Technology played an indispensable role in the delivery of legal services during the pandemic. The Brief asks how law firms might capitalise on IT investments as they move on from Covid-19.

The legendary investor Warren Buffett famously said, “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.” He coined the phrase to describe financial institutions that were overexposed to sub-prime mortgages during the financial crisis of 2008, but it could equally be applied to those businesses that had underinvested in IT during the years leading up to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The world was fortunate that ubiquitous tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams enabled communication between colleagues and with clients to continue during the enforced home-working that occurred during the various lockdowns.

Law firms were more likely to find themselves exposed when it came to providing remote access to case management systems and other secure IT applications. Legal businesses that already embraced “agile” working would have found themselves ahead of the game, while others were running to catch up.

Client care

While most business conversations around lockdowns related to enabling teams of remote colleagues to work together effectively, dealing with clients was just as demanding. The point was demonstrated by a survey of European law firms, conducted by the information and software provider Wolters Kluwer in June 2020, which found that 63 per cent planned to invest in e-signature technology, with another 43% intending to invest in e-meeting and e-voting management systems.

Another report by the same business, based on research carried out in 2021, found that while 91 per cent of lawyers believed technology had been important to them in delivering client services during the pandemic, 70 per cent said that at the start of the pandemic they had not been very well prepared to make the transition to supporting clients remotely.

Accelerating change

The changes made to IT systems and working practices during the pandemic, whether initially implemented smoothly or not, are now integrated into to fabric of firms’ business models. Some technology investments made during the pandemic simply allowed firms to continue functioning, but are now enabling them to work more effectively. Other firms saw the pandemic as an opportunity for innovation.

As Jack Newton, CEO of cloud-based legal software solutions provider Clio, said during the early months of the pandemic, “Whether we like it or not, the world as we know it is changing. The legal industry must accommodate these changes.

“We won’t be returning to the pre-Covid ‘normal’ (and… we shouldn’t want to) – the pandemic has completely altered consumer expectations of working with lawyers. The pandemic has also accelerated change the industry would have otherwise undergone over the coming years.”

2020 Vision

The online law firm LegalVision was already set up for remote working before 2020. It is, according to its CEO Lachlan McKnight, quite unusual in having an in-house team of software developers, enabling it to develop its own proprietary technology.

McKnight told The Brief, “When the pandemic hit, we were in a fortunate position that our technology was already in place to support our team. However, we continued to invest in our technology to improve our employee and client experience.

“We decided to invest more in developing tools and platforms including our client portal, trade mark monitoring and document automation, to improve the efficiency of our lawyers and enhance the client experience.”

Having an in-house development team, he continued, “has allowed us to design software to address specific issues and improve the experience for our clients. The feedback has been positive and has meant we can transition between office-based and remote working seamlessly.

"We have also invested in employee engagement platforms, to measure team engagement and satisfaction. Our scores remain well-above industry average.

“As a tech-driven law firm, it is important that we invest in both the client experience and improve the wellbeing of our team members.”