Lawyers seek flexibility when choosing technology, industry report shows
Over the past few years, the legal industry has undergone significant changes, in large part driven by the adoption of technologies needed to maintain operability in the midst of uncertainty. Lawyers and law firms have necessarily adapted to unpredictability, and technology has provided the means to do so.
Keeping up with the latest technologies available, however, and determining how to use them can be challenging, especially for lawyers who are not tech-savvy. Fortunately, a recently released legal industry report can assist with navigating the ever-changing legal technology landscape.
The report is based on a survey conducted by MyCase law practice management software and LawPay legal payment processing software between Aug. 17, 2022, and Sept. 14, 2022. (Note that I am the author of this report and am employed by AffiniPay, the corporate parent of MyCase and LawPay.) The 2022 MyCase + LawPay Legal Industry Report follows the release of—and provides further insight into—the three-part 2022 Benchmark Report series. In the MyCase 2022 Benchmark Reports, anonymized data obtained from MyCase was analyzed to provide actionable business insights on how law firms make the most of practice management software and which features are most beneficial for different practice areas.
Over 2,300 lawyers and legal professionals took part in the legal industry survey, and the main goals were to determine how the pandemic affected law firm operations and law firm revenues, along with how legal professionals approached choosing new technologies. The report addresses the following issues:
● The pandemic’s effect on legal technology adoption and law firm revenue.
● Attitudes about legal technology consolidation and its perceived impact on the profession.
● The software and integrations law firms rely on for crucial functionality.
● The features legal professionals desire in their firm’s primary operating software.
● The impact of these software tools on firm efficiency, flexibility and resiliency.
Below, I’ll share the key findings from the report, including the challenges legal professionals faced when using technology at their firms. You’ll also learn about the most popular and effective technologies currently being used in law firms. Whether you’re a solo practitioner or the managing partner of a large law firm, you’ll find valuable information on how to leverage technology to increase efficiency, reduce costs and improve client service.
The pandemic’s impact on law firms
COVID-19 had a dramatic impact on law firm operations and revenue. Lawyers invested in technology at unheard of rates and relied on the newly adopted tools to stay afloat. The pandemic presented many challenges for law firms, but notably, 51% of the legal professionals surveyed reported that their law firms had fully recovered from the pandemic-related decline.
From the report, we also learned that law firms’ strategic implementation of cloud-based software streamlined remote work processes and ensured future business resiliency. Survey respondents reported that the jerry-rigged IT systems law firms put into place early in the pandemic weren’t sufficient for long-term business continuity. As a result, 47% shared that their firms added new remote working technologies to their IT stack within the past year in order to buttress their technology stacks and build a strong foundation for the future. Another 70% indicated that the remote working tools added were part of their firm’s long-term business continuity strategy.
Remote working cloud-based tools adopted
The remote working tools chosen by firms ran the gamut. Some of the most popular remote working technologies that were incorporated into law firms over the past year were videoconferencing software (71%), e-signature (60%), communication software (42%), billing software (34%) and law practice management software (32%).
Not surprisingly, there was an increase in cloud computing use overall due to the investment in remote working tools. According to the survey results, the majority of law firms (81%) now take advantage of robust cloud-based software systems, and 57% have invested in cloud computing tools during the past year because of the effects of the pandemic. Given these numbers, it’s no longer a question of whether lawyers will use cloud-based software, but when.
Online payment usage
During the pandemic, a top concern for law firms was getting paid in the face of social distancing requirements. Online payment tools solved that problem, which is why online payment usage continued to increase in 2022 as lawyers sought to streamline the invoicing process and increase law firm collection rates. As a result, according to the report, 84% of law firms now accept online payments via credit cards and ACH payments, up from 74% in 2021.
Online payments were preferred for many reasons, including better collection rates and client convenience. According to the study, 61% shared that their firms collected more money because of online payment processing software, with collection rates nearly 10% higher for customers who accepted online payments.
Client convenience was also a key factor that drove online payment usage, and the data indicated that payment plans, and legal fee loans are increasingly popular payment options for law firms. With payment plans, law firms offer their clients the option to make regular payments over a set time period. Legal fee loans are similar, but an added benefit is that the entire legal fee is received immediately, while the client still has the ability to pay over time.
The survey results showed that the majority of firms are taking advantage of these options, with 61% of respondents offering clients the ability to pay via payment plans. Additionally, another 49% already use or are considering using legal fee lending solutions. From this data, we can see that law firms are increasingly amenable to providing their clients with payment flexibility, an approach that results in better client service and improved law firm revenues.
Preferred integrations and outsourced partners
Many firms upgraded their technology stack in 2022, and data from the report indicated that lawyers often preferred to have many of the features needed to run their firms built into robust primary operating systems like law practice management software. After ensuring core features were available, firms focused on customizing and adding functionality to their primary operating system. By adding integrations and leveraging third-party services, lawyers were able to customize their workflows and ensure optimum productivity.
The report shows that legal professionals prefer to have the following features built into their primary operating software: time-tracking and billing (65%), calendaring (59%), document management (54%), online payment processing (47%), email management (38%), e-signature (31%) and task management (29%).
Respondents were also asked to share the features most often integrated into their primary software. The most popular integrations chosen were email (45%), document storage (43%), accounting (29%), document automation (23%) and CRM (19%). The top reasons for preferring to integrate features into their primary operating software included the following: customization (36%), practice areas require unique features (33%), more cost-effective (27%), lawyers in the firm handle many different practice areas and need specific features as a result (23%), specialized features required (11%) and jurisdiction-specific needs (10%).
In addition to integrations, law firms are also taking advantage of outsourcing third-party partners. The survey results show that the top functions that firms chose to outsource were website maintenance (53%), website development (52%), email marketing (35%) and accounting (33%).
No matter how you look at it, the pandemic’s instability had surprising results. Firms sought to customize their chosen platform to fit their needs further, whether by adding integrations or leveraging other types of software and services. The end result was that law firms invested strategically in cloud-based software and thus streamlined remote work processes and ensured future business continuity.
Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York-based attorney, author and journalist, and she is Senior Director, SME and External Education at MyCase, a company that offers legal practice management software for small firms. She is the nationally recognized author of Cloud Computing for Lawyers and is co-author of Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier, both published by the American Bar Association. She also is co-author of Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes regular columns for ABAJournal.com and Above the Law; has authored hundreds of articles for other publications; and regularly speaks at conferences regarding the intersection of law and emerging technologies. Follow her on Twitter @nikiblack, or she can be reached at [email protected].
This column reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily the views of the ABA Journal—or the American Bar Association.