Editor's note: This article appears in the March 2021 issue of DS News, available here.
The legal industry is notoriously resistant to change. Led by severely outdated court systems, the profession has—until recently—felt little historical pressure to innovate by modifying habits or implementing new tools. However, the global pandemic, coupled with the “Age of the Customer,” has changed everything. Embracing technology is no longer just an option but an imperative.
The transition to remote operations has expedited the implementation of technology into legal operations as the legal system has been disrupted at nearly every level. Stay-at-home mandates left courthouses and other in-person proceedings shuttered with all but essential businesses closed, and many unwilling or unable to leave their homes.
Meanwhile, modern consumers are simply not satisfied with the slow, inefficient, and outdated methods emblematic of the legal industry. Technology giants have set a gold standard for communication and transparency that other businesses, including law firms, must emulate as digital natives become the norm.
The Age of the Customer
Driven by the idea that the only sustainable competitive advantage is knowledge and engagement with customers, the “Age of the Customer” is—according to Forrester—a 20-year business cycle in which the most successful enterprises will reinvent themselves by becoming more customer-facing.
Indeed, among the many challenges caused by a global pandemic intersecting with widespread customer demand is the need for better, faster, and more efficient service across the board.
Jennifer Leonard, Penn Law’s Chief Innovation Officer, is one legal professional who thinks there will be a bright side to the transformative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think it creates enormous opportunities for changing many of the ways we work as lawyers, the ways we provide legal services to our clients and also the ways the justice system as a whole works,” she told the ABA Journal in August 2020.
That said, numerous studies suggest that legal consumers were significantly dissatisfied with service delivery pre-pandemic, repeatedly mentioning poor visibility into their cases, lack of timelines, costs incurred, and work being done on their behalf as issues caused them to look elsewhere. And while many law firms have certainly tried to implement better project management systems and practices, the overall perception is that the industry and its efforts remain far behind where they need to be.
As legal professionals grapple with the challenge to offer a more customer-centric experience, they will need to embrace modern and alternative digital tools, or they risk losing customers.
For example, several clients cited in a LexisNexis report were willing to seek non-traditional solutions and have switched to working with much smaller firms that offer the visibility, flexibility, and responsiveness they don’t get from the top-50 law firms.
These patterns and desires for more flexible services will continue. Therefore, the ability to rethink core client strategies and re-engineer operational processes will help the legal industry deliver the communication, transparency, and personalized level of service that is now expected.
The Benefits of Customer Loyalty
The legal industry is a pillar of society, as many businesses as well as individuals need legal services daily, and not to mention, the reference of trials and process of law being U.S. Constitutional Amendments. Despite the permanence of the institution, the legal industry is a competitive market, and it’s no secret that happy customers are loyal customers. In this market, when practically every service provider is expendable, being customer-focused is more important than ever.
Furthermore, the cost of nurturing and acquiring new customers far exceeds the cost of retaining existing customers, which is one of the reasons firms should be turning to technology to automate as many tasks as possible. By utilizing automation, technology frees up lawyers’ time to service and secure clients.
A study from the Leeds University Business School suggested that the longer a relationship evolves, the more profitable it becomes, revealing the need for legal firms to focus on client retention for survival and profitability. These findings indicate that customer satisfaction is required for growth, reputation management, and increased profitability, and that technology adoption can be a strategic pillar to safeguard loyalty.
How Technology Can Improve Efficiency & Customer Satisfaction
In this Age of the Customer for the legal industry, earning customer loyalty is becoming increasingly important in order to stay competitive and meet clients’ evolving demands.
There are many ways to strengthen the client relationship, improve loyalty, and reduce defection; a few examples include providing frequent communication and efficient client responsiveness and soliciting client feedback regarding their service experience.
According to a recent report by Deloitte that focuses on the relationship between digital maturity and financial performance, the evidence reflects that a comprehensive effort to implement technological change, such as data mastery and intelligent workflows, can deliver a handful of concrete business benefits. These benefits range from improved product quality and higher customer satisfaction to greater efficiency and increased revenue. The combination of these benefits results in improved reputations and increased market share against competitors in the sector.
Indeed, modern solutions such as videoconferencing, virtual notaries, digital documents, e-signatures, and e-filing have become widespread as just a few of the methods firms are taking to boost efficiency of operations and simultaneously improve customer satisfaction and retention. Clio's 2020 Legal Trends Report found that 85% of responding firms are using software to manage their practice, 79% store data in the cloud, and 83% hold virtual meetings with clients. The report also found that 69% of consumers prefer to share documents electronically and 56% prefer video conferencing to phone calls. The legal industry can leverage this data to inform how they approach software and their cloud presence to ensure it is thoughtful and effective for their clients.
Account management and customer relationship management (CRM) tools are also a must. Successful firms must first gain internal 360-degree visibility of all work done for a specific client in order to provide better external visibility.
Today’s customers in the consulting sector, for example, expect a dashboard showing the real-time status of ongoing and completed activities, billing, workflow, and other associated information. This transparency requires improved coordination and communication internally, as it’s hard to present a united front if the team is not truly united or able to access the latest status of a case. Spinning wheels securing information on the client’s dollar does not bode well for time and resource savings.
Additionally, one of the most impactful technology trends to hit the legal industry and drive efficiency is Artificial Intelligence (AI) coupled with Machine Learning (ML). These innovative technologies can discover patterns and correlations within the data that the human eye is incapable of detecting without a significant investment of time and experience.
As a result, intelligent tools are being deployed across the legal field in several exciting ways, such as identifying tasks and workflows that need to be initiated, as well as populating common documents and contracts, saving lawyers valuable time to invest in other client-facing tasks.
For instance, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a fairly simple technology that allows anyone to configure computer software—or a “robot”—to emulate and integrate the actions of a human interacting within digital systems to complete a business process. RPA utilizes the user interface to capture data and manipulate applications, just like people do by interpreting data, which triggers responses and communicates with other systems to perform a wide variety of repetitive tasks, sans human error.
Additionally, many legal professionals are working on legacy systems. They are still manually taking data from one system and moving it to another because the traditional platforms are not integrated or don’t have Application Programming Interface (API) capabilities. APIs are a software intermediary that allows two applications to talk to each other much like the apps used every day by millions such as Facebook, instant messaging, or weather updates. The adoption of more modern infrastructure provides legal professionals with new agility to scale services up or down as their clients’ needs evolve.
Given customer demands for a more proactive approach to legal services are evident, savvy legal professionals should consider using AI and ML to spot sector-specific trends, capture and leverage intellectual data, offer certainty and predictability. Integrating these intelligent tools, when possible, will help clients share knowledge and inform future decision-making.
The road to widespread technology adoption in the legal industry will be a long one, but the initial adoption of some of these innovative technologies are helping legal professionals envision how modern tools can improve efficiency, while also meeting customer and client needs. Steady integration of these tools is critical—not just to evolve the industry and make it more customer-centric—but also to increase legal service access to millions of businesses and individuals currently unserved.