Nicole Black

As the pandemic recedes and we head into the “new normal,” no one is exactly sure what law offices will look like post-pandemic. Will lawyers work remotely more often than before? Will the “face time” requirements of year’s past fall by the wayside as remote work increases? Will law firms continue to adopt new technologies into their firms in order to facilitate new ways of working?

Only time will tell how these questions will be resolved. In the meantime, we have the results from a number of recent surveys available that offer predictions and possible answers to these inquiries.

For example, the recently released 2021 Wolters Kluwer Future Ready Lawyer Survey: Moving Beyond the Pandemic tackles these issues and much more. This annual survey always offers insightful analysis of legal trends, and this year’s report was no different. The 2021 survey includes data obtained from 700 legal professionals across nine European countries and the U.S. from a broad range of law firms and legal departments and provides a wealth of statistics about law firms, the effects of the pandemic, and legal technology purchasing decisions.

One of the main issues addressed in this year’s survey was how the pandemic impacted attitudes about technology, change management and remote work. One of the key findings was that one effect of the pandemic was an increased realization of the value of technology, and the many benefits that the legal profession derives from it: “The ability to use technology to ensure performance became more important as the pandemic sent professionals out of the office and into their homes where they interacted remotely with clients, colleagues and the courts. The crisis made clear that technology solutions are essential to business resilience and client service. The survey also confirms that professionals see digital transformation and technology as a key driver of improved performance, efficiency and productivity ahead, and that increased use of and investment in technology solutions will continue.”

Because of the pandemic and the resulting social distancing requirements, law firm lawyers and staff were unexpectedly displaced from their offices. Law firms were forced to transition to remote work, and many were wholly unprepared for that shift. For that reason, it’s no surprise to learn that 77% of survey respondents shared that one of the top trends that will impact their law firm over the next three years is the increasing importance of legal technology.

This is because technology played such a key role in addressing the remote working challenges that law firms encountered at the start of the pandemic. That’s why it makes perfect sense that 63% of survey respondents reported that their law firms planned to increase technology spend (up from 60% in 2020). And, since cloud-based tools were instrumental to business resiliency during the pandemic, it’s not surprising to learn that according to 75% of those surveyed, cloud computing software was the top technology that their firms planned to purchase in the near future.

The survey results also showed that emerging technologies would also play a part in many law firms’ future technology spend. Survey respondents indicated that the following technologies would have an impact on their firm over the next three years: 1) big data and predictive analytics (69% up from 58% in 2020); 2) machine learning (67% up from 57% in 2020); 3) artificial intelligence (65% up from 59% in 2020); and 4) robotic process automation (63% up from 49% in 2020).

However, the survey results also indicated that although law firms seemed to be exhibiting an increased interest in purchasing new technology, most were not fully prepared to implement technological change. Only 32% of respondents believed that their firms were very prepared to use technology to be more productive. Similarly, only 30% said that their firms were very prepared to effectively implement change management processes. A mere 25% agreed that their firms were very prepared to automate routine processes. Finally, less than a third of respondents (30%) agreed that their firms had staff capable of leveraging technology and only 26% were very prepared to recruit or retain technology staff.

Given those statistics, you might think that the future of technology adoption in law firms looks bleak. However, the authors of the survey would beg to disagree. They believe that the pandemic ushered in a new phase of technology use in the legal profession: “(O)ne thing is certain: the digital transformation of the industry gained unprecedented momentum, which continues today. In the past year, technology was a lifeline to the legal profession, in serving clients, connecting with colleagues and driving efficiency and productivity. As the industry continues to recover and a ‘new normal’ emerges, technology will be a driving force.”

I tend to agree, but then again my official title is “Legal Technology Evangelist,” so perhaps I’m a bit biased. What do you think? Will technology adoption increase significantly in the years to come, or will the legal profession overall continue to be technology averse?

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase legal practice management software. She is the nationally recognized author of “Cloud Computing for Lawyers” (2012) and co-authors “Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier” (2010), both published by the American Bar Association. She also co-authors “Criminal Law in New York,” a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes regular columns for Above the Law, ABA Journal, and The Daily Record, has authored hundreds of articles for other publications, and regularly speaks at conferences regarding the intersection of law and emerging technologies. She is an ABA Legal Rebel, and is listed on the Fastcase 50 and ABA LTRC Women in Legal Tech. She can be contacted at niki.black@mycase.com.