Skepticism has never been an effective way to thwart the impact of technology, and adopting digital practices in the legal industry is no different. When Jeff Bezos and Amazon set out to disrupt the way we buy and sell books, there were likely skeptics who would've never predicted the success and growth that was to come.
For lawyers, the top priority is establishing trust between parties. In a smaller world than the one we currently occupy, the best way to develop trust was through in-person interactions. As a result, we established institutions that serve as trust builders and identity verifiers — think of a notary public, a law firm, or a courtroom. But now we’re in a different world where business can be done online from anywhere, and the law firms who accept the need for digital transformation will have the most success.
Today, we have facial recognition technology that makes disguises virtually impossible. We have online contract signing that saves companies and individuals billions of dollars and countless hours. We have blockchain as a scalable, tech-driven way to establish trust between many parties at once. Digital transformation is not new, yet current market and social conditions are causing rapid changes that call on the legal industry to quickly adapt.
It's also no surprise that COVID changed the landscape of legal work. The legal field has had to find creative and adaptive ways to continue operations, earn revenue, support clients, and support team members. But according to Greg Garman with Law Clerk, legal companies that were able to respond to the pandemic with remote work systems "not only survived — they thrived."
There are numerous benefits for law firms who adopt a more digital approach to serving their clients. Apart from the flexibility offered in the event of another world-stopping disruption, firms that offer remote services are able to meet the digital demand of today’s consumers. Furthermore, as consumers’ lifestyles continue to be supported by tech, firms that can connect with customers and do business digitally will fare better in creating and retaining client loyalty.
For the internal work required at law firms — from client relationship management to payroll to notarization — much of it can (and should) be handled digitally, saving precious time and resources. Digital transformation in the legal industry can help lawyers sustain a better work/life balance as well. For example, using technology for virtual meetings, assignments, and administrative tasks can give attorneys the opportunity to work outside of the office and to concentrate on the tasks that matter most.
Another way law firms can embrace digital transformation is by becoming experts in the laws surrounding cutting edge technology. For example, consider non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Until recently, selling a house involved a seemingly endless pile of paperwork and signatures from banks, mortgage brokers, a notary public, the federal government, the buyers and sellers, the legal representatives, and more. But today, sellers can theoretically create an NFT representative of the house and sell it to a buyer. The entire transaction would have the same verifiability as a signature on a page or a fingerprint on a piece of paper. The law firm that understands its place in the changing landscape and can offer expertise in tech-based transactions will become part of the evolution rather than being replaced or removed by it.
Lawyers who adapt to the digital transformation happening in the legal industry will maintain a competitive advantage. For the law firms failing to embrace the digital revolution, or — worse — refusing to embrace it, they will likely miss out on big business from millennials, Gen Z, and other future generations.