Every part of our way of life has been impacted by Covid-19 to some degree and the legal sector is no different. Far from existing in a vacuum, the law is dependent on human activity for its success and now, activity has stalled both inside and outside the sector. All this follows from the high of 2019, where UK legal services revenue reached £37bn and annual growth of almost 5% was forecasted for the next two years.
Already, new claims in England and Wales have fallen by 50% from April last year, as businesses hold back from launching expensive court battles during the pandemic. While UK law firms have not been as quick to dismiss staff as their US counterparts, there are already signs that the pandemic could be driving high street law firms to brink of collapse. Research published by the Law Society showed that more than 70 per cent of high street firms said that they might have to shut down within the next six months owing to lockdown. As the high street is still most people’s main contact with the law, there could be big changes ahead in how we as citizens interact with the law.
Yet, not all sectors will be as hit as hard as each other and law still has the unique capacity to adapt. As the Times writes, “the big City players are likely to save themselves from collapse, as they have done in previous — albeit less sudden — recessions, by quickly adapting to deal with other people’s pain.”
For many this may involve transitioning to fixing problems for companies triggered by lockdown, whether that is mothballing, restructuring or eventually insolvency. For the rest, there is a real opportunity and need for the legal technology sector to step into the mainstream. Despite still thriving as an industry, legal pick up of technology has not been as fast as in other sectors. Incrementally, the industry still provides an almost identical service to the one it did 20 years ago.
There are several areas where the use of technology and software to provide and aid legal services can be better utilised, but broadly speaking they can fit into three categories. Inside law firms and corporate companies, throughout the legal sector such as in courts and finally, the way we as consumers can access it.
Legal and corporate firms
Technological advancements have been slow across the sector but with the potential to harness a highly skilled workforce and significant capital investment it is also one of the most potentially exciting. One area that has been particularly successful is end-to-end contract and document automation. Not only has it removed significant drudgery from the daily life of legal professionals, but it has enabled them to free up their legal team and focus their expertise on tasks that matter, saving time and money.
With the continuing advance of the Big Four accountancy firms into legal services, clients will not stop demanding more services for less money. For most legal professionals, this will mean turning to technology providers who can give them an edge. Yet, with Stanford University’s legal tech list now as large as 1320 companies, Legal technology companies will more than ever, need an effective strategy to help them stand out.
Our work with Burford Capital, the world’s largest litigation finance company, demonstrated the power of engaging with and educating your audience through the media. We set out to challenge perceptions surrounding single case funding and establish the company as a leading authority in this new but fast-growing area of the law by successfully penetrating mainstream media.
While some hearings have been conducted remotely, there are currently more than 35,600 outstanding cases due to be heard by crown courts. Our global campaign with CaseLines, a virtual platform for court hearings, taught us a great deal about the global appetite for more accessible and technologically advanced courts. At every level of the justice system, advancements like these can not only improve the quality of justice but provide a framework for modernization elsewhere in the industry.
The fact the Ministry of Justice has shown a willingness to engage with nimble and innovative legal start-ups is encouraging, and the £1-billion digital reform process being undertaken by the UK’s HM Courts and Tribunals Service is doubly so. With government budgets for legal services tightening up globally, companies promoting access to justice and access to the law itself can drive solutions to barriers and help serve society.
The third area focuses on how consumers interact with and access legal services. The impact of Covid—19 has made these more, not less essential, as everyday businesses have been thrust into a world of furlough and working remotely. Sparqa Legal have found that on average, businesses face legal issues 8 times a year and 90% of them believe that traditional law firms don’t provide a cost-effective solution. While the high street may still continue to provide the backbone of most property, family and criminal issues, the world of small business and entrepreneurship seems ready to embrace a more DIY approach to law.
This mission to make law more accessible and democratic should be an encouraging sign for the future growth of the legal technology world. If consumers believe they are not currently getting a good deal, it is only a matter of time before innovative technology companies move to fill that space. This area is certainly one to watch.
If you are looking for support with gaining insight into the UK media landscape or you are a legal tech innovator looking to raise your profile, please get in touch today to see how our passionate team of experts can help you achieve your goals.