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ANALYSIS: Legal Tech Is Helping Lawyers, But Where’s the Love?

Oct. 28, 2020, 5:33 PM

Legal technology has increased efficiency over the past year and a half, according to Bloomberg Law surveys. And output is improving. But, while lawyers are far from willing to entirely dismiss legal tech as a workflow tool, they are only somewhat happy with how tech is impacting their day-to-day work. Much room for improvement remains.

Efficiency Is on the Rise

Results from three Bloomberg Law surveys over the past year and a half (Legal Operations and Technology 2019 Survey, Legal Operations 2020 Survey, and Legal Technology 2020 Survey) show marked increases in efficiencies attributed to legal tech. From March 2019 to July 2020, the percentage of respondents indicating that their organization has experienced increased efficiencies due to the use of tech has risen by nearly 50%, and though most of those who agree only do somewhat, agreement is increasing over time — and even the percentage who strongly agree has doubled over this period.

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Output and Workflow Are Improving ... Somewhat

Results from Bloomberg Law’s Legal Technology 2020 Survey offers a more in-depth look at how technology is impacting work. And while organizations are happy with tech’s impact on output, lawyers are less than thrilled with its impact on workflows.

Legal tech is having a notable impact on organizational output, with law firms getting the most bang for the buck. Four out of five firm respondents report an increase in the volume of work produced by their organization due to the use of legal tech, while 73% of corporate legal department respondents report a volume increase. Larger discrepancies emerge when considering the quality of the output, with 71% of firm respondents stating that tech results in improved quality of work, compared to 59% of in-house respondents.

However, respondents are not particularly excited by legal tech’s impact on their day-to-day workflows. While tech enables most lawyers to spend more time on higher-level tasks, the increase is less than great for all but a sliver (7%) of respondents. And the same pattern holds true for other workflow measurements; workflows are only somewhat improved. Nearly three-quarters of lawyers (73%) spend less time on lower-level tasks due to the use of legal tech, but only 13% describe the decrease as great. The average time to complete tasks has also decreased (59%), but only somewhat (53%). On a positive note, fewer than one-quarter of respondents report an increase in the difficulty or number of challenges enountered due to legal tech, discrediting the common complaint that tech causes more problems than it solves.

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But Lawyers Aren’t Feeling Warm and Fuzzy

If the proportion of people who are somewhat happy with the impact tech is having on their workflows tells us anything, it’s that there is still a lack of love for these tools. And there are a ton of tools, so that’s a lot of love lost.

The proponents of legal tech tools frequently explain the lack of love as being due to a lack of technological intelligence, low experience with tech, lawyers’ Luddite tendencies, etc. While these excuses have been accepted for years, the time has come to call foul. Lawyers use technology all day every day. They do their purchasing online, get their music through streaming services, spend their time on blogs, listen to podcasts, welcome their guests though audio/video-enabled doorbells, ask Alexa to answer their phones, and watch movies on demand. So tech has the ability make lawyers feel warm and fuzzy. But legal tech? Clearly, that is somehow falling short.

So, where is the disconnect? Tech is built by developers to meet a perceived need, but something is going wrong when translating the need to the solution — or maybe the need identified isn’t really the need. Are companies building a tool to put a hole in a wall when the actual need is for a picture to be hung? More basic yet, maybe tech is being used to fill a need better met elsewhere.

Room for Improvement Remains

As a result of the pandemic, tech use is on the rise and — according to our survey — management is more open to tech solutions than they were before. For these solutions to be most effective, thereby evoking love, they must be targeted to meet user needs; integrated into other workflow and software systems; and supported by stakeholder buy-in, adequate training, and executive and technical support.

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Unsurprisingly, solutions have been largely focused on solving workflow needs, as discussed in our recent analysis. With corporate legal departments focusing on controlling expenses, a significant portion of which are allocated to outside counsel, law firms are under pressure to reduce waste and increase efficiency in workflows. While there are numerous ways to improve workflows, technology tools may be seen as providing the fastest or easiest solutions to workflow issues.

The general perception is that the legal industry uses tech like my grandmother uses her smartphone — as infrequently as possible and blind to its true value. Sure, her greatest needs are to make and receive calls, but there is so much more she could do with it — and it really can make other tasks easier. However, this assumes that the tech is well designed for the purpose and the audience.

Establishing needs and designing appropriate solutions requires multidisciplinary teams of innovative thinkers, lawyers, engineers, anthropologists, and the like. Once this is done, tech must be evaluated on an ongoing basis to ensure it’s meeting lawyers’ needs in the best way possible using relevant metrics. And, if it’s not, adjust accordingly.

The work never ends.

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