Five new legal trends to be aware of in 2021

2020 has made it incredibly challenging for law firms to meet the needs of their clients. These challenges continue to persist amongst rising coronavirus cases in the UK – and a looming Brexit date in the new year.

But while circumstances remain largely uncertain for 2021, there is no better time to think about designing legal services in a way that takes into account present circumstances, as well as a future that lies beyond the pandemic.

Most law firms have already adjusted how they operate in some form or another, and much of this shift has seen firms adopt more online cloud technologies to support remote work – both among staff and with clients. What many firms are also realising is that these shifts will likely be in many ways both permanent and irreversible.

These are just some of the findings from Clio’s recent Legal Trends Report, which is based on aggregated and anonymised data from tens of thousands of legal professionals in the US – which should also be taken as important insights to legal practice in the UK.

The report was released in October of this year at the Clio Cloud Conference, held virtually for over 4,500 attendees worldwide. In this article, I present five key takeaways from the report that law firm owners in the UK should consider in planning for 2021.

1. Lawyers continue to experience revenue shortfalls

According to Clio’s ongoing research into the impact of COVID-19 on law firms, many lawyers have seen that their casework has largely recovered since the initial onset of the coronavirus pandemic, though monthly billings remain deficient when compared to seasonal earnings from 2019.

This may have to do with the fact that many factors related to the court system remain out of the lawyer’s control, and many potential clients remain unsure on whether or not to pursue their legal matters.

What this should mean for law firms is that they should be looking at how to maximise their opportunities in what remains a potentially volatile market. There are a couple of goals here.

The first is to establish the types of fertile opportunities that will become profitable work once the circumstances allow for it. Clients that may be holding off on their legal work will eventually seek assistance, and the lawyers that are most ready, who have been keeping abreast of the situation at hand, are the ones that will come across as the most knowledgeable and trustworthy.

The second goal for maximising opportunities is to identify and support the types of opportunities that can still be pursued within the current circumstances. While many people indicated that they are putting off legal problems, the data suggests that many are still willing to pursue these matters with their solicitor.

2. Clients rely on technology more than ever before

Clients have grown more accustomed to technology during the pandemic and are using it more. Data from the Legal Trends Report indicates:

  • 50% of consumers say they are more comfortable with technology
  • 52% say they are using technology more
  • 58% say technology is more important to them now than before the pandemic
  • 53% say cloud technology is a necessity to them

This shift is significant because it signals that more people have adapted their behaviours to meet the needs of their current circumstances, which in turn shapes their expectations for working with businesses and professional service providers.

As clients adopt these technologies, they also grow more accustomed to the ease and convenience of solutions like video conferencing software, and the time-saving benefits they provide. The fact that we can connect face to face without leaving our home or office vastly reduces commute times and allows more flexibility within the context of other personal and professional commitments.

The same advantages apply to paperless workflows, which are fast and easy, and help keep a clear record of communications.

3. Lawyers have new opportunities for designing client experiences

As client expectations shift, lawyers should be especially aware of how these needs have changed. Being able to meet these needs are key to securing new clients and ensuring positive satisfaction.

This is the idea behind client-centred law firm design, which posits that lawyers should be designing their services based on the needs of their clients. This goes beyond any considerations regarding the actual outcome of a client matter and focuses entirely on the experience of working with the lawyer.

The Legal Trends Report provides data on how potential clients think about the hireability of a lawyer, and the bottom line here is that positive reviews and referrals are key. How are lawyers to earn these positive reviews and referrals?

The data suggests most people are looking for more flexibility and transparency in the overall pricing and cost of legal services, and the traditional method of meeting in a commercial office space is at the bottom of their list of priorities.

This should signal that consumers are seeking a different format for legal services – and that the innovations lawyers implement will be relevant both now and beyond the global pandemic.

4. Technology adoption provides vast opportunities for designing client experiences

As part of Clio’s research, the team compared caseload volumes and revenue collection between firms using certain types of technology solutions compared to those not using them.

Client portals were one of the technologies looked at in this analysis, which showed that lawyers using them had a significant advantage in terms of casework and revenue compared to firms not using them.

These firms saw up to 17% more casework and are projected to collect an estimated £17,822 more, per lawyer, in 2020.

A few points stand out here. First, the revenue advantages that firms have seen with these client portal solutions were extremely strong during the first months of the pandemic. This indicates those using these technologies were much better prepared to manage the transition to remote online working conditions during the initial lockdowns and social distancing recommendations.

Second, the revenue advantages of these technology-focused law firms have only increased since the start of the pandemic. The reasoning here is that these technologies continue to support business continuity and the types of revenue-generating activities that drive firm earnings.

5. Virtual legal services should be part of every law firm’s 2021 roadmap

Looking forward, firms should adopt a cloud-first approach to managing their law firms.

When looking at the data, it’s clear that clients are less interested in meeting lawyers face to face in their offices. Not only are they equipped for video conferencing, paperless billing, and other forms of online communications, but they’re seeking these experiences more often.

These trends are likely to continue in the coming months, and beyond the pandemic as well.

When envisioning the future of your legal practice, it’s important to know that the infrastructure standards for technology have evolved in a way that has made it more flexible, more secure, and easier to set up.

Building a versatile practice will ensure that you are equipped to support clients both virtually and in-person, while also supporting secure remote access for staff as well.

To learn more about how Clio can support innovation at your law firm, visit the Clio website.