Posted by Sheryl Hodgson, key relationship manager at Legal Futures Associate Lawyer Checker 
The relationship between a lawyer and a consumer has always been built on trust. As a result, consumers turn to their lawyer to handle their most personal affairs in a way that is right for them.
Historically, consumers would instruct their local law firm, meet with their lawyer in person and build a relationship, if not friendship, to which the consumer would repeatedly seek advice from a trusted advisor.
Communication naturally flowed between both parties, and consumers felt they were getting real value for their hard-earned money.
Now that the digital age has arrived, the lawyer/consumer relationship is facing new pressures.
Innovative technologies allow for consumers to engage with their lawyers remotely, and at a time that suits them, giving the consumer more power than ever before. Law firms are having to reconsider their business models to keep up with the evolving market, and to ensure they stay ahead of the competition.
So, will digital onboarding become the norm for law firms and what impact will this have to the lawyer/consumer relationship?
How have consumer behaviours changed?
Consumer expectations have rapidly changed over the years. Advancements in technology have given consumers more power in all aspects of their day-to-day lives. Food shops can now be ordered from the comfort of your home, cooked meals can be delivered straight to your door, even bank accounts can be opened electronically.
With goods and services now becoming more and more accessible to consumers, attitudes and expectations for service delivery have changed significantly, resulting in consumers wanting hassle-free, instant results.
Other sectors have evolved the purchase journey to meet these demands. The legal sector, however, is currently standing in no-man’s land between the digital and physical modes of client success. There is a clear divide and an internal battle between traditionalism and embracing change.
What are the benefits to digital onboarding?
The first stand-out benefit from both the law firm and consumer perspective is that technology enhances communication. The key to building a good relationship with your client has and always will rely on good communication.
Technology now allows for consumers to have access to far more product and service information than ever before, which has a direct impact on their need for continuous updates and contact.
Firms which use a traditional, manual onboarding process are struggling to meet this demand. Endless phone calls and emails leave lawyers frustrated, while consumers are confused and dissatisfied with the service.
It is vital that law firms find a way to maintain transparency with their clients; technology is on hand to help them do this.
Consumer portals, for example, assist in providing key updates to consumers, opening the line of communication during the onboarding process, which in turn builds greater trust between the parties.
A significant benefit which can’t be ignored is the accuracy and reliability of technology, in particular when it comes to electronic identity verification.
We’re all aware of the increasing issue of identity fraud. False documents which pass the test of the human eye, such as bank statements, can now be purchased online, and lawyers can no longer rely on the honesty of their clients alone.
As fraudsters become more advanced, and more tactical at penetrating law firms, it is essential that the legal sector engages with technology and uses it to combat this threat.
Artificial intelligence technology can now identify false ID documents, which leaves the lawyer to do what they were trained to do. After all, lawyers were never meant to be forensic experts.
Electronic verification also directly benefits the consumer. Identity checks can now be completed from the comfort of the consumer’s home, at a time that suits them best, which is in line with changing behaviours. Firms no longer need to meet their clients face to face, which in turn has significant time and cost saving benefits.
How will digital onboarding effect the lawyer/consumer relationship?
Acknowledging the vital roles of communication and trust in the relationship, technology should work only to enhance them.
If law firms are going to keep up with the competitiveness of the digital legal market, hey should consider reviewing their onboarding process to include high-specification technology. Notwithstanding this, there are consumers who prefer the more traditional methods of communication, and it is down to the law firm to understand the needs of their clients, and to then provide a service which is suitable for them.