How firms can overcome the top operational challenges by focussing on the adoption of legal technology
2022 has been a very challenging year to run a business in the UK. Law firms and chambers have been impacted by political uncertainty here and abroad, and the soaring cost-of-doing business is affecting everyone. Post-pandemic, law firms are doubling down on efforts to secure and retain new clients. In our Advanced Trends Report, almost half (47%) of legal professionals told us that business growth and development is the main priority for their firm this year. Three-quarters (74%) say they are concerned that current economic climate will impact their business, rising to 82% for firms in London.
Technology is transforming the sector and 87% told us that technology is important in achieving profitability. As we look ahead into 2023, we consider the main operating challenges facing the sector and how adopting new technology can help them achieve their business goals.
One of the biggest challenges for firms is attracting and retaining talent and 87% of legal professionals say their firm has found it difficult to attract new staff or replace leavers this year. High quality candidates are seeking higher salaries and to attract new talent, almost one-third (32%) told us they are offering more money. Newly qualified solicitors are routinely being offered around £100k, with top corporates luring the cream of the crop with deals of up to £150k per year.
Candidates also expect the right to work flexible hours and hybrid working and 37% of firms are offering flexible working as standard. Less rigid working can benefit firms too, and 43% say adopting hybrid working has given them more flexibility, and more than one-third (34%) report it has improved productivity. Other benefits such as private health, gym memberships and mobile phones are also used to sweeten recruitment deals, with 38% saying their firm has increased package options.
Burn-out has been a massive challenge for a sector traditionally associated with working long hours. 85% of legal professionals told us they work before or after contracted hours, and often both. To avoid burn-out, firms are now replacing a live-to-work culture with more sustainable working practices that are not about presenteeism, or working 18 hours a day. Productivity is increasingly being measured as a team, rather than individual ‘star player’, success.
2022 has also been the year of ‘The Great Resignation’, with legal professionals leaving unfulfilling jobs. Firms who want to retain top talent are looking at ways to ensure their own employee value proposition (EVP) provides that sense of purpose, including Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) policies that can deliver ethical and environmentally-sound working practices.
Offering on-going training and career development opportunities is another way to attract and retain the best legal talent, and 35% are offering this as part of their people strategy. Employees feel more valued when their employer is investing in their development with training and skills support, but this is crucial for firms too. Keeping employees up to date with skills and learning is essential in order to remain competent and compliant as a business.
Technology can help with talent management in the following ways:
- Enable hybrid and flexible working, letting professionals work in the way they want to with online documents.
- Online documents keep all parties instantly updated – reducing the risk of turning up at court with a previous version of a court bundle.
- Digital solutions allow fee-earners more time to devote to high-value tasks, reducing the admin burden. They are using time more efficiently, allowing a more employee-focused work culture, that also helps avoid burn-out.
- 46% tell us the technology their firm has adopted helps them to focus and prioritise workloads, another important way to avoid burn-out.
- Help with measuring and reporting ESG goals and progress, making people feel better about the firm they work for. This potentially attracts clients too, as people care about the integrity and credentials of the firms they do business with.
- Performance management tools support overall learning and development culture, ensuring that successes are highlighted and rewarded, ensuring that career progression is fair and equitable, not just given to those with the highest office profile.
Estate and running costs
All businesses, including law firms and chambers, have to run a tight ship now. Energy costs are making inroads into overall expenditure, so all cost efficiencies need to be looked at. The rise of hybrid working has made some office space redundant, and many firms are down-sizing to take advantage of lower rents and other overheads.
Implementing ESG practices often goes hand-in-hand with cost savings. For example, a shift towards paperless processes means lower bills for paper and printing, plus less recycling and waste to manage.
In a competitive marketplace, it makes sound business sense to doubling down on existing customer relationships to ensure repeat and on-going business. Building strong relationships and delivering consistently excellent service is key to this. Accurate and timely billing is also important, reducing time spent dealing with disputed invoices and ensuring cash-flow is maintained accordingly.
Technology supports cost efficiencies by:
- Providing tools for managing every aspect of running a firm, including operational costs such as billing and accounts.
- Automating processes such as repetitive form-filling is crucial to make the best use of professional time. This can transform the way contracts are prepared, and also greatly reduce time spent on renewing professional indemnity insurance (PII).
- Create paperless processes, supporting ESG ambitions and reputation.
- Provide the solutions that enable hybrid working that can facilitate reduced estate and running costs.
- Time capture tools provide accurate billing information to reduce disputes and protect cash-flow.
Security and compliance
Law firms handle more than their fair share of highly sensitive personal client and corporate data, as well as information about their own employees. Maintaining privacy by protecting this information is crucial. Paper files can be misplaced, or worse, lost altogether. For firms preparing court bundles, traditionally this would require multiple and repeated printing and assembling of documents with a requirement to provide updates whenever even the smallest change was made. Digital documents and bundles mean that all parties have access to the very latest versions.Ensure security of sensitive data that must not fall into the wrong hands, risking actual and reputational damage.
40% of law professionals have told us the technology their firm has implemented helps with ensuring security and compliance. Rules change and it can be a significant challenge for firms to ensure that all employees are up to date and informed. Bespoke legal software greatly reduces this risk, ensuring compliance and allowing professionals to focus on other areas for greater use of their experience and expertise.
Technology reduces risk by:
- Unlike physical documents, digital files can’t be misplaced, or worse, left on the train or elsewhere.
- Digital documents and court bundles mean that all parties have access to the very latest versions, without the need for repeatedly printing multiple versions or inserting last-minute changes.
- Digital documents include word-search functions, allowing all parties to locate changes quickly.
- The best practice and case management digital solutions have in-built compliance, making sure everyone is operating as they are required to by law.
- Cloud-based data storage ensures that important data is kept safe, using multi-layered security processes that are constantly updated and reinforced to protect against cybercrime.
A digital future
Online retail, commerce and even socialising is accepted as the norm now. Clients expect to have the same 24/7 access to their law firm as they do with their bank. This is only possible using the latest technology to provide easy communication channels and information sharing.
Implementing digital legal technology can provide firms with the necessary tools to managing every aspect of running the business, from billing and accounts to online documents and court bundles, hiring and monitoring staff performance. It helps with identifying and achieving cost savings, driving efficiency for increased profits, happier employees and a better client experience.
Digital solutions can also offer rich data for actionable insights, helping firms explore further cost efficiencies and spend considerations, identifying processes that can be made more efficient, or highlighting trends that might indicate future issues with things like employee retention and customer satisfaction. As the anticipated economic squeeze gains pace, it will be increasingly important for firms to ensure they are not left behind more technologically savvy competitors, so they can win and retain more customers.