The Online Revolution
Are law firms taking full advantage?

Blog: By Joanne Hunter, Head of Marketing, Select Legal Systems Limited

Smart phone with collage of items coming out of it shopping trolley, house, tablet etc. The online revolution has arrived. Some sectors have embraced it and are thriving as a result, whilst others have been slower to respond, missing out on business opportunities as well as improvements in efficiency.

 

 

 

 

The Statistics

According to the Office of National Statistics in Great Britain 84% of households (that’s 22 Million households) had internet access in 2014 (up from 57% in 2006) and 38 million adults (76% of the population) went online every day. Also surfing the web using a mobile phone more than doubled between 2010 and 2014 from 24% to 58%.

These people are not only shopping online but conducting a whole manner of everyday tasks via the internet. According to the British Retail Consortium one in three items of clothing, furniture and household appliances bought in Britain are now purchased online. One in five households buy their groceries online EVERY week. A Travel Weekly survey reported last year that 80% of us are booking our holidays online, people are doing the bulk of their research online before buying new homes and cars and almost 50% of us are buying insurance online.

Internet banking is reported as the most successful sector by far to embrace and benefit from going digital with 78% of UK banking customers using online banking. The latest figures from the British Bankers Association show nearly £7bn transactions were made online in 2013, a 40 per cent rise since 2009.

I cannot help but draw comparisons between the banking sector and the legal services sector. There are certain similarities in terms of security priorities for people buying these kinds of services. Also the traditional high street, face-to-face visit was the norm for many years for both sectors. Obviously banking has surpassed the legal sector so far, in terms of going digital, but 10 years ago, it was difficult to imagine our banking habits would ever change to this degree.

There is some evidence that people are buying legal services online today and that it is set to rise. In a Allen & Overy survey (May 2014) of corporate buyers of legal services looking at ‘new legal service models’ they asked participants for their current use and future preferences for different models over the next five years. The results for ‘online legal services’ came out at 28% for current use (as at May 2014) and they anticipate their use of online legal services will rise to 37% in five years time. (Their definition of online legal services is ‘standardised legal advice only available online, often available as a subscription service).

Back in the early 2000 the Legal Services Board  website showed: Research into individual consumers found that the use of the internet for advice seeking was steadily increasing from 4% in the 2001 survey to 11% in the 2004 survey to 16% in the 2006-9 survey. However in 2010 there was no evidence of widespread use of technology in the way that these commentators envisage.

At Select Legal Systems Limited we have certainly seen a significant uptake amongst our client base of law firms wanting to offer digital services to their clients over the last 5 years via our Case Tracker module across a wide range of consumer legal service areas.

But there is also evidence that some sectors are struggling to embrace the digital revolution. For example a recent NHS England survey reported that 78% of us would like to be able to book our GP appointments online but less than 5% of us actually are because the facilities are just not widely available yet.

There is a danger that some sectors, organisations and law firms could get left behind if they miss this important digital opportunity.

Online Client Communication 24/7

The technology to open up communication with clients 24 hours a day 7 days a week is available now. You are able to, if you choose to, give your clients access to the information they need about their house sale or purchase around the clock. You can share progress updates automatically online about personal injury cases instantly as they become available. You can encrypt, using highly secure technology protocols, statements and other important documents and share them via a secure cloud with the relevant people involved in any case. In a secure online area you can pass information to your client for them to view at their convenience and comment back to their solicitor.

This technology has been around a long time. It is easy to implement. It makes life far easier for the both the client and the solicitor and the statistics show that the Great British public is ready to embrace this way of working. However, some law firms are so steeped in tradition they struggle to abandon the comfort of the paper they have always relied upon (see my recent blog on “The Paperless Law Firm”) – they are ignoring the opportunity to do more online and no doubt in the process losing business.

Whilst the face-to-face interaction between client and solicitor is often necessary and beneficial, in this age of significant time pressures on the home/work life balance, all businesses must consider offering more digital time-saving options to make their clients’ lives easier.

Any case management software supplier worth its salt should offer robust online case tracking facilities for law firms wishing to make these kinds of services available to their clients. Other businesses have set an expectation for your clients. Look at the way Amazon, ebay and our banks do business today. The way they interact with their customers is so far removed from the face-to-face, transactional experience that existed 20 years ago, it is virtually unrecognisable. Your customers are expecting this level of online service from your firm. Their expectations have been set by these leading online businesses.

