Posted by Chris Davidson, a director at Legal Futures Associate Moore Legal Technology 
It’s hard to believe that the end of the year is upon as already, but as we prepare for the festive season, we should also be preparing for the year ahead. Technology continues to move at an alarming rate, things we were only dreaming about in 2016, started to materialise this year and will only continue to develop as we move forward into 2018.
But how will advancements in technology affect the legal sector? In this article we look at some of the biggest changes and trends we have seen in 2017, in order to predict what we might expect to see in the coming year.
Increasingly, firms are recognising the importance of adopting and investing in technology in order to effectively compete in today’s market. Clients are also continuing to demand greater engagement with technology, and in many ways the traditional law firm model is falling behind expectations of the service industry generally.
Coupled with this year’s study by Deloitte which suggests that technology is already leading to job losses in the UK legal sector, and the fact that 114,000 jobs could be automated in 20 year’s time, you really can’t afford not to take notice of the impact technology is having and will continue to have on the legal sector.
Although this sounds bleak, firms should think of it as an opportunity to innovate and provide stellar service for clients. Artificial intelligence, automation, and gamification all give firms the opportunity to interact with their clients, and potential clients, in new and exciting ways, while improving efficiency and job satisfaction.
Marketing automation has been around for a long time. However, it has previously been unsophisticated and unrefined, generally only used by ecommerce businesses or businesses offering ‘a once in a lifetime opportunity to rank #1 in Google’. That is changing. As technology and artificial intelligence develops, so too does marketing automation.
With the release of personal assistants like Siri and Alexa, voice search is taking over, and is expected to account for 50% of all online searches by 2020. But how will this affect the legal sector?
A quarter of all voice search queries are for local information – a big opportunity for high street firms. Voice search optimising your business, including the website and review pages could lead you to enquiries from a ready-to-instruct, relevant and local audience.
Voice-orientated search engine optimisation (SEO) requires a slightly different approach to traditional SEO. Firms need to think about how they can tap into voice search, including things such as:
- Completing ‘Google My Business’ listings to improve your chances of appearing for local voices search queries;
- Ensuring you keep up with reviews. Results with higher reviews will appear in search before those with lower reviews. Make sure to invite clients to review your business on Google, and report any reviews which are unduly negative. You will need to maintain four stars or higher to have a chance of appearing in voice search; and
- Getting into snippets. Have you noticed that, for many search results, Google displays a succinct answer? These results are generally used to answer questions asked in voice search. You can utilise this function by having a FAQs page, and increase the chances of appearing in voice search.
The Law Society has predicted that service automation will claim 67,000 jobs in the legal sector by 2038. But we needn’t think of this as a negative because this will be offset by a demand for legal services, with machines taking on the routine work that often slows firms down.
It is anticipated that service automation will increase productivity, allowing firms to take on more work. Firm should look to utilise new technologies to create efficiencies in their business, or they could end up left behind.
Predictive search in Google
The world of SEO is changing once again. Artificial intelligence allows Google to answer users’ search queries with increasing accuracy and sophistication, but also to predict what a user may be looking for.
This is not just based on previous searches, but now incorporates location, demographic behaviour, Gmail indicators and temporal elements.
How will this affect the digital marketing efforts of law firms? The difficulty with predictive search, and its attempts to predict the intent of users, is that often you can be cut out of the marketing cycle – even before the customer makes their search enquiry. The results are already biased towards these predictive indicators.
This makes succeeding in search more challenging, and as such it is essential that firms looking to rank well in search, continue to serve users better than anyone else, and keep up with best-practice SEO.
VR, AR and gamification
Gamification is commonplace in many other areas of business, and 2018 may finally be the year that law firms engage clients and employees using augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).
The ways in which gamification can be used have been prophesised for a number of years, but will we finally see its widespread use in 2018? It is anticipated that VR and AR will be utilised for client engagement, recruitment and employee and client training, improving engagement with subject matter.
Firms should be on the lookout for opportunities to utilise gamification, to attract new clients and the best job candidates.
As you can see, the future is coming and it has never been more essential for firms to engage with adapting technology.
We have been creeping towards the full realisation of AI, gamification and service automation in the legal sector for a number of years and 2018 could finally be the year it comes to fruition.
To stay ahead of the competition, law firms cannot afford to be left behind when it comes to technology. Creating and implementing a strategy to embrace these key trends for 2018 is essential, and will pay off in the long term.
But, what if you are not a large corporate firm that can afford to create a gamification training system? No need to worry. Adapting content for voice search, marketing automation and service automation are easily within reach, both in terms of the skill level required and their price point, even for small high street firms and sole practitioners.