Ask the Experts: How Was the Legal Industry Transformed in 2020?
It’s safe to say that 2020 threw us all a curveball. Despite the hardships this year brought, the legal industry rose to the challenge, adapting operations and offering new services to help clients through these unprecedented times. We asked Zola partners to share some of the trends they witnessed in 2020 and how they may affect the transition to cloud-based solutions. In part two of this series, these legal technology experts also share their predictions for what’s to come in 2021. (Note: some responses have been edited for length or clarity)
2020 was a transformative year for many industries, including legal services. What concerns or feedback did you receive from the firms you work with that you hadn’t heard in past years?
Deborah Schaefer: Law firms are now considering remote options that in the past they had not considered or entertained. Lawyers have learned that they can work anywhere with the right resources. Cloud solutions provide some of those resources to law firms. Law firms are now considering easier payment methods as they cannot go to the bank as frequently.
Gail Ruopp: Depending on the area of law, many firms are recognizing that they do not need as much support staff as they thought they needed prior to 2020. The annual rate increase exercise will probably not occur in many firms. Clients are demanding more affordable services which is similar to what occurred in 2008.
Caren Schwartz: We heard much more from firms regarding access to data when not in the office. While this is not new this year, it was much more extensive and now included firms that previously did not have these concerns. There were a lot more inquiries about cloud based access to practice management data and to documents. There was also more concern about security, especially as firms realized that information would be outside the office and perhaps on a device that was used by other household members. The other area we saw more of was concern for employees who were balancing new childcare/education responsibilities while trying to continue working
Tom Caffrey: How to manage ‘drive by’ document signings…
Gerri Martin: The barrier for firms moving to the cloud used to be security and functionality. Over time, these issues have largely been removed. The new barrier is the subscription mentality. In the past, you purchased your software license and didn’t upgrade for years. Now on-premises software has also moved to a subscription model. Since clients must pay each year, they are more willing to look at cloud alternatives.
Krystal Champlin: Many of the concerns we received as law firm business consultants was how to pivot and keep business afloat during a national pandemic. We focused on the services their firm could offer clients during a time of need whether or not that was in their core practice area. We also encouraged networking more than ever and have seen an increase in organic referrals. Additionally, we worked with our clients on creating a strategic business plan that includes disaster recovery plans beyond your typical IT recovery. This allowed the firms to better prepare for what could happen and not have the firm in total chaos.
Claire Barnes: I cannot say that I heard many new concerns, but many of the same issues more intensely. The most popular concern that I hear is that the cost of software is becoming cost prohibitive. Every product the law firm uses carries a monthly fee per user per month times however many products they require in the firm. The costs are adding up quickly and firms are concerned that they cannot afford to be in business with the excessive cost of software. Most understand the value of the software, but the economics of the monthly software cost and the onboarding fees are intimidating. Consequently, many firms decide to stay with their current software a little longer in hopes that the cost of cloud software will come down soon. It seems clear to firms that they will eventually have to change to cloud based products but really hope that it is at a lower cost in the future.
Richard Marx: This year, my clients had a big focus on integrating the entire workflow from intake to client follow up as a total remote process. This included web conferencing, client fillable forms and digital signatures, and client collaboration features.
Do you think we will continue to see a mass migration from on-prem applications to the cloud? Or will it slow down as firms continue to transition back to the office?
Deborah Schaefer: I believe this trend will continue in the future. Law firms are making office decisions that will impact office space and alternate remote working opportunities.
Gail Ruopp: More people will work remotely routinely than ever before. Law firms will definitely want to maintain data in the cloud. They’re recognizing that data should be stored and maintained by industry professionals and accessible from any venue.
Caren Schwartz: I think firms will continue to migrate to cloud or hybrid solutions. Firms may look at moving their solutions to hosted environments or may feel they don’t need everything in the cloud. These firms may consider software that is on-prem but offers remote access features or integration with NetDocuments so that documents are cloud based.
Tom Caffrey: Yes, because cloud lets users do more and worry less.
Gerri Martin: Cloud software will continue to trend upward. Cloud software functionality now rivals on-premises software. Companies are giving up their expensive servers when operating system upgrades or new servers to support the upgrades become necessary for security compliance.
Krystal Champlin: Absolutely. The legal industry has been notorious for being a more traditional, server-based style. 2020 has forced many of those who were opposed to migrating to the “cloud” along with more innovative and progressive approaches to running a business. It has shown to be better for business, increase in efficiency, and allow a better work/ home life balance.
Claire Barnes: I think it will continue towards the cloud. Attorneys are burned on dealing with in-house servers and server issues. Most just want to practice law.
Richard Marx: I believe that cloud based interaction will be driven by the firm’s clients and the public’s expectations that they do not have to come to your office to get legal services. My doctor provides a teleconference, retailers have their delivery and curbside pickup. Law firms need to promote this beyond our current circumstance if they want to stay relevant in the marketplace.
Claire Barnes is a Legal Technology Consultant with Integrated Visions in California.
Tom Caffrey is a Legal Technology Consultant with Premier Software in New Jersey.
Krystal Champlin is a Law Firm Management Consultant with RJH Consulting in Louisiana.
Gerri Martin is a Legal Technology Consultant at Software Analysis Corp. in Illinois. She is also affiliated with Crosspointe Consulting Group.
Richard B. Marx is a Legal Technology Consultant with MME Consulting Services in Arizona.
Gail Ruopp is a Legal Technology Consultant in New Jersey.
Deborah J. Schaefer is an Accountant + LPM Consultant in Connecticut.
Caren Schwartz is a Legal Technology Consultant with Time and Cents Consultants in Connecticut. She is also an associate with 3545 Consulting.