technology looks like. Tremendous progress has been made in the last year – to continue that momentum firms should look to an end-to-end digital conveyancing process that sees everything move through one or a few integrated systems.

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