The push and pull of direct client feedback is a strong indicator of where the practice of law is, or should be, heading. As we recently described in this post on in-house legal departments’ impression of outside law firm performance during the COVID-19 epidemic, corporate consumers of legal services now expect their litigators and advisers to be:
- Skilled at using technology to efficiently deliver high-quality legal services;
- Available remotely at any hour if business needs demand it; and
- Capitalizing on cost savings made possible by technology and remote work environments, and passing the savings on to the client.
As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, heightened client expectations regarding technology have become more widely appreciated within a legal community that, until recently, believed that in-person proceedings served clients well enough and that clients would be slow to accept virtual hearings and electronic deliverables.
Neither of these assumptions is true today.
Clients Want Technology, But See Lawyers Lagging
The 2020 Legal Trends Report from Themis Solutions Inc., maker of Clio law practice management software, provides evidence that the broader market for legal services — clients outside corporate legal departments — are also expecting lawyers to make greater use of technology in their law practices.
As it turns out, clients across the board are ready for technological innovation. Notable findings from the Clio survey, which captured impressions from lawyers and consumers, include:
- 58 percent of consumers said that technology is more important to them now than before the COVID-19 pandemic
- 50 percent of consumers say they’re more comfortable with technology now than before the COVID-19 pandemic
- 69 percent of consumers prefer to share documents electronically
- 37 percent of consumers prefer videoconference when meeting their lawyer for the first time
- 56 percent of consumers prefer videoconferencing over a phone call
These same consumers expressed only modest expectations that lawyers have the capacity to deliver legal services through technology:
- 29 percent of consumers believe most lawyers can access their information online
- 29 percent of consumers believe most lawyers are able to securely share documents and allow e-signatures online
- 26 percent of consumers believe most lawyers are meeting with clients virtually
According to lawyers responding to the Clio survey, the legal profession is more technologically adept than their clients believe it to be. Eighty-three percent of lawyers reported using videoconferencing software to meet with clients, and 62 percent said they have the capability to share and sign documents electronically.
Greater Use of Technology After Pandemic Passes
Lawyers also shared with survey researchers an optimistic view of technology’s growing role within the legal profession. After the COVID-19 pandemic passes, they said, virtual meetings and automated, electronic legal processes will be widespread. Ninety-five percent of lawyers said they would continue to share and sign electronic documents; 83 percent said they would continue to meet with clients via videoconferencing.
Eighty-four percent of lawyers said they believed they could serve clients better by adopting law office automation software.
Not surprisingly, lawyers responding to the Clio survey saw technology playing a vital role in the legal profession:
- 76 percent believe that legal services can be streamlined when conducted virtually
- 89 percent believe courts can be improved through technology
- 94 percent believe judges should be allowed to sign court documents electronically
- 88 percent believe that the public should be allowed to access court files electronically
Among lawyer respondents, 37 percent said that most if not all law firms should operate virtually.
Among consumer respondents, 52 percent said they believe most legal matters could be handled virtually without a face-to-face meeting with a lawyer.
The Opportunity for Lawyers
Several takeaways jump out immediately from the Clio survey.
First, most consumers of legal services are ready to interact with lawyers virtually. Lawyers would be wise to respond to this market change and prepare now to meet clients and potential clients where they are — online, increasingly.
Second, clients don’t view virtual legal service delivery as a lesser form of legal service. Virtual meetings, remote depositions, and electronic deliverables can all form a large portion of a firm’s client service package without concern that clients might feel they are being short-changed. In fact, just the opposite. Increasingly, clients expect that the greater use of technology will lead to higher-quality legal services at better prices.
Third, the legal profession has an image problem when it comes to technology. Whatever the state of technology adoption within law firms might be in reality, many consumers believe that lawyers lack the capacity to meet virtually, share and sign electronic documents, and use technology to their advantage.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced everyone within the legal community to take a hard look at the way lawyers and courts serve the public, to retain the core values of the legal profession and to discard, out of necessity, the inessential, inefficient, or just plain impossible trappings of traditional lawyering in an era of government-imposed public health restrictions. The resulting innovation in both courthouses and law offices — in many cases, mere adoption of already available technologies — has given both law firms and their clients a compelling glimpse of a technology-enabled, client-centered future for the legal profession. Lawyers would be well-advised to embrace that future, if they have not already.
The Clio survey collected data from U.S. lawyers and consumers during the April-August 2020 time period.