Global law firms are losing precious time to basic admin – so why aren’t they adopting cloud-based tech?

Research back in 2012 found that information workers, including lawyers and paralegals, waste at least six hours a week on challenges relating to document management, which is estimated to cost the average law firm $9,071 per lawyer, per year.

Fast-forward to 2019 and this challenge persists. Law firms still rely on secretaries to provide customers with an hourly bill for lawyers’ time, plus a narrative describing work completed.

A busy lawyer may easily try to fob off their secretary with sketchy time-keeping. But faced with an incomplete narrative and unexpectedly high costs, customers may reject a bill. Such back-and-forth can take months to resolve, before the bill is eventually written off.

Many challenges stem from the billable hour system favoured by the law industry. Other businesses rarely work this way, creating a fundamental disconnect. Additionally, businesses don’t always know what to expect from their lawyer’s time: especially not without a narrative explaining it.

So why does it matter? Reputation and relationships still triumph in the legal industry. One bad experience can be enough to put a customer off a law firm entirely.

When that endangers a £5 million relationship, it’s a big deal.

There are many ways cloud-based tech can smooth out these inefficiencies. Many of these business solutions benefit information workers irrespective of sector. For example, document management systems, and time-keeping and reporting software. All offer the same benefits we expect from the cloud: large storage, fast processes, and the ability to work anywhere.

There are also cloud-powered solutions specifically designed for legal professionals. The best of these focus on managing the relationship between a law firm and its customers. Improving communication helps mitigate the disconnect between what customers think they’re receiving, and what firms think they’re delivering.

Such tech could also help customers make more informed decisions on the best firm for their needs. Managing customer expectations would go some way to alleviate strain caused by hours billable. But, an outcome-based billing system would go much further.

Technologically, we’re there. So what’s hindering the adoption of legal-tech?

There’s, unfortunately, still a ‘boys’ club mentality’ among many law firms. Things have always been done the same way, with no incentive for lawyers to change.

Secondly, much legal-tech is not simple enough to use. It must be as intuitive as Google or Apple products before lawyers will adopt it. They simply don’t have time to familiarise themselves with anything more complicated.

There are also security concerns. Somewhat unfairly, the cloud has a reputation as being inherently insecure. In our opinion, the challenge is that the way that lawyers work is insecure. Adding the cloud probably won’t help. We’ve seen lawyers email screenshots of incredibly sensitive data. Since technology has never been an integral part of the legal profession, mass adoption requires a shift in attitude.  

There are many reasons why lawyers have yet to embrace cloud-tech. So how do we make it happen?

Crucially, we don’t believe this change will be driven by lawyers, but by others within the industry.

The workflow of administrators, secretaries, and the billing teams can be easily automated by cloud-based tech, freeing them up to better support lawyers. They can then, in turn, better support their customers.

Lawyers are incredibly skilled at one thing: law. They are not administrators, so why ask them to do admin?

For cloud-based legal-tech to succeed, it must not require a fundamental change in the way firms operate – but instead leverage systems already in place.