Yesterday we delved into the plight of mid-sized firms working harder and still ending up failing to transform a lot of that work into cash. We suggested that the sector’s reticence to adopt the latest in legal technology might be a big part of the problem.
But maybe there’s something else behind the tech adoption problem?
Actionstep recently issued its 2024 U.S. Midsize Law Firm Priorities Report covering a lot of issues facing mid-sized firms — from hybrid work models to stress and wellness. But they also dug into the technology landscape of the mid-sized firms, confirming that while this sector is moving toward tech, it’s got a longer path in front of it than other sectors.
Still fewer than two-thirds of these firms are investing more in tech — with the growth seeming to come directly from the ranks of the no change bucket. But the number of firms investing less has also ticked up a tad. Not encouraging.
But this top line figure doesn’t tell us much because not all technology is created equal. A massive investment in Segways isn’t helpful. So perhaps it’s more important to identify which easily tech-solvable problems are producing the most pain.
Billing and collections speaks directly to the trouble we talked about yesterday, but data entry could be an indirect contributor.
And unfortunately, it seems as though there’s a generational problem.
It’s not surprising that the younger attorneys are doing more of the tedious data entry, but the story is in the chasm between those attorneys and everyone else on how to solve it. That the rest of the lawyers have so much faith in just throwing more bodies at the problem speaks to the root of the tech problem. And if mid-sized firms are more heavily weighted toward those older generations, then you’re going to have a sector less interested in tech and more trusting that all they need is a brute force solution.
Or at least that a brute force solution is preferable to a tech one.
New tech landscape, same problems. Remember a decade ago when lawyers didn’t want to move into the cloud because they thought the server in their closet was more secure than Microsoft because… they could see the server, I guess? The deep fear that tech will doom a firm’s security profile remains an issue.
Does this concern impact older lawyers more? Of course. Does this concern impact mid-sized lawyers more because they fear they might lack the resources to pay what they imagine it costs to secure new tech? Also of course. But at the end of the day, “security” is really just a proxy for “support” because a good support team is going to be keeping things secure.
Speaking with Actionstep at Legalweek, they explained that while there are, obviously, enthusiastically tech-savvy firms in this sector, there is a palpable fear among a lot of mid-sized firms owing to the real or perceived concern that tech investments won’t be backed up by partners who will leave lawyers struggling to figure out what the tech does. With that mindset, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” becomes a mantra.
It seems like this might be, slowly, eroding in the mid-sized sector. After years spent touting Biglaw and small law rushing into the embrace of legal tech, the middle remains a bit behind. But the practice is reaching the limits of “throw some people at it” thinking and the quicker these firms figure that out, the better off they’ll be.
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.