The Year That Was: Legal Innovation in 2014

Let’s take a moment to reflect on 2014’s wave of legal innovation and consider how it’s helped shaped the way lawyers do business. What are the new norms of service delivery? What law firm technology has become indispensable? And how does your firm shape up against the competition?

2014 has been awash with legal innovation across all tiers of the industry, and for good reason. Law firms are realising that, like other industries, the business of law is not immune to the need to adapt to changing market demands. Clients have acquired newfound leverage to dictate how and for how much they are willing to purchase legal services, and an increasing number of consumers are seeking to manage their own legal affairs with DIY kits and ‘instant’ legal products.

As a result, an array of easily accessible, low-cost options are steadily trickling into the market and breathing new life into what was threatening to become a stagnating profession. Here’s what impressed us in 2014.

Paperless litigation

Technology has swept through the judicial system in the past 12 months, changing the way we litigate. While e-discovery was already widely used by firms, e-trials, e-files and e-lodgements are soon to become everyday realities. By late November 2014, the Federal Court expects to have rolled out stage one of its Electronic Court File (ECF) program, making the transition from paper-based information management to digital files in all registries. Increased use of electronic mediums for all court procedures will soon follow.

e-Conveyancing

Even conveyancing has now earned the obligatory ‘e’ prefix. In April this year, the last of Australia’s states passed legislation corresponding to the model law for the National Electronic Conveyancing System, which will see a range of property transactions performed completely online through PEXA (Property Exchange Australia). PEXA registration will soon be a must-have for all conveyancing firms.

Cloud technology

Harnessing the power of the cloud for law firms has enabled numerous firms to discover how they can deliver quality legal services at a lower price. However, the full potential of cloud-based applications is yet to be realised as users explore its endless possibilities for data sharing and management in the legal sphere.

Digital marketing

The shift in consumer decision-making and buyer behaviour has changed the way law firms market to clients. Practices of all shapes and sizes are now connecting with clients in a growing number of web-based mediums. Sydney law firm Dina Lawyers is one such practice. The firm has successfully employed social media to profile their law firm, as well as YouTube clips, cartoons, ebooks, newsletters and other content marketing techniques to establish a connection with clients and a reputation as experts in their field.

“I see social marketing as the modern-day equivalent of word of mouth, which is the oldest form of marketing yet still the most powerful,” says Dina Tadros, principal at Dina Lawyers. “It has allowed me to build client trust, foster new relationships and increase referrals. Most importantly, it has allowed clients to become familiar with me and my brand before they even step into my office.”

Alternative business models

Market changes have prompted a number of law firms to adopt fixed fee pricing models, products and service-delivery options that consumers are insisting on. For example, many firms have cut ties with the beloved billable-hour system and implemented fixed-pricing schedules in response to demand for price certainty and transparency. The increased availability of these alternatives will only further fuel demand and expectation, meaning firms that do not keep pace will lose out on work.

A wave of 2014 law firm mergers at the start of the year also saw firms consolidate their resources under established international brands, while others downsized to cater for a niche market in an effort to provide more competitive pricing and distinguish themselves from competitors.

Virtual services

The rise of online service-delivery options and the emergence of virtual law firms is feeding the demand for cheaper and more dynamic legal options.

“I think the next generation of lawyers […] are going to provide the greatest opportunity for change in the way legal services are viewed and delivered,” Jifkins says.

As firms shift their data into the cloud, recycle paper libraries and outsource more work to freelance contractors, they are less confined to physical premises and we can expect to see many more firms switching to virtual operations in the coming years.

Such innovations are dramatically changing the face of our industry, and it doesn’t look like they have any plans of slowing. It appears the revolution has only just begun, and we can expect many more exciting developments in 2015 and beyond.

Subscribe to Legal Insight

Discover best practice and keep up-to-date with insights on the latest industry trends.