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Rhys Hodkinson

How law firms are changing and how to keep up

How to keep up with changing law firm trends

The legal landscape is always changing. The expectations of clients, remote working, and more have influenced how law firms conduct business, yet many are still reluctant to change. 

However, regardless of their reluctance, they are situated within this evolving landscape. This means, like it or not, they must be agile in order to survive. For these firms, it’s less a question of whether they can out-compete other law firms, and more a matter of keeping up with the inevitable. 

Therefore, firms that actively move with the industry are in a much better position, not merely hanging on by the fingertips, but rather proactively changing to meet the current market’s demands. These firms will likely come out on top, but the question remains - how can they do this? 

Definely understands how even the simplest legal tech has the potential to transform legal careers. Below, we discuss how the legal industry is changing and what law firms can do if they want to come out on top.

The latest law firm trends

Wider industry trends that affect smaller law firms have the potential to completely overhaul how they operate. As highlighted by The Global Legal Post, business development at these firms has undergone an enormous shift toward building better client relationships with a greater emphasis on innovation - technological or otherwise. 

Here are some of the biggest legal tech and law firm trends that have significantly changed the industry.  

The adoption of remote working and automation legal technology 

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about one of the most significant changes to law firms in recent years with the wide adoption of remote and hybrid-style working. Thankfully, Clio’s 2021 Legal Trends Report found that this newfound flexibility was an attractive prospect for clients - 79% of them said that being able to work remotely with a lawyer was a deciding factor in their choice of firm.  

It’s all possible thanks to advances in remote working technology, relating not only to video conferencing software but also automation technology that allows lawyers to do their job from anywhere. This includes legal document drafting software aimed at speeding up many of the processes that currently take time away from the billable hour, and provides features that allow lawyers to make use of a single screen when drafting. Proofreading solutions also accomplish a similar goal, allowing lawyers to complete this process from anywhere, in a very short amount of time. 

However, it’s not simply a matter of remaining attractive to clients - now that lawyers have had a taste of this technology, they don’t want it to disappear. A BigHand report found that nearly half of the lawyers they surveyed were willing to ignore instructions to return to fully office-based working. 

For law firms, this means, at the very least, offering hybrid working and affording lawyers the best legal technology to make the back and forth from remote to office working, easy and efficient.

The drive for better inclusivity and diversity

UK law firms have made some significant improvements to diversity and inclusivity since the 2010 Equality Act enshrined these values into law. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) highlighted this, reporting that since 2019 (the last time they carried out a survey), there had been a “slow and steady improvement” year on year, across all categories, including gender, ethnicity, and social mobility. 

From representing only 48% of the workforce in 2013, women now outnumber men, making up 61% of solicitors, and 52% of all lawyers in law firms. However, ethnic diversity still has a ways to go, with Black, Asian, and minority ethnic groups making up only 17% of the workforce in 2021 - the same percentage as was reported in 2019. 

Thankfully, Magic Circle firms understood and recognised the importance of a diverse firm early on. For example, Allen & Overy recognised that client expectations had changed - not only were they asking about diversity strategies, but they were also setting inclusivity targets for their firms to meet. In response, Allen & Overy began researching how gendered language had affected their wider company culture, and introduced semi-regular roundtable discussions focusing on their newly implemented diversity strategies, to ensure they were successful. 

With leading firms making positive changes to their diversity and inclusion policies, it would be wise for medium and smaller-sized law firms to follow suit. As reported by Forbes, it’s well established that diverse firms make better decisions - to survive and thrive, it’s imperative that firms proactively address this trend toward inclusivity. 

Will these law firm trends continue?

Diversity and legal tech are often intertwined, and client expectations consider both. Based on their rise in the past few years, these trends are sure to continue. We will likely see an increased adoption rate of legal technologies targeted at improving client relations, and a greater emphasis put on diversity, equity, and inclusivity policies, to ensure law firms better reflect the clients they represent. 

Automation technology, such as document drafting and proofreading software, like Definely Draft and Definely Proof, are two such legal technologies that will see greater adoption in the coming years. Thomson Reuters reported that lawyers using this tech have seen an average time save of 82%, allowing for more time to be spent on high-value client work. 

This means firms can seek out more clients without sacrificing quality as low-value non-billable work is being automated. In turn, clients can see how much quality is being put into their work, increasing the likelihood that firms will retain current clients and attract new ones.

Agility is the secret to success 

No matter how law firms may have changed in recent years, the future remains to be seen. With uncertainty surrounding the current political landscape, including a potential global recession and the impact of the war in Ukraine (which saw Russia implementing travel bans for some lawyers in the US), the best option for most firms is to look to past trends and make decisions based on the ones most likely to continue. 

An agile firm, quick to embrace change, will be able to better face the uncertainties of the future. Legal technologies, such as the Definely Suite, can give lawyers the ability to ride out these legal tech trends because it allows them to keep their clients' needs front and centre. 

Get in touch today, and we can discuss how to future-proof your firm to ensure success both now and down the road. 

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