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SME firms ‘realistic’ about tech challenges ahead

Boutique law firms don’t necessarily need to compete with big players in the market on tech adoption and utilisation, but still must recognise and implement the “essential building blocks” to keep pace in an ever-changing professional services marketplace, according to new research.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 31 August 2023 SME Law
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Thomson Reuters recently released new research on technology trends shaping the legal sector, including the use of, and attitudes towards, generative AI, in the form of a new report, Tech & the Law 2023.

The survey was conducted on behalf of Thomson Reuters by Agile Market Intelligence and received a total usable sample of 1,542 responses, with 1,342 responses from Australia between 15 May and 30 June 2023, and 200 responses from New Zealand between 29 June to 19 July. The survey collected 1,080 fully completed submissions, including 771 private practice respondents and 309 in-house professional respondents.

The report found, among other things, that more than half of lawyers see AI as a threat, and that most in-house lawyers are adopting AI despite its challenges.

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Elsewhere, key findings for private practice individuals included:

  • 69 per cent of private practice professionals surveyed believe that generative AI will improve workflow efficiency;
  • 51 per cent agree it will help them serve clients better;
  • 59 per cent believe that generative AI will bring more complex litigation and disputes;
  • 51 per cent believe generative AI will threaten lawyers’ job security in certain areas of the law;
  • 64 per cent say their firm’s level of tech investment will increase over the next 12 months;
  • 34 per cent of respondents who stated their law firm is not innovative are also ready to leave for a more innovative firm; and
  • 28 per cent agree that know-how and precedent solutions have the greatest positive impact on their ability to succeed, yet 75 per cent of private practice respondents said that there is an insufficient amount of automation replacing manual processes at their firm.
In a conversation with Lawyers Weekly, Thomson Reuters vice president of proposition for Asia and Emerging Markets, Carl Olson, said there are two key takeaways for boutique law firms from the above findings.

Firstly, he outlined, they serve as a reminder that the battle for talent “continues unabated”.

“Firms facing talent challenges should aim to strengthen their value proposition for current and prospective staff. The site leadership team could ask whether the firm’s legal talent has access to tools that enable them to do their job faster and more efficiently,” he detailed.

“The survey revealed a need for integration and automation as common tech challenges experienced by mid-sized and boutique firms. Sometimes, a firm might have several technologies in use, but the tools need to integrate with other systems to make them as functional as possible.

“Working with a technology provider who understands their unique challenges from small-scale projects to multiyear digital transformation initiatives enables firms to optimise their use of APIs to maximise capability and return on investment.”

Mr Olson also pointed to the ever-important need to reduce barriers to providing faster legal advice: “The use of legal technology to conduct research and advise clients has become more intrinsic to being a lawyer in recent years given the vast quantity of case law, legislation and regulations and commentary lawyers are required to navigate.”

“Despite the purpose-built legal research tech available to firms, over half of private practice professionals surveyed said fact-checking is their biggest barrier to providing faster advice,” he said.

“Boutique firms engaging with trusted technology providers may discover they could reduce or even remove that barrier by adopting a legal research platform fit for purpose.”

When asked what those takeaways, and the report’s findings, say about the state of the market for boutique and SME firms in law at this critical juncture, Mr Olson reflected that such businesses are “realistic” about the challenges they face right now, with almost half (46 per cent) expecting to increase tech investments moderately over the next 12 months.

“Firms who make up this cohort will set their business up for success and benefit by increasing their capacity to serve clients responsively,” he noted.

“On the corporate client side, being vigilant about cyber security risks and protecting data is a top priority. Therefore, boutique firms procuring new software and efficiencies must ensure they partner with a technology brand they know they and their clients can trust.”

Smaller law firms do not need to keep up with larger businesses or in-house teams in the market, Mr Olson advised, when it comes to tech.

However, he added, there are “essential building blocks all firms should have”.

These include the ability to store and secure client data and information safely and securely and conduct legal research with unprecedented accuracy, Mr Olson listed.

“Digital transformation consists of many, many process improvements. It is a good idea to look at what efficiencies can be brought in over the short term and longer term,” he espoused.

“Site leaders at boutique firms need to understand the firm’s unique challenges and client needs, then work with technology providers on incremental process improvements built to last and scale.”

To read Lawyers Weekly’s coverage of the Tech & the Law 2023 report, see below:

Jerome Doraisamy

Jerome Doraisamy

Jerome Doraisamy is the editor of Lawyers Weekly. A former lawyer, he has worked at Momentum Media as a journalist on Lawyers Weekly since February 2018, and has served as editor since March 2022. He is also the host of all five shows under The Lawyers Weekly Podcast Network, and has overseen the brand's audio medium growth from 4,000 downloads per month to over 60,000 downloads per month, making The Lawyers Weekly Show the most popular industry-specific podcast in Australia. Jerome is also the author of The Wellness Doctrines book series, an admitted solicitor in NSW, and a board director of Minds Count.

You can email Jerome at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

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