For many of us, our focus has been on getting through the day-to-day versus reflecting on the past year or planning more than a week into the future. There’s a lot to gain from hindsight, but tricky to find the time to discover lessons learned. Thankfully, our friends over at Clio did the legwork for those in the legal industry with their annual “Legal Trends Report”, and we’ve compiled the key insights to make it even easier to find what will help your law practice survive and thrive in 2021.
Whiplash Between Cutbacks and Growth
Keeping their practice alive was the main concern across the board for attorneys. Unemployment was at an all-time high in 2020 with 11% – 26% of firms laying staff between January and May—and many expect future layoffs. Over a third of attorneys are worried about making a living; half are concerned about their firm’s success. While the need for attorneys and their legal services stayed strong, and in many cases, increased due to the pandemic, it also caused a reduction of access to legal services.
The saving grace? Technology. In a world where in-person interactions were no longer safe, technology came and filled in the gap. Virtual meetings and hearings occurred over many different platforms. The use of virtual payments exploded, as did e-doc signing. Firms using electronic payments mitigated income reductions up to 5%, while also opening 6% more matters through the summer.
Beyond online payments, client portals, and client intake/CRM software have been the most crucial to a firm’s survival in 2021. Each of these technologies improved the flexibility and adaptability of a firm during the pandemic.
Client Portals – A Secure Online Environment
Client portals enable law firms to securely share information with their clients, including documents, calendar events, and bills. Firms using client portals in 2020 mitigated the negative impact on caseloads by 5% at the beginning of the pandemic. In the months after, firms with client portals performed 2% better than firms who did not—even going so far as having positive growth in June. The higher performance was present in comparing year-over-year growth as well, showing that even before the pandemic, client portals aid revenue.
Client Intake and CRM Adoption – Opening Communication to Gain Clients
Client intake and CRM adoption’s importance lay in gaining new business by managing communication and intake that takes place prior to onboarding a client. Having all of this online allowed for efficiency in growth as clients could fill out an intake form or book initial consultations easily online.
Law practices utilizing digital intake and CRM platforms saw as much as a 6% year-over-year difference, which increased to 9% by August. There was double the amount of growth in the first months of 2020 before the impact of the coronavirus began to set in. These platforms helped generate more casework and improved client engagement.
How do clients feel?
Client satisfaction remains the driving force behind law practice growth. Technology, affordability of services, and availability of virtual services are all key factors behind a firm’s success.
58% percent of clients said that now more than ever, technology is more important to them. Perhaps surprisingly, most clients prefer to video conference over a phone call or face-to-face meeting. In addition, a majority would rather pay and share their documents electronically—all trends we mentioned above that increased growth in 2020.
Perception is Everything
While many firms have embraced technology, many clients were completely unaware of the shift to digital. Most clients aren’t aware today’s law practices offer online payments, meetings, and information as options. As 85% of firms are now using software to manage their practice, educating clients and the public that technology is now a part of the process is necessary for growth.
Affordability is Key
One of the major issues for clients is the affordability of legal services. The average attorney charges $290 an hour and, even with pro-bono and free legal services, the gap is large between those who need an attorney and those who can afford it. Unfortunately, the pandemic only exacerbated that gap. Clients stressed lawyers should adopt pricing or payment models that make legal services more affordable, including payment plans to provide flexibility and transparent pricing. Bridging the affordability gap to meet the needs of the underserved legal market, especially now, is beneficial to both clients and the firm serving them.
What does the future look like?
In looking beyond this pandemic, these digital adoptions are here to stay. Law firms need to design their client experiences online first, with a hybrid formula in mind once the pandemic is over. Firms will stay cloud-based and client-centered, not only preparing them to handle future waves of the coronavirus but also improve work-life balance and deliver better client experiences. Offering more payment options and trying to extend technology to the court systems as well will, ideally, improve access to justice.
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