Lawyers are being held back as firms fail to embrace technology, research reveals

Lawyers are struggling to work to their full potential because their firms fail to give them the right technology, it has emerged.

Microsoft teamed up with online magazine Legal Week to look at the biggest technology issues facing the sector and the effects these have on workers.

They found that most legal professionals (64% of those surveyed) said it was difficult to work remotely to the same standard as they achieved inside the office due to a lack of portable electronic devices such as tablets and laptops. Just 20% said their firm had equipped them with the right technology to work seamlessly in and out of the office.

More than 86% of those surveyed said they still used a pen and paper to complete legal work
More than 86% of those surveyed said they still used a pen and paper to complete legal work

More than 86% of those surveyed said they still used a pen and paper to complete legal work, with a desktop PC the second-most popular option at 71%. This compared with 62% who used a laptop and less than 17% who used a tablet.

While the preference for writing down potentially sensitive information raises security concerns, the research also suggests that a widespread failure to embrace technological change in the legal sector could harm older firms, who may lose clients to more digitally-focused start-ups.

The UK is home to one of the top legal sectors in the world, with law firms contributing an estimated £25.7 billion to this country’s economy in 2015 – 1.6% of GDP – according to TheCityUK.

“For a profession that is very document-based, given the technology that is available I do find [the prevalence of pen and paper] quite remarkable,” said Robert Epstein, Windows Product Marketing Director at Microsoft. “In terms of peoples’ ability to compete, they’re going to have to change rapidly because the slowness that brings to processes and document review… it might be good for billings, but it’s certainly not good from a client’s perspective or frankly for the productivity of the individual.”

Last year Microsoft released an in-depth study into digital transformation that found most UK company directors believed they had to change their business model to succeed in an age where artificial intelligence, machine learning and cloud computing are commonplace. It revealed that nearly half of UK bosses understood they needed to embrace digital transformation or their company would fail within five years.

However, half of the respondents to the Microsoft-Legal Week survey said their legal firm had “not satisfactorily adapted to any technological changes that may have been adopted over the past few years”, while 10% stated that their company’s response had been “poor/very poor”.

The Microsoft-Legal Week research found that senior partners often made decisions on whether to buy hardware
The Microsoft-Legal Week research found that senior partners often made decisions on whether to buy hardware

Lawyers tend to use smartphones and tablets for checking emails (71% and 20% respectively) and web browsing (60% and 21%), instead of specific work-related projects. According to a recent Law Society report, they are missing out.

“Devices such as smartphones and tablets allow lawyers to access law firm data remotely. Lawyers can conduct work on the move with easy access to firms’ data and legal research platforms from any location and cloud storage increasing access to data in amounts far beyond the capacity of a given storage device,” the report – Capturing Technological Innovation in Legal Services – stated.

Around 83% of lawyers said embracing new technology would lead to greater productivity.

“In this day and age you ought to be able to pick up any device in a coffee shop, in an airport lounge, at a train station, and just connect – that really should be a baseline,” Epstein added. “The aspiration therefore should be the ability to pick up a tablet device with a pen and start editing in what feels like a very natural way. You should be able to open a Word document and if you want to get rid of something, you strike it through and it disappears. That technology is all here now.”

The Microsoft-Legal Week research, which surveyed 50 legal professionals in the UK, also found that senior partners often made decisions on whether to buy hardware (31% said this was the case), and 65% said this decision maker hadn’t changed in the past five years.