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New research into the use of digital technology in the UK legal sector has revealed that 7 out of 10 consumers would choose a ‘lawbot’ – a customer facing, automated online system  to handle their legal affairs over a human lawyer because it’s cheaper, faster and simpler. 19% said it’s more convenient and more than half (56%) are even prepared to pay more for such a service if it means a faster resolution.

The UK study on 1,000 consumers and 500 law firms, by Olive Communications, a managed cloud communications provider working with law firms found that one in three (34%) consumers would also like their solicitors to offer digital services such as video conferencing, chat and Instant Messaging (IM), when liaising with their lawyers. Yet, 66% of consumers said such services have never been made available.

UK Firms fear they are stuck in a tech time warp

From a law firm perspective, over half (66%) of UK law firms worry that failure to keep up with digital advances will affect productivity, billable time and client response rates, with SMEs (61%) slightly less concerned than larger law firms (71%). Half of all law firms (49%) also worry about falling behind the competition.

Martin Flick, CEO at Olive comments  “Today’s busy, always on and mobile first consumer wants to buy goods and services, and communicate with sellers whenever, wherever and however they choose. Increasingly this is through digital interaction. When it comes to their lawyer or solicitor, they want to engage in the same way, without the frustration of having to wait days for paper documents to arrive in the post or for an email to come through with the answer to a question that could be easily resolved with an Instant Message or automated response. Consumers want more control over their legal affairs with sometimes, little or no human intervention, and with the speed, efficiency and security that multiple channel web-based communications offers.”

Earlier this year, the Government announced a £1 billion investment programme to digitise the court service to make it quicker simpler, and easier. An automated financial disputes claim for disputes up to £10,000, a digital divorce applications service and, an online system for appealing tax bills have been among the Government’s recent court reforms.

Digital legal services most in demand

And it would seem that consumers are keen to embrace these new online court services. Insurance claims (46%), financial disputes (23%) and tax appeals (23%) were the three legal services that consumers most wanted to be digitalised according to Olive’s findings. 19% would also like access to a purely online, automated residential property and conveyancing legal service with no intervention from a human lawyer, whilst 14% would happily use a ‘lawbot’ to make a divorce application. 11% are even happy to use an online automated system to make an unfair dismissal claim against their ex-employer.

Inside law firms, who is digitally transforming?

Olive found that a large proportion of UK law firms are embracing technology internally, with many (69%) using IM and chat to communicate with each other, significantly improving efficiency, productivity and billable time. Yet few of these firms are extending the use of this technology externally to enhance the client experience and add value to their services.

  • Web conferencing – 39% of UK law firms use web conferencing internally but less than a quarter (23%) are using this facility for liaising with clients
  • Chat – 41% are embracing chat in-house with an almost equal uptake among SMEs (37%) as larger firms (45%). Only 7% overall are using Chat when communicating with clients
  • Instant Messaging – 28% of law firms are using IM peer-to-peer but less than half of these (10%) use it to engage with clients
  • Cloud file sharing – over three-quarters of SMEs (76%), and 81% of large law firms use cloud file sharing platforms to access and exchange documentation from wherever or whenever, but just 1 in 5 are using these systems to quickly and easily share papers with clients

Olive’s study found that the benefits of installing the latest digital communication systems from web conferencing to cloud file sharing systems have been significant for these law firms. 15% claim it improves talent retention, 34% have increased their billable time, and nearly three-quarters (73%) have seen improvements in people efficiency, productivity and business agility, leading to a majority (47%) boosting their bottom line by between £20,000 and £200,000 a year.

Whilst the business and bottom line benefits are evident, more than 1 in 3 (39%) UK law firms worry about data breaches and cyber-attacks when using online automated systems and web-based communications – likely holding many back from digitally transforming their client facing services.  More than a quarter (27%) are concerned about contravening GDPR, and 40% fear disclosure failings and regulations around custodian driven data collection.

Flick continues “Many law firms are embracing digital transformation internally but there is clearly an opportunity and requirement from consumers for law firms to digitalise externally. Digitalisation has proven benefits including greater agility, profitability and productivity. Implementation of collaborative cloud technology can improve efficiency and security, for both the client and the firm, by becoming paperless, and the advanced and encrypted private cloud services available ensures that clients’ information is safely and securely stored.

“As we look to the future, on our journey to the fourth industrial revolution these services will be the norm, so it’s important for law firms to get on board now and digitally engage with their staff and their clients, and in the way that they want, need and expect.”

Key points again:

  • 1 in 3 prefer to use digital tech versus phone or face to face when liaising with lawyers, yet 66% of firms not yet offering digital communications  
  • 7 out of 10 consumers would choose a lawbot over a human lawyer to save money and time 
  • Over half would even pay more to use a lawbot for a faster resolution
  • 66% of UK law firms worry that failure to keep up with digital advances will affect productivity, profitability and client response times
  • Law firms using the latest digital communications saving up to £200,000 a year