In my experience, in the legal sector, information sharing online is particularly popular with conveyancing and personal injury firms but is being used in other areas of law, such as crime. You need a secure online portal where your fee earners can work and communicate with clients and third parties such as estate agents, introducers and opposition solicitors making vital information available 24/7 taking information sharing to a whole new level of convenience for all concerned.

Today’s most successful firms are listening to what their customers want and embracing the online revolution.

The Mobile App

In my opinion the mobile app is something every business leader should be thinking about.

The term “app” is a shortening of the term “application software” and a mobile app is designed to run on smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices. You can pretty much find an app for anything these days from foreign language translation apps such as iTranslateVoice which apparently translates voice files in up to 42 languages to ScannerPro which turns your smart phone into a portable scanner. Some of the really well known apps have millions of users (e.g. Facebook has 118 Million unique users according to Business Insider UK) which means that the general public, and business people – your clients – are becoming more and more comfortable with apps and think nothing to downloading a new one that is going to make their lives easier.

Some of the larger UK law firms are getting in on the app act. Having done some online research of my own I have discovered that Mills & Reeve’s DivorceUK app has been well received presenting relevant information about family law and procedures using video and animation. Eversheds offers an app for HR professionals providing a guide to International Employment and Pensions.

I read today that there are now more mobile phones in the UK than people and the rise in smart phone purchases has led to 30% of today’s web surfing now being carried out via a mobile phone. We did a survey of our customer base and prospects last year (May 2014) asking for their mobile app needs whilst we were planning to build our first series of LAWFUSION mobile apps. These will be available very soon and will include mobile features specifically designed for fee earners, such as; case, documents and diaries management with mobile form-fill and e-signatures, stop-start time recording for when you’re on the move and fee earner expenses/disbursement management utilising your device camera for capturing parking receipts etc.

Your Business Systems

Of course the Online Revolution is far reaching and goes way beyond the online services you offer your end user clients. The bigger topic of debate is how organisations are using the internet to run their businesses and where the legal profession is in embracing technologies, such as cloud computing.

Cloud computing is on the up and IT Pundits across the globe are saying the cloud has arrived, the debate about security is over and 2015 is the year of the cloud.

Cloud computing – the provision of computing services over the internet is nothing new. Remote application hosting has been available for many years. In fact some say the concept of cloud computing dates back as early as 1969 when American computer scientist, JCR Licklider described his vision of an ‘intergalactic computer network’.

For several years some law firms have been running their entire practice management systems and all related technologies over the cloud including their Microsoft Office and Exchange products, all for a competitive monthly fee. But the legal profession has been slower to adopt cloud computing than most other professions. This is not surprising as a law firm must consider data security and client confidentiality far more carefully than most. Smaller firms have certainly led the way but we are now seeing evidence of larger firms starting to make the move over to a hosted infrastructure.

For the legal profession once Partners of law firms have allayed their security fears, it soon becomes apparent that cloud computing can enable a Practice of law to expand its infrastructure, add capacity on demand resulting in greater flexibility, a wider choice of computing resources and significant cost savings.

This is the subject of another Select Legal blog – view here: 2015 The Year of the Cloud for Law Firms?

Conclusion

In an article in The Guardian (28 April 2015) Brian McBride, chairman of online fashion and beauty store Asos and previously chief executive of Amazon, summed up what this blog is all about. He said, “Transformation has taken place across all aspects of life as a result of rapid technological change. For instance, in 2000, only 6% of the world’s population was online. Fifteen years later, it is 40%. “The history of technology is littered with companies that didn’t keep up with the pace,” he said. “Companies need the ability to anticipate. To embrace and welcome change, and go with it is a key to survival.”

For me Brian’s words are particularly relevant. Our goal as a technology partner to law firms is to help firms keep up with the pace of technological change, providing opportunities for them to embrace technology in a format that is right for them as a practice of law at a time that is right for their business.

Select Legal Systems is a leading supplier of case and practice management software and their flagship product, LAWFUSION, offers everything from legal accounts and time recording to case management and marketing software for law firms. If you want more information about LAWFUSION Case Tracker, Cloud Computing for Law Firms or the imminent first series of LAWFUSION Apps – please contact our sales team on 01482 567601 or contact us online. Or visit the following pages on our website: