In an article by Victoria Hudgins, writing for LegalTechNews.com, “Sink or Swim: Law Firms Need to Leverage, Understand Tech to Survive,” stated, “For law firms and their in-house partners to survive and thrive, differentiating services and analyzing big data will be key, while understanding and harnessing technology are the first big steps, according to a Wolters Kluwer survey.”
The referenced survey, titled “The Future Ready Lawyer,” contains profound insights on the precarious competence of attorneys in a modern world in which technology is integral to every aspect of business, social enterprise, and life. The survey reached 700 in-house and outside counsel in the U.S. and Europe, fleshing out a huge confession: nearly 75% (525/700) are unprepared for the future of technology.
Hudgins writes: “Lawyers aren’t known to be the most tech-savvy, but they should improve their understanding and use of technology to differentiate and improve their practice, unless they want to race to the bottom in pricing to compete.” We couldn’t agree more.
Attorneys roots are so deeply dug into the past that they have fallen behind the advances of technology, in these areas and more:
- Many lawyers don’t feel comfortable with data encryption or know how to incorporate it into their practices
- Many don’t understand the difference between structured and unstructured data
- And many don’t understand basic cybersecurity and infosecurity – or indeed, that there is a difference.
Dean Sonderegger, the VP Legal Innovation at Wolters Kluwer, observed that the extent of most attorneys’ tech knowledge starts and stops at simple things like client portals and tech-based billing programs. But “when you start getting into the challenges of predictive analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, I think those things are so new it’s challenging for attorneys to understand, and in some cases the categories are evolving.”
The Survey points to basic lack of understanding of technology and technology skills possessed by many lawyers. These arise from law firms not having a tech strategy, tech budget, or tech education priority. The priorities are billing, winning, and avoiding embarrassment. There is, in other words, an overwhelming fear of change and lack of perceived rewards (or pain point).
This is not to say that lawyers don’t understand, theoretically, the importance of technology. If you ask them about technology, lawyers will agree it is important. But it is only the millennials who understand why. They are the ones (30% of them according to the study) with a solid grasp of technology and thus its advantages and potential. Gen X and Baby Boomers, by stark contrast, hovered in the lower percentile. Thus far most don’t feel the competitive effect or security impact sufficiently to act.
General Counsel may be partly to blame, for not being more insistent. Sonderegger says that inside counsel “don’t care how the work is done [by outside counsel] but the service and price that it’s given at…” are what truly matters. Yet at the same time, we know that corporate legal departments are conducting more and more cyber and infosecurity audits of their outside counsel, especially considering the massive data breaches, third party vendor weaknesses, and duties imposed by GDPR. In this respect, General Counsel might be wise to light the fire, because a law firm with an inadequate grasp, familiarity, and use of advanced technology simply can’t understand the significance of technology in a modern age.
Hudgins titles her article, “Sink or Swim: Lawyers Need to Lead in Tech to Survive,” but in reality, lawyers and law firms need to do much better than that.It’s sink or swim, and the only way to swim is to become a knowledgeable leader in technology, cybersecurity, and infosecurity.