5 data-driven legal trends for lawyers to be aware of in 2021

By Bryce Tarling

5 data-driven legal trends for lawyers to be aware of in 2021

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In the past year, law firms have adjusted how they operate to meet the needs of clients—and much of this shift has seen firms adopt more online cloud technologies to support remote work. In fact, research indicates that firms using certain types of technology saw up to 39% more revenue per lawyer compared to those that weren’t using them (more on this below).

These are just some of the findings from Clio’s recent Legal Trends Report, which is based on aggregated and anonymized data from tens of thousands of legal professionals in the US. This article lists five key takeaways from the report that lawyers should consider when envisioning the future of their practice.

1. Lawyers need to maximize client opportunities

According to Clio’s ongoing research into the impact of COVID-19 on law firms, many lawyers have seen their casework recover significantly since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. However, law firms have also seen an ongoing negative impact in their monthly billings, which have remained about 6% to 9% below monthly averages from 2019.

Given this data, law firms should be looking at how to maximize opportunities in what remains a potentially volatile market. First, lawyers should establish the types of opportunities that will become profitable once the circumstances allow for it. Clients who may be holding off on their legal work will eventually seek assistance, and the lawyers who are most ready will be the ones most hireable.

Second, lawyers should 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 lawyer.

2. Clients are seeking tech-enabled legal services

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

  • 58% of clients say technology is more important to them now than before the pandemic
  • 69% prefer to share documents electronically
  • 56% prefer video conferencing over a phone call
  • 65% prefer to pay through electronic payments

This shift is significant because it signals that more people have adapted their behaviors 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 reliant on the ease and convenience of solutions like video conferencing software, and the time-saving benefits they provide. Meeting face to face without leaving our home or office vastly reduces commute times and allows more flexibility with 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. Client-centered law firm design is key to driving new business

Being able to meet client needs is key to securing new clients and ensuring positive satisfaction. This is the idea behind client-centered law firm design, which requires 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 positive reviews and referrals are key. 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.

4. Technology adoption leads to increased revenue

The research discussed in the report compared caseload volumes and revenue collection between firms using certain types of technology solutions compared to those not using them. Electronic payment systems, client portals, and client intake and CRM solutions were 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 34% more casework and were projected to collect over $37,000 more—per lawyer—in 2020.

A few points stand out here. First, 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 increased since the start of the pandemic. The reasoning is 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 attorney’s 2021 roadmap

Looking forward, lawyers should adopt a cloud-first approach to managing their 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 clients more equipped for video conferencing, paperless billing, and other forms of online communications, but they’re seeking these experiences more often with professional service providers. These trends are likely to continue in the coming months, and beyond the pandemic as well.

When envisioning the future of 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 law practice will ensure that you are equipped to support clients both virtually and in-person, while also supporting secure remote access for staff. To learn more about how Clio can support innovation at your law firm, visit www.clio.com.

About the author

Bryce Tarling is a Senior Content Strategist at Clio, and a member of the research team involved in publishing the annual Legal Trends Report. An avid learner, he strives to dig deep into the underlying indicators that can help businesses thrive. He’s probably drinking a fair trade coffee right now.

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