Out of all the industries to feel the changing effects of technology, the legal sector has remained mostly static and traditional. This is largely due to the fact that the legal industry has natural and institutional barriers to change, moving as slowly and meticulously as the rules and regulations it enforces. However, this makes the legal industry ripe for technological disruption, and certain digital trends are starting to take hold within the sector, bringing forth a “NewLaw” revolution. Below are the top 5 digital trends currently changing the legal sector:
1. Blockchain Technology & Smart Contracts
Blockchain technology is a digital and decentralised ledger that tracks, records, verifies, and enforces various transactions. The most notable use of blockchain is currently the ledger that powers cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Etherium. Any transaction made on the blockchain, such as the transfer of cryptocurrencies between two parties, is called a “smart contract.” These smart contracts are binding agreements that are automatically recorded and enforced by the technology itself.
This poses both a threat as well as an opportunity for the legal sector. On the one hand, smart contracts are designed to do away with middlemen like lawyers, allowing two parties to enter into a self-executing legal contract themselves. On the other hand, law firms who adopt smart contracts can stay ahead of the curve, giving their clients continued legal advice while providing better services – like contract execution – through the use of new technologies.
2. Virtual Law Firms & Legal Services
Thanks to wide-spread digital trends like virtual offices, robust mobile apps and SaaS products, and secure web-based technology, many lawyers are moving towards virtual law firms. These online law firms allow lawyers the chance to reduce overheads, work independently, and enhance their work-life balance. Many of these virtual lawyers will even offer a la carte solutions on freelance websites like Upwork in addition to their full services, delivering the same or more value to their clients at a lower price point.
What’s more, there are digital legal services beyond just virtual law firms. While people might already be familiar with LegalZoom contractual and transactional services, robot lawyers are now able to actually argue on behalf of defendants and even represent plaintiffs. For example, the startup Do Not Pay based in the UK, helps mobile and desktop app users fight parking tickets and more. More services like this are sure to crop up as advances in artificial intelligence are made.
3. Machine Learning
While machine learning has a lot to do with the new digital legal services available, it’s also helping bring traditional legal processes into the 21st century and beyond. For example, one of the most important yet time-consuming parts of the legal process is research and fact-checking. Lawyers and law firms are consistently tasked with culling through reams of data regarding defendant or plaintiff history, briefings and reports, as well as testimonies and more. Until recently, this was done by allocating human resources to the task.
But now, thanks to machine learning, lawyers are able to rely on teams of bots to quickly find the information they’re looking for. Machine learning algorithms are being leveraged by law firms to read through complex data sets and find the information most relevant to the specific case they’ve been tasked with working. The result is a faster and more accurate research process that not only reduces costs but actually finds key data points and patterns that human lawyers and paralegals might miss.
4. Digital Content Marketing
Mentioned previously, the legal sector has been resistant to change. As part of this resistance, many digital trends that might seem old hat in many industries are quickly becoming the largest drivers of digital change within the legal industry. Digital content marketing is one of these trends. Econsultancy found that multimedia content creation is the second-most important skill currently needed in the legal sector, and that digital content marketing is considered the most effective digital marketing effort for law firms.
The result is that law firms of all sizes, as well as independent lawyers, are moving towards a digital content marketing model to drive leads. In fact, a survey conducted by Econsultancy showed that 32% of respondents reported that digital content marketing is the most important discipline for their law firms. 15% of respondents considered it their second-most important marketing initiative behind email marketing, while 17% of respondents considered it their third.
5. Subscription-Based Pricing Models
Changing digital trends within the legal sector are calling for a change to the traditional and somewhat outdated practice of charging clients based on billable hours. It’s been a long time coming, but people are now pointing fingers at a law firm’s pricing model as one that rewards inefficiencies at the inflated expense of the client. Thankfully, many lawyers and law firms are now moving towards alternative pricing models that are based on subscription pricing that we see with many SaaS-type products.
These new pricing models can come in the form of fixed, flat, blended, or capped fees, all of which help clients pay for what they actually need and nothing more. For example, transactional law firms are exploring the benefits of moving towards an exclusive, subscription-based service that can be paid for all online. In return, the firms offer unfiltered access to their transactional services – like drawing up and executing contracts recurring – as well as basic legal advice. Tiered pricing structures are available for clients who want or need more services or a higher level of attention.
These 5 digital trends are changing the legal sector from what’s known as “BigLaw” to one that’s known as “NewLaw.” This NewLaw industry is one that offers virtual and a la carte services that reduce overall costs and increases value and efficiency to the legal client. The result is a rapidly changing sector that will only continue to get better at offering legal services to those who truly need them.