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Is the Future of Law Virtual?

The coronavirus pandemic forced the widespread shutting of offices across the globe as governments enforced lockdown measures in a bit to halt the spread of COVID-19.

Restrictions have gradually been lifted over the past months and a return to normality is within sight in the UK, though it is reported the final lockdown easing date of June 21 will be pushed back. Such a delay will likely mean more time working from home for many employees.

However, according to a survey conducted by the Institute of Directors last October, nearly 74% of businesses were planning to retain an aspect of remote working even after the lifting of restrictions. It is expected to be the case in the legal sector.

A change in practice

The COVID-19 outbreak forced many legal firms to embrace new technology and working processes that may not have otherwise been implemented. Those that were most efficient at making the switch flourished.

Now, according to a report from investment bank Arden Partners, a third of all UK lawyers could be working under a consultancy model without a central office base by 2026.

Arden’s head of business services John Llewellyn-Lloyd said: “The pandemic has increased pressure to invest in IT infrastructure and reduce back office costs, but most firms are facing historic lows in available cash, with partners generally reluctant to commit additional capital.

“The UK smaller mid-market legal sector remains exceptionally fragmented, and consultancy-based legal businesses are now in one of the strongest positions to act as the lead consolidator.

“They have higher quality infrastructure for managing and delivering legal services; they are much better-placed to recruit lawyers directly, without the costs and risks of M&A; and the recent rapid adoption of home working has accelerated the appeal of ‘officeless’ legal advice to lawyers and clients.”

Survival of the fittest

With it believed that the pandemic has been the catalyst for a permanent shift in the legal sector, the law firms that have proven most adept at embracing new technology are set to change the landscape.

One such company is Clifford Chance, which launched its first innovation hub back in 2018. The aim was to improve processes and implement technology to make the delivery of their services quicker, simpler, more efficient and more robust. Artificial intelligence, automation, an online collaboration platform, a data science lab and electronic discovery tools are just some of the ways they have used technology to try to stay ahead of the competition.

Such measures are an important way for firms to remain relevant in a sector where huge change has occurred and is not anticipated to slow down.

The legal sector has been heavily disrupted, and it appears technology is set to become more influential than ever within the industry.

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