UK law firms have emerged from the height of the pandemic more tech-savvy than ever, having rapidly adapted new tools to improve work progress and client interaction.

In the Darwinian survival of the tech savviest, technology won’t replace lawyers but lawyers who use technology will replace those who don’t. As managing partners now look ahead to the next stage of legal tech investment for their firms, a new challenge emerges: if all firms are embracing new ways of working, how can they remain competitive?

This was the focus on The Lawyer’s latest roundtable, chaired by Ryan Prins and Caroline Cantelon, both consultants at Philips Dictation. Here are the key points.

Stop selling hammers when clients want screwdrivers

Clients aren’t easily fooled. Delegates agreed that they can tell if a tech provider is trying to sell the same product, regardless of clever marketing strategies. Clients want horizon scanners able to predict the tech impact on their businesses, not copycats.

The starting point should always be the client’s commercial objectives instead of trying to “shoe-horn” tech solutions for the sake of it. One of the roundtable participants was clear on what providers should avoid: “You are selling them a hammer and they want a screwdriver”.

A good example is adopting a data-led approach to service delivery, an area engulfed by “smoke and mirrors”. Law firms could have the largest data set in the world, but unless collected information is analysed and intelligently used to enhance decision making, then it’s not as useful.

Reimagine how workplaces look to best support staff

Building bespoke solutions demands recruiting and retaining diverse talent, from software engineers to the forward-thinking lawyers using tech to forge new business opportunities.

Law firms should avoid trying to source single candidates who can “cover the entire universe of technology”, said one delegate. He added: “You need cognitive diversity to successfully navigate different approaches to tech”.

Roundtable: Looking ahead to the next stage of legal tech

The challenge, however, is less attracting such talent but rather continuing to be attractive to prospective recruits. Law firms are not just competing against each other – they’re up against tech giants hoovering up high quality candidates.

One way to stand out is culture. Hybrid working law firms should follow the positive traits of big tech and “give up focusing on geography”, said one attendee. Quotas dictating how lawyers should split their weeks between the office and home detract from a more important question: ‘Am I able to respond to the client in real time?’

As one attendee put it, rather than lawyers having to choose between getting their head down at home to draft a report and heading into the office, firms should be reimagining how workplaces look to best support working on-the-go.

Letting go of old habits

Investment in new tech infrastructure is an easy way to start. Many big players across the City have already seized the opportunity over the national lockdowns to refurb office conference rooms into video conferencing hubs, and auditoriums into virtual court rooms.

The same goes for in-house tech teams. Software engineers hired to maximise productivity and service delivery in turn need support from their employers. “Nothing upsets people more than wanting to get stuff done, but can’t because the tech is not working,” commented one delegate.

Putting internal connectivity and innovation at the centre of legal tech investment requires letting go of old habits. Why pay to maintain outdated and unsustainable printers when lawyers are using cloud systems to share documents and read on screens? Why hire more admin support staff to transcribe when professionals can dictate on-the-go and use speech recognition to automatically convert voice into text?

Comment from Ryan Prins, Philips Dictation

It has been made clear in all our recent round table discussions that hybrid working has been catapulted into the forefront of office routines, and now firms must manage far more complex workforce needs. Questions about how to best drive process efficiency, foster collaboration and maintain client service levels are critical while workplace adaptations take place.

Is your firm equipped to evolve?

Document production is one of the most common tasks legal professionals share, and this process is increasingly coordinated across teams that are not based in the same location, or even in the same time zone. This is where clever tech can help firms realize incremental gains that ultimately drive a competitive edge to delivering faster client responsiveness.

Intelligent speech-to-text workflow solutions eliminate error-prone manual processes and repetitive admin jobs, such as billing support, calendar management, and document creation. Work tasks are displayed on a central platform, and the system automatically reallocates work based on availability of staff. Internal bottlenecks caused by manual systems are erased, enabling accurate record-keeping and faster documentation output.

Going a step further, speech recognition allows for even faster document production. A smartphone app turns a mobile phone into a recording device and the software turns speech into text, allowing lawyers to save time and remain productive regardless of their location.