Many legal professionals face the frustration of working at a firm that will not embrace technology. If you’re feeling stuck at a firm that insists on doing things manually, you’re not alone.
A large factor in this dynamic is the generational gap. Older partners may be dead set against drastic changes, while junior attorneys and other legal professionals know how digital technology can positively transform their workplace.
So is the answer to just accept working at a Luddite law firm?
We say no.
Instead, seek out ways of encouraging tech adoption at your firm, even if you are not the ultimate decision-maker on the issue. Then you can work to make some major shifts in the firm’s culture around innovation — or, if your efforts really are wasted, transition to a firm that already has the right culture in place.
Here’s how to do it.
Recognize the reasons for tech resistance
To move your firm in a tech-friendly direction, you first need to know the reasons for all this tech resistance.
One common element is a difference in generational attitudes toward technology.
Of course, a person’s attitude towards technology isn’t a simple matter of their age and upbringing. Generational differences are trends, not absolutes.
Still, many younger legal professionals can barely imagine living without technology. They grew up with all the digital advances we now take for granted.
Older attorneys, on the other hand, may have begun working in an era where it was common for lawyers to not even have computers in their offices. It takes more effort for these folks to learn how to use a new tech tool because they don’t have the same related experiences.
This generational gap surrounding tech adoption is to be expected.
Those who grew up surrounded by technology-based toys and tools expect tech adoption to be just as easy as downloading a new app.
At the same time, people who built their skills and strategies around manual processes wonder if a piece of technology is worth the time and effort it takes to learn to use it well. This concern is amplified because so many tech tools seem fleeting and are quickly replaced with something else.
Other factors explain tech resistance in the legal field, too.
Attorneys tend to be risk-averse with a tendency toward perfectionism, which makes tech tools look less desirable.
There’s also a strong emphasis on tradition and precedent in the legal industry which naturally makes it harder to embrace new trends.
It’s important to understand that tech resistance comes from real, valid concerns. Sure, there might be some generalized fear of new things involved, but for the most part, the leaders at your law firm are smart and competent. To influence change, start with respect for their perspective.
Emphasize the benefits of tech for law firms
Once you understand the tech-averse tendencies of your firm’s leadership circle, you can work to combat those tendencies.
The best way is to emphasize the benefits of tech adoption for the firm. Prove that it truly is easier, more profitable, and lower-risk to embrace technology.
Increased efficiency and productivity
Modern digital technology provides an increase in efficiency and productivity that is simply not possible with old-school solutions.
Whether the technology relates to case management, electronic filing, or another aspect of legal practice, there is plenty of legal software that can streamline numerous administrative tasks. This ultimately translates to more quality work in less time.
To show the effect on the firm’s bottom line, you can point to studies showing the legal industry’s increased adoption of tech solutions such as client portals, client relationship management tools, and online payment.
In fact, tech reporting tools are used twice as much in firms with at least 20% year-over-year revenue growth.
Drive this message home with specific examples of how the right software can make the most onerous tasks at your firm easier. Do you struggle to keep track of paper files? Is your billing system clunky and prone to errors? If you can help those tech-resistant decision-makers visualize how their life will be easier with a new tool, you’re well on your way.
Changes in legal practices and court procedures
Both the legal industry and the courts have evolved to a stage where tech adoption is mandatory, not optional.
For example, electronic discovery (e-discovery) is now so prevalent that searches of voluminous electronic documents are commonplace — and these searches are incredibly cumbersome without the right technology.
Courts are increasingly accepting, if not mandating, electronic filings and applications.
Without the right technology, your firm is simply not keeping up with the times.
Odds are good that your firm has at least grudgingly started using some of these tech tools, but if you’re only using free versions and trying to do the bare minimum, you’re making things harder than they need to be.
If eFiling and eDiscovery are frustrating, it’s probably because you’re failing to embrace the shift to digital methods.
