Many have noted the legal world’s relative lag in digitization compared to other professional services industries. In fact, in its 2019 “Introduction to LawTech,” the UK’s Law Society said, “while there has been a significant rise in the number of LawTech providers since 2016, the legal sector has been slow in adopting new technology.”
But the global COVID-19 pandemic changed all that, yes? Well, not necessarily.
While digital transformation represents “an opportunity for lawyers to lead and enable the delivery of more secure, efficient, and client-centric legal services,”1 staff members at a number of firms have reportedly returned to their offices simply because it is the only way they can get work done.
How then are law firms, without the benefit of digital, cloud-based technologies, expected to compete in a world where both business models and customer expectations have changed dramatically? In a nutshell: automation, integration and digitization.
Automation. Automation is often considered an option for only the most routine, repetitive tasks. But today’s intelligent technologies can address highly complex processes like new client onboarding. Conflict-of-interest checks and know-your-client and anti-money laundering (KYC/AML) regulations can all be addressed with a single end-to-end client due diligence workflow that communicates to every individual involved in the process every step of the way.
Integration. When we think of the legal industry, we think “paper.” That’s not to say law firms don’t use their fair share of “lawtech,” but it’s rare that these applications are fully or even partially integrated. You may employ terrific practice and case management software, but how many firms can say it’s fully integrated with its CRM, billing, and research and business development applications? Not many. Bringing in new technologies to reduce operational costs, strengthen internal collaboration and improve customer interaction are critical for the industry to meet both customer expectations and the changing business environment. Having them “talk” to one another is a differentiator.
Digitization. Straight-through processing is the goal of most organizations, including law firms. Let the process move work along, update systems, then involve a human for processing only if human decision making is required. Often, it’s the beginning of a process that can be most challenging. In highly-regulated industries like legal and healthcare, for example, regulation hasn’t advanced to allow end-to-end digital processing. As a result, there is still a great amount of incoming paper.
AI technology enables firms to accept end-customer data in any form and turns the written word into decision-ready data. Embedding AI upfront in the automation strategy means work is intelligently extracted, prioritized, contextualized and routed to fit directly into existing business processes. That means improving every downstream workflow as well as substantial time and cost savings.
Healthy margins may have previously offset any urgency to advance from outdated, manual, paper-based processes, but the disruption caused by COVID-19 has accelerated these plans. Increased automation and improved integration and digitization would all bring about the radical but positive change law firms need to compete today.
SS&C recently published a paper that examines just how far law firms can go in bringing their operations up to speed. Read our “Making the Case: Digital Strategies for Law Firms” whitepaper to learn more.
1Rene Cortes, Rewire Magazine, 2021