Technology is taking control of our lives. We can all see the impact of it on our daily routines, from the constant presence of our smartphones to lunchtime conversations with colleagues that may well include topics like cybersecurity or cryptocurrency. Like most lawyers, I regularly think about how technology is impacting the future of law firms.
Recently I spoke with a friend who owns a small law firm based in Minneapolis and I was stunned about how big of a role technology plays in his business. To start, his office is nearly 100% paperless with almost every piece of information being stored on a cloud server. To better fit his outdoor lifestyle and interests, he uses online meeting rooms to conduct a lot of his business interactions, which in turn saves money on office space. Perhaps this could be one example of what more law firms will look like in the near future.
But are law firms currently investing in technology?
We conducted a survey in 2015, which was cited in 2016 Report on the State of the Legal Market, where data collected from 34 Peer Monitor firms on specific operational changes confirmed that many of these firms were investing in technology in order to become more efficient and profitable. That mentality and transition appears to have continued over the last couple years.
While overhead expenses for all segments have increased an average of 2.1% on a rolling 12-month basis through this quarter, technology showed as one of the fastest growing expense categories, increasing by 3.9% over that time.
A focus on technology to increase efficiency and improve productivity can certainly be a positive thing. However, I worry whether this shift could lead to a dependence on technology that could jeopardize the value of human interaction.
John Westcott, in his book “Fundamentals of Law Firm Management,” states that “using technology can greatly enhance the efficiency of preparing documents, conducting factual and legal research, and communicating. However, it could actually be a barrier to interacting with people and gaining the experience base with human behavior which is fundamental to effective legal practice. The human touch that we as lawyers bring to every interaction will never be replaced by a computer.” Building relationships is easier through in-person interactions, which are not necessarily enabled through technology solutions.
In addition, Professor Heidi Gardner at Harvard Law has researched increasing collaboration in law firms and found that “when firms get collaboration right – that is, when they do complex work for clients that spans practices and offices within the firm – they earn higher margins, inspire greater client loyalty, gain access to more lucrative clients, and attract more cutting-edge work. Sharing work actually boosts the practices of individual partners, too – even rainmakers.”
While technology will keep playing a big role in our lives and help law firms to be more productive, law firms should not forget to invest in developing strategies to foster the human interaction within the firm. Technology, when strategically deployed, can help lawyers to maximize potential productivity, while also creating an environment that fosters collaboration.
The article was originally published in the Peer Monitor Client Report; July 2017 (Vol. 3; Issue #6).