Trends in Legal Tech: What We’re Seeing in 2021

Blog post - 27 May 2021

Technologies are developing at an unprecedented rate. In 2010, LexisNexis listed e-readers, smarter smartphones, smaller laptops, and the advent of cloud computing as the most promising trends in technology for the year. A decade later, the future has absolutely arrived. Blockchain, neural networking, computer vision, and extended reality all exist, with immense future potential. While these developments certainly are exciting, they are not the trends that will shape law firms in 2021 – or even in the coming years. The proliferation of work-from-home arrangements has already proved to many lawyers the value of digital solutions. These lawyers have started using scheduling and diary management tools instead of relying on their assistant. They have stopped printing reams of legal documents, preferring instead to edit online in Google Docs or Word. Meanwhile, documents are now being sent via DocuSign for e-signature more often than they were pre-pandemic.

It’s these incremental changes in productivity that are going to make the biggest difference to law firms in the coming years:

Increased Automation of Repetitive Tasks.
The legal technologies that hold the potential to have the biggest impact on firm productivity and profitability are those which automate repetitive and administrative tasks. The pandemic caused a jump in the uptake and interest in these technologies as firms across the globe initially tightened their belts and let go or furloughed secretarial staff and associates. We expect to see increased interest in these technologies into the future, now that lawyers are more well acquainted with digitalisation and its benefits.

In terms of the technologies available today, there’s a growing list of tasks that can be automated with effective automation tools, including:

  • calendar management and scheduling;
  • billing and payments;
  • document population;
  • workflow management, including email follow-ups;
  • document signing; and
  • time entry management.

Interestingly, Thomson Reuters noted in its 2021 State of the Legal Market report that many firms have placed increased emphasis on accurate daily time recording and general billing hygiene throughout the pandemic. The increased interest in time recording stems from the increased interest in maximising firm profitability in uncertain times. Leading law firms understand the relationship between billing hygiene and collection, and they sought to mitigate losses wherever possible.

More Reliance on Self-Service.
Self-service tools are increasingly being adopted by large corporations. Generally speaking, these self-service tools promote focus on legal issues instead of legal administration. For instance, Australian conglomerate Wesfarmers built a self-service tool that enables staff to comply with marketing laws, develop confidentiality agreements, and review contracts. This frees up time for its lawyers to focus on more complex legal matters.

With increasing technological intervention, there’s no reason law firms can’t benefit from self-service tools too. Legal clients are gaining increased access to self-service tools for client intake, data entry, and contract and document generation. We expect to see greater adoption of these technologies into the future.

An Increased Focus on Privacy & Cybersecurity,
The risk to law firms posed by privacy non-compliance and inadequate cybersecurity is growing every day. In recent years, we’ve seen growing interest and investment in Privacy-As-A-Service and Cybersecurity-As-A-Service. These services are of particular interest to lawyers for three reasons:

  • Lawyers are ethically required to keep client data confidential;
  • Lawyers are alert to their legal obligations under global privacy and cybersecurity laws
  • The vast majority of cyber breaches are directly attributable to human error.

Law firms are demanding better security from their service providers too.

Law firm leaders know and understand that a data privacy breach that affects their third-party service providers has a ripple effect. While the service providers might be responsible for the breach, it’s the firm’s data that is exposed – which can result in reputational damage, financial losses, and legal liability in some cases.

As a result, law firms are now demanding that legal technology providers implement industry-leading cybersecurity protections. In doing so, law firms can minimise their cybersecurity expenditure while also gaining access to the benefits of digitalisation.

Privacy & Cybersecurity Checklist for Your Software Providers:

  • Is the software application based in the cloud?
  • Does your software provider hold international security certifications?
  • Does your software provider hold industry-specific certifications?
  • Does your software provider comply with international regulations, like the GDPR?
  • Does your software provide use encrypted communications as standard?
  • Does your software provider minimise and delete stored data as standard to minimise your cyber risk?

If you answered no to any of these questions, you may want to source an alternative provider.