It might seem counterintuitive to some people at your firm, but the solution to a frustrating technological process is not to get rid of that technology — it’s to look for a better technology. The industry-wide transition to a tech-focused legal world isn’t going to stop just because your firm refuses to embrace it.
Client demands for technology
Legal clients are also becoming more demanding about tech adoption by their attorneys. They are increasingly looking for quick responses to their inquiries, less face-to-face interaction, and more online collaboration.
In fact, many legal clients say that a law firm’s level of tech adoption is a major consideration in their hiring decision.
Tech-savvy firms use client portals where the firm and its clients communicate securely in an online space. These portals give real-time updates so that clients don’t have to call the office to find out what’s going on. Plus, the portal can automate simple tasks like generating agreements and collecting signatures.
Video conferencing is also common, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic. The convenience of consulting an attorney without needing to drive to an office is a must-have for legal clients today.
Firms without these and other innovations will be a step behind in the eyes of many clients. Furthermore, your firm’s clients are likely to doubt your capabilities and competence if you struggle with things that they see as basic, commonplace practices.
Leaders at your firm may feel like there are plenty of people just like them who don’t see technology as a priority, but that demographic is dwindling fast. The AARP reports that 4 out of 5 older adults rely on technology to stay connected with family and friends, and their positive perception of tech is higher than ever.
Plus, you might point out that for those few clients who aren’t so keen on digital tools, you can always adapt. However, you can only serve the much larger client base who want convenient tech options by having those tools in your firm.
Attracting top talent
You can also appeal to the firm leadership’s desire to attract top talent for legal professional roles.
Many young attorneys and other legal professionals will naturally be drawn to firms that stay on the cutting edge in technology. They want to work at a firm where they can make a difference.
By the same token, many will be deterred from working at firms stuck in the Stone Age. They don’t want to be stuck in a job where they waste time unnecessarily struggling with basic tasks.
Working at a low-tech law firm can be a huge chore. It’s frustrating to spend hours on basic tasks that you know can be automated, or at least completed much faster, with the use of simple technologies.
Help your firm leaders see that they are pushing away potential team members who want to do their best, but feel like they’re hindered by the lack of tools. After all, this is the sentiment you are expressing yourself — you are simply pointing out the viewpoint is widespread among your peers.
Suggest places to start with tech
When suggesting areas where the firm can start implementing tech, it may be advisable to go with some of the basics — practice management, workflow management, document management, and communications (both with clients and between colleagues).
These tend to be the areas where technology can minimize administrative work and smooth out work processes. They’re also established technologies with lots of user-friendly options available.
Suggest that your firm offer training to ensure that the whole team is on the same page with any new tech implementations.
This will demonstrate to your firm leaders that these innovations will be popular, and they will help bring the more tech-averse workers on board. Software companies often offer training as part of the onboarding process, and that training can help ease some of the apprehension that your less tech-savvy coworkers feel.
In addition, having a change management process planned out will prove that tech innovation is not just your pet idea, but is instead a viable solution for the firm.
Start small. You might need a dozen new systems and tools to bring your law firm into modern times, but it’s not realistic to expect everyone to learn that much new stuff at once.
Choose one area to focus instead. Which tool will make the biggest impact with the lowest learning curve? A quick win is important because people will be much more willing to try a more complicated tech tool after seeing success here.
Your firm’s culture will impact tech adoption
Ultimately, the key to whether your firm will adopt technology is the firm’s culture.
If the firm has — or can adopt — a growth mindset toward technology, that will serve it well in the long run. This means your leadership is open to continually optimizing how employees work, communicate, and collaborate.
The good news is that the pandemic showed that firms could quickly shift to remote work, which could be just as effective as an in-person workplace.
Now comes the next major step of convincing your firm’s leadership that this is the wave of the future, long after the pandemic recedes.
And remember, if you cannot change your firm’s tech culture, you always have the option of finding another employer that actually cares about innovation. Who knows — maybe your choice to change firms will be just the message that they need to start thinking about technology more seriously.