Every year, the partners at Affinity Consulting Group inspire, enable, and empower legal teams to work more efficiently with a holistic approach that addresses the roles of people, processes, and technology in optimizing law firm performance. Much has been learned over the past difficult months. Applying the lessons of resilience, community, and determination witnessed by the Affinity team enables a few of our Affinity partners to share their unique perspectives on the industry and its future.
Check out these trends to watch in the coming year.
- Self-Help Solutions: More self-help legal document drafting systems by private firms/lawyers such as https://hellodivorce.com/ will become available. The big-money, deep-pocket companies like https://www.legalzoom.com/ will have a LOT more competition.
- Technical Competency Requirements: Technical training for lawyers in the form of continuing legal education seminars being offered by bar associations and other CLE providers is another ongoing trend. Since 39 states have adopted the model rule changes promulgated by the American Bar Assoc in 2012, technical competence is now required. A generation of older lawyers has much to learn.
- Artificial Intelligence Continues to Grow: The rise of AI applications and Word add-ins for complex legal drafting such as https://compose.law/, https://clearbrief.com/, and https://briefcatch.com/ will definitely continue this year.
- SaaS Product Adoption: As more firms move to SaaS products, we are going to see a larger portion of the market share move to products using Salesforce. It is such a highly customizable platform with almost unlimited integration and automation capabilities and coupled with its security and business analytics, it will offer versatility in a way few legal software products have accomplished in the past. Products like Litify will become major players in the market space.
- Deregulation Changes: The deregulation of legal services is going to significantly change the landscape and force law firms to be more competitive and innovative. It is likely we’ll see the Big Four accounting companies (Deloitte, KPMG, EY, and PWC) enter the legal services market in the sandbox states. Firms will start looking at outside equity capital opportunities.
- Hybrid Work Model Growth: Law firms will continue to facilitate team members working remotely, even after the global pandemic begins to subside. Hybrid work models attempt to achieve the positives of both remote work and office paradigms. The latter is achieved on platforms like Zoom and GoToMeeting with webcams and microphones properly integrated into home/laptop computers. This model will also allow firms to look beyond geography to hire better candidates for available jobs.
- Automation Tools: Law firms will have no choice but to embrace workflow and document automation more than ever before. Since procedures need to be followed by employees who are not in the same physical location, firms will better embrace software that ensures that tasks are followed in the correct order and documents assembled with proper coding making work faster and more efficient given the growth of the hybrid work model.
- Cloud-Based Knowledge: In addition to firms embracing document management in a cloud repository and online legal research, law firms will begin to seek best-of-breed software solutions that can be accessed in the “cloud.” One aspect is a practice management and time/billing/accounting platforms. Matter-based PM/TBA platforms, to effectuate the hybrid work model, will have to be easily and equally accessible to all firm members. Further, being able to tie in the cloud-based document repository with the TBA/PM solution in the cloud, as well as memorize research queries, will become the key to success…everything in one place – easily but securely accessible. Firms that don’t embrace a cloud model like this will find themselves falling behind the competition very quickly. Again, making sure all employees have reasonable and fast access to the firm’s platforms no matter where they may be working is key.
- Collaboration Tools and Skills: When I look at trends for 2022, the common denominator is investment in collaboration tools and skills. The three collaboration themed trends that I predict for 2022 center around firms continuing to adapt to living and working with evolving Covid variants in our life. Firms that adapted and modernized their practice experienced great success, but it isn’t too late, and there is still a lot of work still to be done.
- Investment in Cloud Document Management Platforms: Solutions like NetDocuments, Worldox, Epona and iManage continue to build collaborative features and integrations with other systems. All have integrations with digital signature platforms, making it easier for parties to sign documents without having to leave their home or office. Most importantly, these solutions create a central source of truth available from any remote location … a single place for their team to access and save case/matter documents so things aren’t saved in 5 different locations. As we continue down the path of working from home, office … or anywhere, relying on old ways to connect to the office and sharing documents with clients is really exhausting and clunky. It is time to modernize.
- Microsoft Teams and Microsoft 365: Microsoft 365 has proven that it is a sustainable solution that is comprised of an amazing treasure chest of utilities, not the least of which is Microsoft Teams. Microsoft Teams offers a whole new way to center communication with your team around a case / matter. Couple that with phone integration and tools like Bookings, FindTime, Microsoft ToDo, and Power Automate, and you really have world-class collaborative technology at your fingertips. In 2021, there was a huge uptick in firms upgrading their old version of Microsoft Office to Microsoft 365. I think 2022 is going to be an even bigger year!
- Investment in Time Management and Process: If there is one thing that we had to learn during the pandemic, it is that we need to sharpen our time management and work life balance skills. The need for time management is a problem that will never go away, and the methods constantly evolve based on what is going on in the world around us, whether it is a change in technology or an evolving virus.