Solicitors accused of “mistrust and indifference” to lawtech

Hodgkinson: Lot of lawyers sitting on the fence

Solicitors have been described as displaying “mistrust and indifference” to new technology, in a major study of attitudes to lawtech.

The University of Manchester, University College London and the Law Society found that not quite a third of the 656 solicitors surveyed from across the profession used lawtech every day, with most deploying it for routine administrative tasks.

While lawyers recognised the potential of lawtech, a lack of encouragement and support from management remained a critical barrier.

“Organisational encouragement and support for lawtech need to be improved markedly, particularly in the form of tangible and symbolic support on the part of senior managers,” it said.

Alongside a strong business case, law firm leaders needed to develop “a compelling case for the personal benefits of adoption for legal professionals”.

Just under half of solicitors (48%) said they “generally give technology the benefit of the doubt” when they first used it, while a smaller minority agreed with the statement “I believe that the large majority of technologies are excellent”.

Researchers commented: “The general picture emerging from these findings is one of mistrust and indifference, suggesting an uphill struggle for organisations planning to introduce significant technological change.”

They found that “the incentives ultimately required to fostering greater levels of employee engagement with lawtech are fundamentally lacking”, both at an organisational and personal level.

At the organisational level, 38% of solicitors agreed that their firm had supported them in the use of lawtech, with a smaller number agreeing that senior management had been helpful.

An even smaller group, 15%, said using lawtech would increase their chances of getting a pay rise, while fewer still thought it would help them get a promotion.

Researchers described the use of lawtech by solicitors as “relatively limited”, with 32% using it every day, and a further 23% every two to three days, or every week – 22% never used lawtech.

The most popular lawtech by far were legal databases (46%), followed by advice and content portals (29%), practice management (28%), online courts and tribunals (27%), automated document assembly (25%) and document review and e-discovery (22%).

The use of “more advanced technologies” was rare.

Lawyers’ caution about using new technology was combined with optimism that it could improve efficiency, with a comfortable majority (58%) saying it enabled them to complete tasks more quickly and a slightly smaller majority saying they found it useful in their job.

When it came to the future, 61% of solicitors said they intended to use lawtech within the next five years, while 40% said the top management team in their organisation was likely to invest in it.

However, only 47% said they had the knowledge necessary to use lawtech, and 41% the resources. More than six in 10 said they could complete a task using lawtech if someone showed them how to do it.

Solicitors said the two main motives for adopting lawtech were improving the quality and efficiency of legal services delivery.

Gerard Hodgkinson, professor of strategic management and behavioural science at Manchester University’s business school, who led the project, said the report showed that “a lot of legal professionals are still sitting on the fence” when it came to embracing new technologies.

“They are not completely resistant, but encouragement and support on the part of senior leaders and key decision makers is badly needed if we are going to see the legal services industry keep pace with other professional service industries, which are considerably further down the line in the adoption of new technologies with similar capabilities.”

The academic said it came down to whether the people at the top of the business considered lawtech to be a strategic priority, not only in terms of “the purchase of new kit”, but “equally crucially” in the form of knowledge and skills development, together with “the cognitive and emotional support required to ensure that employees feel valued and psychologically equipped to face the significant change journey ahead”.

Lubna Shuja, president of the Law Society, added: “It’s essential that the legal sector capitalises on the potential benefits of lawtech, but also mitigates the risks involved by upskilling its leaders and managers in the art of change management.”

The findings back up those of Oxford University two years ago in a project commissioned by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

    Readers Comments

  • Laurence Diver says:

    I wonder if that’s a constructive mistrust borne of concern for the potential impact on practice (e.g. Rule of Law, experience, etc), or if it’s just a conservatism about tech adoption more generally. The first is a healthy thing (we shouldn’t let ChatGPT write briefs!), moreso than the second.

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