Results from three Bloomberg Law surveys show lawyers’ use of legal technologies is increasing. However, certain tools that are identified as needed are declining in use over time, according to responses from law firm lawyers. To understand and resolve this anomaly, it is important to have appropriate metrics in place that enable management to evaluate user needs, identify potential solutions, and troubleshoot issues that may impede the success of such solutions.
Declining Popularity for Three Tech Tools
Despite an overall increase in tech use over time, according to three Bloomberg Law surveys (Legal Operations and Technology, March 2019; Legal Operations, March 2020; and Legal Technology, July 2020), three types of tech solutions have declined in use among law firm respondents when compared to 2019: drafting, legal project management, and knowledge management tools. Reporting a steady decline, legal project management and knowledge management tools are now only used by fewer than one-quarter of lawyers. Drafting tool use declined between March 2019 and March 2020, followed by a slight increase in July 2020, but use still remains below 2019 levels.
Needs Remain in Law Firms
This decline in use does not mean that these resources themselves are no longer needed. About one-quarter of law firm respondents identified drafting and legal project management tools as areas of unmet tech needs in their organization, and one-fifth of respondents reported unmet needs for knowledge management tools.
Drafting tools may help lawyers reduce time lost to tasks such as proofreading and formatting, and may assist with identifying and analyzing language used in contracts, motions, and briefs, among others. Not only can these solutions help seasoned professionals work faster, they can also build the confidence of novice legal writers and reduce client costs.
Project management resources come in many different forms, and project management tech tools — although not integral to the workflow — can assist with planning matters and tracking the many moving pieces of large-scale projects. Since most lawyers are not formally trained in project management, these solutions are useful for doing the heavy lifting of tasks like monitoring expenses and case timetables, allowing the lawyer to focus on practicing law. These tools are designed to lessen the stress of lawyers having to wear multiple hats at once.
Similar to project management tools, knowledge management tools can help track and share information and harness specific areas of expertise within a law firm. Knowledge management tools allow individuals to quickly locate know-how and expertise within their organization to serve clients faster and more efficiently.
With Metrics, Firms Can Bridge the Gap
While the source of the disconnect is unclear, the key to resolving it lies in metrics. Having relevant metrics in place that capture the life cycle of a technology can provide pertinent information to business leaders, allowing them to identify exactly where problems are occurring and helping them close the gap between low usage and high need.
When considering the cause of poor legal tech utilization, several possible reasons come to mind. These survey results could indicate that firms are divesting themselves of these tools when they are still needed by lawyers. However, it’s more likely that either the tools in place are not meeting lawyers’ needs or that lawyers may not be aware that those tools are even available within their firm.
If drafting, legal project management, and knowledge management tools are available within a firm, needs assessments can clarify whether the tech is positively impacting lawyers’ workflows. If these tools are not available, needs assessments can determine whether they should be adopted. However, once tools are in place, it becomes more difficult to pinpoint problem areas without relevant metrics — and few firms have formal metrics in place to evaluate the performance of their tech. For firms that do have metrics in place, management should consider whether their metrics fully capture the lifecycle of their tools.
There are many phases of the tech lifecycle during which problems may occur, and these problems can affect how frequently and effectively the tool is used.
For example, surveying lawyers to determine if they are aware that resources exist within the firm could reveal that communication or integration issues are negatively affecting use. Reassessing the initial problem that the tool was intended to solve may reveal that the wrong tool is in place. Obtaining feedback from lawyers on training could lead management to restructure current training methods or encourage workers to spend more time learning how to use their tech. And finally, evaluating the performance of the tool itself could indicate that it is poorly designed to meet the firm’s needs.
Easing Growing Pains Through Metrics
As lawyers’ workflows and subsequent technology needs evolve, growing pains are unavoidable. Survey results showing a decline in the use of drafting, legal project management, and knowledge management tools among firms may be a reflection of these growing pains.
However, understanding how needs are changing, having relevant metrics in place to evaluate needs and available tech solutions, and continually reassessing issues in lawyers’ workflows can help firms identify and ease those pains. This information can provide critical insights and help ensure that tools are meeting lawyers’ needs, thereby increasing efficiency, quality, and volume of output, and potentially improving lawyer well-being.
Access additional analyses from our Bloomberg Law 2021 series here, including pieces covering trends in Litigation, Transactions & Markets, the Future of the Legal Industry, and ESG.
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