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Altman Weil Annual Survey: Change Isn’t Easy, But It’s Necessary

Nicole BlackAccording to a recent study conducted by Altman Weil, Law Firms in Transition 2017, 72% of responding firms believe that change in the legal industry will continue to take place at a rapid rate. This is a significant increase from 2012, when only 61% of respondents believed the pace of change would increase.

Unfortunately, many lawyers in larger firms are refusing to change the way that they do business despite finally acknowledging that the legal profession is undergoing an industry-wide paradigm shift in ways never before seen.

As explained in the Report, when it comes to adapting to change and meeting client demands by increasing efficiencies in the delivery of legal services, most firms are all talk, with little action:

“Ninety-four percent of respondent’s in this year’s survey said that a focus on improving efficiency will be a permanent trend going forward. But only 49% of law firms said that they have significantly changed their approach to the efficiency of legal service delivery. This represents a frightening disconnect.”

One of the biggest impediments to change? The lawyers themselves. According to the survey, a whopping 65% of law firm leaders report that law firm partners staunchly resist most change efforts. The survey results also show that the amount of resistance has steadily increased over the years and that only 44% of partners resisted change in 2015.  

Another interesting statistic is that 56% of respondents indicated that most partners were completely unaware of what they might do differently. This level of resistance (and apparent cluelessness) likely has a lot to do with the fact reported above: that less than half of all firms have changed their approach to delivering legal services despite acknowledging that increasing efficiency is a priority.

However, not all law firms are stagnant when it comes to innovation and testing new ideas. The survey results showed that the largest firms with 1000+ lawyers led the way, with 82% reporting a focus on innovation compared to only 39% of firms with lawyers with 50-99 attorneys. That some firms are prioritizing innovation is good news, since it’s the primary driver that leads to adaptation and change. 

According to the Report, one way that the legal industry is innovating is by incorporating emerging technologies into their firm’s processes. Not surprisingly, a minority of firms are incorporating artificial intelligence tools, which are relatively new to the legal market, into their technology arsenal. 

Firms seem to be the most comfortable with the idea of replacing non-legal skills with AI and for that reason, 84% of responding firms agreed that technology that replaces human resources is a permanent trend. But when it came to using tools like Watson and Ross to replace legal functions, only 7.5% of respondents indicated that their firm used those tools, although nearly 29% reported that their firm was currently exploring AI technologies. The remaining 74% of firms are apparently doing nothing in this regard, but given how impactful AI tools are predicted to be in the coming years, that number should decrease dramatically within the next few years.

So with all this talk about innovation, perhaps you’re wondering how your firm can use technology to innovate. If so, here are some steps being taken by responding firms that have prioritized innovation:

  • Using IBM Watson in their firm;
  • Developing a data analytics team to track client and firm predictive data;
  • Providing mobile-friendly tools based on client input with the end goal being to build an entirely new  delivery model for legal services in the middle market;
  • Hiring a Chief of Innovation Officer to oversee innovative initiatives across multiple departments; and
  • Holding an “Innovation Day” so that lawyer teams can work together to come up with innovative ways to improve performance.

Hopefully some of these ideas will serve to whet your appetite for change. As explained in the Report, remaining stagnant is no longer an option and firms that pivot and use emerging technologies to stand out in the legal marketplace will position themselves for success in the coming years. So, don’t just stand there: go forth and innovate! 

Nicole Black is the Legal technology Evangelist at MyCase, a cloud-based law practice management platform. She is an attorney in Rochester, New York, and is a GigaOM Pro analyst. She is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise. She speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


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