The COVID-19 pandemic was a catalyst for sweeping changes in the adoption of cloud-based technology in virtually all industries, and the legal profession is no exception. The accelerated move toward a digital-first mentality caused an important shift in consumer behaviors and expectations. The frictionless experiences of requesting an Uber, pre-ordering a coffee from your local Starbucks, and the ease of booking a vacation rental through Airbnb have shaped customer expectations. No matter what product or service they are buying, customers expect their experiences to be frictionless and centered around their needs.
As customers demand the same easy-to-navigate, 5-star experience they have with Uber, Starbucks, and Airbnb, legal services are becoming more consumerized. Consumers today have a lot of choices when it comes to how they solve their legal issues, and the traditional makeup of a successful firm is not drawing in the modern client. Over the years, there has been a disconnect between what lawyers think their clients want and what they actually need. According to an international, multi-year study by the World Justice Project, 77% of legal problems don’t receive any legal support, illustrating that the majority of today’s legal services don’t fit the needs of today’s legal consumer.
But all hope is not lost. This past year, we have seen a tectonic shift in the way legal professionals are running their firms and offering their services. The need to work remotely brought on significant changes, and for the first time, we are starting to see the gap close between what lawyers think consumers want, and what consumers actually want.
Firms that are adopting cloud-based and client-centered solutions are able to address this latent legal market. Redesigning how the industry provides legal services is more relevant now than ever. Now is the time for law firms to step up and deliver end-to-end client-centered experiences to not only better serve their clients, both now and in the future.
Here are five of the biggest takeaways from the past year that will help us shape a better tomorrow:
No. 1: Cloud-Based and Client-Centered Technology Can Meaningfully Impact Your Bottom Line
One way to do this successfully is to adopt client-focused technologies that allow legal professionals to interact with clients through digital channels and in a way that provides seamless services. Additionally, layering on the right cloud-based and client-centered solutions will make you more appealing to prospective clients, create better client-experiences for existing ones, and meaningfully impact your bottom line. Through our 2020 Legal Trends Report, we learned that firms using multiple legal technology solutions collected $19,541 more per lawyer in 2019, and are projected to collect $37,622 more in 2020. As lawyers look to build out their tech stacks, it’s important that they start with ones that will help them work more efficiently and more securely. And, by adopting these cloud-based solutions now, lawyers are creating a better normal that positions them to be more successful following the pandemic.
No. 2: The Shift to Cloud-Based Services is More Than a Coping Mechanism for 2020
Over the past year, we have seen a massive adoption of cloud-based technology, with the vast majority (85%) of law firms using software to manage their practice, and 79% of lawyers relying on cloud-based technology to store their data. This is a turning point for the industry as law firms are realizing the benefits the cloud can have for their business, clients, and personal lives. As discovered in our Legal Trends Report, 76% of legal professionals believe that legal services can be streamlined when conducted virtually, 52% of consumers preferring to handle most legal matters remotely, while an additional 58% reported that technology improved their work life balance during the pandemic.
But this is more than a band aid solution: a whopping 96% of lawyers plan to use practice management software, store data in the cloud, and accept e-payments beyond the pandemic. While transitioning to the cloud will take time, it is the future direction of the industry and a must have if firms want to survive and thrive in the new normal. But, more importantly, the move to the cloud also gives legal practitioners the opportunity to build a practice that truly places clients at the center of everything they do.
No. 3: Meeting Clients Virtually can Help Lawyers Meet Client-Demand
Communication and collaboration are central to a lawyer’s success, but, as the pandemic has shown, it is not always possible to meet clients in person. What’s more, key data from the Legal Trends Report illustrated that one-third of consumers (37%) prefer to video conference when meeting their lawyer for the first time and 50% prefer to video conference throughout their matter.
Lawyers are also seeing the benefits with 83% planning to meet clients through video conferencing beyond the pandemic. With that in mind, it’s imperative for lawyers to have a strong video conferencing tool in place. If you’re looking to change your video conferencing platform or just starting out, it’s important to find a service that offers advanced security and encryption and integrates with your current practice management software. As more clients (56% according to the Legal Trends Report) express their preference for video conferencing over phone calls, the more lawyers must rely on video conferencing to meet these evolving preferences and keep their clients satisfied.
No. 4: E-Document Sharing and E-Signatures Are Not Only Efficient, They Are Preferred
Beyond a preference for meeting lawyers virtually, the Legal Trends Report also showed that 69% of clients want to work with a lawyer who has the ability to share documents electronically through a web page, app, or online portal. In addition to digital document sharing, it’s important for lawyers to also have a tool that allows them to collect client signatures electronically. And if you’re not offering these capabilities, you will find yourself at a disadvantage, given that 95% of lawyers plan to support electronic documents and e-signatures beyond the pandemic.
Using these tools creates the smoother experience clients crave, while automating follow up, and reducing clerical errors for law firms. Many practice management and client-relationship management programs already have e-signature capabilities as part of their suite of services. One thing to keep in mind when collecting e-signatures is of course ensuring you are aware of all state regulations and the circumstances where a regular, physical signature is needed.
No. 5: It May Be Time to Rethink Billing Models and Payment Options
The traditional, hourly billing model that law firms have used for years is designed to serve lawyers, not clients, and ultimately this can price lawyers out of being hired and widen the affordability gap of legal services. As many lawyers turn to technology to streamline firm operations, often beyond the walls of a commercial office space, we may be seeing an opportunity for lawyers to redefine their pricing and payment strategies through payment plans, flat fee services, unbundled legal services, and subscriptions to help open up their business to underserved legal markets.
Additionally, law firms offering electronic payments will be at an advantage against their peers as 65% of consumers surveyed in the Legal Trends Report identified that they prefer to pay lawyers using electronic forms of payment (credit card, debit card, or online payments systems). Offering e-payment solutions makes it faster and easier for both clients to pay their bills and lawyers to collect outstanding fees. One thing to note here is that it is not about simply lowering your fees, it’s about creating smoother processes and experiences for clients, which in turn can result in higher revenues for your firm.
In an experience-driven world, clients are demanding better, more effortless experiences from every industry. Consciously or unconsciously, they think of their experience as part and parcel of the product they’re buying. For law firms who don’t adapt now, there’s a danger of being left behind, but for those that do, there’s an opportunity to take advantage of tremendous latent demand in the legal market. While transitioning to a more client-centered approach can feel challenging, investing in the right cloud-based and client-centered technologies now will better position law firms to succeed in the future. When you have taken the time to understand what clients want and are in a position to provide services in the way they want to receive them, you’ll truly have a client-centered firm. This will lead to happier clients, happier lawyers, and more profitable, thriving firms.