LexisNexis Bellwether Report: legal tech is dividing firms

LexisNexis Bellwether Report: legal tech is dividing firms

Many small law firms are thinking big when it comes to the tech they need to see them through another period of profound change. But the latest research from LexisNexis’ Bellwether report shows that 47% say they have no plans to invest in any technology at all.

Today, LexisNexis Legal & Professional released the 10th Anniversary edition of the Bellwether report, titled “Transformation troubles”,  an annual survey of independent law firms throughout England and Wales, conducted in March this year. LexisNexis followed up with 345 small law and solo legal professionals, including conveyancing and private client firms, to gain insight into a number of market variables affecting the industry.

Building on a decade of sharing insights on the independent legal market, this report suggests that the post-lockdown boom has continued into 2022. 91% of the market voiced confidence in the future of their firm and 33% noted they had outperformed revenue expectations – maintaining the highs of 2021.

Having endured several tough years, firms are starting to feel the benefits of the difficult decisions they made to survive. However, external pressures continue to challenge profitability. A staggering 81% of respondents, with knowledge of their PII, reported that their costs had increased at renewal.

Whilst there remains a clear desire to grow organically, the number of firms actively open to a merger or acquisition has climbed almost 10% since 2021.  This may be because we are seeing signs that the post-pandemic growth boom is plateauing. 51% of respondents stated they were growing, a notable slip from the 66% in 2021 and 57% in 2019.

Just as growth projections return to the pre-pandemic “normal”, the traditional problems for the sector have also returned. The “great resignation” has left its mark on the sector. Around 50% of contributors commented that recruiting and retaining good lawyers is now one of their top three challenges, with sizeable unease that they would be able to compete effectively for talent. This is clearly causing pain, as winning new business is seen as an equally big challenge.

To combat these threats, ambitious firms are investing in cloud-based tech to drive greater efficiencies and win more business. 36% had already increased their investment in technology and 24% were planning to do so. When asked which tech tools are currently in place, perhaps unsurprisingly, teleconferencing software such as Microsoft Teams had the highest adoption rate at 79%. This was followed by legal research tools, such as LexisNexis, at 69%.

Whilst some firms have welcomed technology with open arms, 47% say they have no plans to invest in any technology at all. 74% say they still use Google for free research and guidance – even though 63% of the survey acknowledged this was riskier and slower than using legal tech.

The divide in the industry continues when looking at business generation activities and ways of working. Only 46% are investing in their marketing spend and 55% are developing a social media strategy. Almost 50% are insisting their teams come into the office 5 days a week.

Rakhee Patel, Senior Marketing Manager and the report’s author, commented:

“It is wonderful to see that the industry has found its feet again after such a challenging period.  But with continued challenges with recruitment and business generation, firms must be open to embracing new technologies so that they can survive, grow and thrive.”

The most commonly cited areas of expertise amongst respondents in this year’s report was residential property law at 40.41%, followed by private client law at 40.12%. Legal technology was clearly a topic of interest for those specialising in private client and conveyancing areas of the law, says LexisNexis’s Segment Lead – Small, Solo and Independent Law – Rakhee Patel:

“The pandemic has been eye-opening for those who specialise in conveyancing, introducing them to an entirely new toolkit of tech tools which can be game-changing. With the pandemic prompting a particularly strong demand for conveyancing work, firms that specialise in the practice area are eager to automate time-draining manual tasks by embracing practice management software, e-signature software or legal research tools to increase operational efficiency.

Client portals were also high-in-demand, particularly for those who work with private clients. A large number of respondents said client expectations had increased drastically as a result of the pandemic, with many expecting instant responses to queries and regular communication out of office hours. However, firms with client portals can easily update clients about the status of their case without having to write out or respond to emails or pick up the phone, significantly reducing their internal workload.”

Peter Ambrose, Managing Director of The Partnership, commented:

“From the delivery of our first contract pack, technology has underpinned our business. We recognised that we needed this to provide strong service levels, which would support the fees necessary for business growth. The statistic that 47% of law firms have no plans to invest in technology illustrates a shocking lack of understanding. Whoever is making the investment decisions in those firms needs to have a long hard look in the mirror. It might be that they just can’t afford to, because the fees they charge are not profitable, because they have not invested in technology. Quite a vicious circle.”

Today's Conveyancer

1 Comment

  • Law firms have simply been too busy managing their workloads to have strategy meetings and beauty parades for suitable new tech. There are many ways to improve processes that cost absolutely nothing BUT it is almost impossible to get firms to listen. We hear, ‘We know it’s broken, but that is what we are used to!’ all the time, which is very frustrating. So many staff are leaving the industry that there is a real possibility that you may simply grind to a halt taking on marginally profitable workloads. Some very high-profile tech-led firms have experienced very real issues during Covid so it’s not always the panacea you may be looking for. Case management systems can do a lot to help but what are your Social media, Google, and Trustpilot reviews like, ultimately they will seal your fate.

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