Law Firms and Technology: How COVID-19 Will Help Improve Service Delivery for the Long-Term

smiling businessman sitting with laptop at office

Changing consumer demands, such as a preference (and currently, requirement) for digital experiences, will push law firms to innovate.                               

Carter Liebscher|
April 14, 2020

In order to best serve employees and customers, law firms and other legal services providers must adopt agile, engaging tech—or get left behind.

The service industry—one of the industries comprised of many types of businesses deemed essential by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security—is proving to be a leader in customer success throughout our current crisis. From businesses upping their employee hygiene procedures to offering contact-free delivery and pickup services, there’s a lot non-essential industries can learn about they can update their own employee- and customer-oriented policies and efforts.

Insurance industry incumbents, for example, saw disruption before the coronavirus crisis from smaller, more technological firms offering completely digital customer experiences. Now, during the crisis and invariably afterwards, those same incumbents are looking toward implementing the same disruptive tech, starting with investing in remote work platforms.

Incumbent law firms were and are facing similar types of disruption from other industry players and from the circumstances: AI assistants, breaking free from the billable hour model, and virtually accessible case documents, to name a few.

Legal service providers are implementing some of these disruptive pieces of tech while things are slow, as well as some other outside industry-inspired tactics, to ultimately serve consumers in their preferred—or, as the current circumstances allow, required—modes of retrieval.

Revised meetings times and styles that engage

As always, the foundation of any organization’s innovation efforts is effective communication between disparate, displaced individuals and departments. However, as time passes and employees seem to drift apart, some law firms are updating their meeting style to better engage employees.

Patrick DiDomenico, CIO of employment-focused firm Jackson Lewis, has implemented the scrum methodology, a management process used mostly by software development teams. As employees work remote, he notes that it’s important that everyone share what they’re working on, what they’d like to work on, and how everyone can collaborate to meet those goals.

When you can’t walk down the hall and pop your head into someone’s office, the daily check-in is great. And when we are all at home, we have to understand that people have pets, crying babies and lives they are living while working, so we need to be more forgiving about the background noise and exercise a higher level of patience.

“Chief innovation officer talks firm’s changing culture amid COVID-19 and best tips for working remotely,” Ari Kaplan, ABA Journal

Of course, this is assuming an organization has the proper technology and communication policies in place. Once your organization does, tailoring them to your present needs, such as remote work assistance, then you can try out new meeting types.

Increased competition, greater focus on client retention

Even before COVID-19, the legal industry was finding that consumer demands are changing, many of those demands hinging on whether they will stay with a certain firm or work with a more technologically agile one.

That goes for talent too: A younger but technologically poised firm will have a greater chance at retaining clients and employees than incumbents that are now struggling to hoist a remote work initiative.

On the client-side, there’s a palpable sense of urgency and desire to see that a firm can make actionable change. People are losing jobs and businesses, and with that a sense of control. Any organization they want to work with, including law firms and other legal services providers, will need to show that they’re—you’re—reliable.

Upending traditions to save them

There may be a natural pushback to suggesting virtual courtrooms, but the interpretation of the court as a service rather than a place may hold weight past this crisis.

The Legal Executive Institute touched on a prescient moment of history that points to the possibility of long-term virtual hearings:

The Supreme Court postponed oral arguments for the first time since 1918, and many courts are also cancelling hearings and non-case related meetings. Some district courts, criminal courts, and legal services organizations have held out closing or are going fully remote, but it may only be a matter of time before access to justice will come to mean online access—a change that will likely remain in some forms post-pandemic.

“COVID-19 Challenges: Keeping Law Firms Going Amid Uncertain Times,” The Legal Executive Institute

Technology has upended many industries’ past traditions, and now coronavirus is upending those. Perhaps now is the time to put innovation at the forefront of your firm’s mind.

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