It’s a new world in 2021 – and top law firms know AI will not only accelerate internal processes but also drive recruitment, retention, and business development.

Introduction

Digital databases. Automated research. Chatbots. These and other AI-enabled applications have risen in popularity at an incredible rate — especially in the past year. With COVID-19 forcing remote work, law firms have turned to technology to fill in the gaps. Within the next decade, the legal industry could have an entirely new face: slick, high-tech, and super- optimized — more efficient than ever before, and more attractive to clients as a result.

According to a recent article in Legal Tech News, 2020 marked record rates of technology adoption in the legal industry, primarily out of necessity. The pandemic gave law firms an ultimatum: innovate or be left behind – and many rose to the challenge.

Digital Transformation in Law Firms

This month, the world entered our 13th month of work-from-home orders. It seems the pandemic is here for the long-term – prompting firms to continue to seek innovation. 

Today, top U.S. law firms are focused on “digital transformation,” which is the integration of digital technology into all areas of an organization. This process fundamentally changes how an organization operates and delivers value to its clients. It also demands cultural change, requiring undergoers to challenge the status quo and invest in experimentation. 

Recently, much of this “experimentation” within digital transformation has been in artificial intelligence (AI). Once firms have systems that capture data and support business processes, they can use that data to further automate the entire business with AI.

One can think of “digitizing” a business as building a foundation for “data-driven” efficiency.

Currently, most top law firms are well underway in their digital transformation journey (albeit some faster than others), but very few are applying AI at a foundational level to drive their business. They may be using tools and products that use AI – but this is not the same thing as being a data-driven organization in the broad sense.

What Do Legal Experts Have to Say? We Asked Them Directly

In late 2020, Synaptiq launched a rapid research initiative to analyze how market drivers, firm culture, and other factors affect AI-led digital transformation in the legal space. We consulted with leaders across a diverse group of large firms, investigating what exactly determines the ideal AI-led digital transformation approach for legal service providers. 

From these conversations, we developed an Industry Brief, which you can download here

Over the next several weeks, we will publish a blog series expanding on the topics covered in this brief, addressing hopes, fears, and goals highlighted by our interviewees. This article starts us off with an exploration of the market drivers behind digital transformation.

Why Digital Transformation – and Why Now?

In our discussion with legal industry experts, there was broad agreement that how firms win, serve, and retain clients is rapidly changing. Evolving market dynamics have and continue to challenge firms to innovate — and here are some of the most impactful:

1. Rising client expectations. Compared to other industries, legal has been slow to embrace innovative technologies like AI and machine learning. However, client expectations often stem from experiences in highly digitized industries outside of the legal space. People have grown accustomed to Netflix, Uber Eats, and Amazon – and client behavior and perception of what “excellent service” means is changing with these new expectations.

Consequently, legal firms are under increasing pressure to meet clients’ expectations of high-tech, high-efficiency, and highly personalized services. AI is a powerful tool for this.

2. Demand for fixed-fee pricing. In recent decades, demand has risen for transparent and fixed-fee pricing for transactional legal services. This shift towards commoditization has  pressured firms to (1) quantify the cost of delivering their specific services beyond an hourly rate and (2) improve the efficiency of their processes to minimize time spent.

Digital transformation can help firms achieve both of these expectations. Integrating modern technology into traditional firm processes (1) makes it easier to track the cost of delivering specific services through, say, automatic tracking applications and (2) improves efficiency to minimize time spent. 

3. Digital collaboration. New collaboration platforms offer shared project management, document collaboration, and automation: all ways for firms to connect with or add value for their clients. However, these perks often require firms to upgrade from old technology and outdated communications systems – where digital transformation enters the picture

4. Technology-focused young professionals. Attracting and retaining new talent is always a top priority for any firm. Today’s younger lawyers seek (and expect) top-of-the-line technology to streamline and improve their workflows.  In particular, younger attorneys embrace AI as a powerful tool to augment and enhance their work; they actively seek it out. So, to attract the best talent, modern firms must acquire the best technology, too.

Interested in Reading More?

Feel free to download the full Industry Report, “Digital Transformation Trends in “Legal Services,” here on our website. 

In this blog series, we will cover next: how a firm can get started on its Digital Transformation journey to best ensure a successful outcome, and will also examine how a firm’s digital and AI “cultural readiness” – a bit of self-analysis required here – should influence the firm’s approach.

About Synaptiq

With over 45 clients in 20 sectors worldwide, Synaptiq is a full-scale AI consultancy delivering impactful solutions with applied machine learning and vision, natural language processing, and other data-driven techniques. If you are a law firm looking to explore digital transformation, we can help you unlock the power of AI and data science. For more information about Synaptiq, please visit www.synaptiq.ai.

Additional Reading

Artificial intelligence

Why Artificial Intelligence Isn’t as Scary as You Think

Danger, Will Robinson. Maybe you saw The Matrix? How about The Terminator, Battlestar Galactica, Westworld, or Lost in Space? These stories all share a dystopian future, roguish anti-heroes, and — significantly — a villain in the form of artificial intelligence (AI) gone bad. SciFi writers from Asimov to Daniel Wilson have long been fascinated by…

Read more