Law Firm Innovation: A Client-Centered Guide

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The legal industry tends to hold on to tradition. However, more law firm professionals are realize that innovation is key to surviving in our changing world. Law firm innovation begins with shifting focus to clients’ needs and providing an end-to-end client-centered experience

Law firms need to focus on what clients actually want, and then deliver that to create an effortless experience. Of course, you’ll need to deliver legal services efficiently and profitably. Delivering efficient and profitable legal services is foundational to all law firm innovation strategies. 

Put yourself in your client’s shoes. Imagine how they go through hiring a lawyer, explaining their legal issue, and proceeding with legal matters. By viewing the experience with your law firm from their perspective, you’ll be able to build a more client-centered approach

Accurately meeting your clients’ needs and providing the effortless experience they seek will help you stand out from the competition. You’ll get more reviews and referrals and drive more new business for your firm.

Law firm innovation ideas

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To do law firm innovation well, you’ll need to identify the overlap between delivering a top-notch client experience. Simultaneously, you’ll have to make tasks and processes more efficient for your team. Below are eight ideas on how to incorporate innovation into your law firm.

1. Explore alternative fee arrangements

Alternative fee arrangements (AFA) enable you to go beyond the billable hour. In many cases, AFAs can help enhance the client experience. Many AFAs give clients an idea of what their legal case will cost up front. Therefore, AFAs can also provide more payment predictability for your law firm. 

Examples of AFA’s include:

  • Fee caps. Cap hourly billings for a given case, project or service. 
  • Fixed fee/flat fee menus or for single engagements. Set prices for select services. 
  • Full contingencies. Only issue fees if the law firm wins the case.
  • Holdbacks/partial contingencies/success fees. The client pays a predetermined amount to the law firm, with the rest contingent on the firm’s success. 
  • Portfolio fixed fees. Law firms provide clients with a single, fixed price for a large number of services. 
  • Evergreen retainers. Your client pays up front and tops up the retainer whenever it dips below a certain amount. 
  • Risk collars. Attorneys receive a bonus if their work is completed under budget, while clients receive a discount if it goes over budget. 

Incorporate AFAs into your law firm innovation plan by learning more about them. 

2. Find new ways to communicate with your clients

Although many firms believe they interact effectively with their clients and prospects, research suggests otherwise. The 2018 Legal Trends Report shows a clear disconnect between the ways lawyers communicate with clients and how clients prefer to communicate. Results show that 55% of clients want to learn about the legal aspects of a case in person. Only 2% of lawyers think their clients prefer in-person meetings.

2018 Legal Trends Report Expectations for in-person communications

By learning how to overcome this communication gap, you can build a more efficient, client-centered and profitable law firm. Not to mention ensuring your law firm innovation plan is a successful one. There are numerous ways to blend in-person interactions with technology. Methods for effective client communication include:

  • Sending updates via email 
  • Using receptionist services that answer your business calls and sync calls and messages to the appropriate matter
  • Texting using your firm’s business number
  • Using client portals allowing clients to access case information without you 
  • Leveraging client intake and client relationship management tools to improve the intake process without extra overhead for your law firm

3. Increase client accessibility with law firm innovation

Part of building new revenue channels means making sure you can reach all potential prospects when they’re searching for a lawyer and existing customers when they need additional services. Making your services more accessible will help your firm stand out from the rest, and may help you win new clients.

Four ways to do this include:

 

  1. Website accessibility. Ensuring your website meets accessibility standards means embracing coding practices that help create a usable site for all visitors. You need to design and develop your website needs according to international standards known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG 2.0 Level AA. 
  2. Include image descriptions. To make images accessible, make sure to include alternative text, which is the back-end code added to an image. This way, a screen reader can describe the image’s content to someone unable to see it.
  3. Include captions for videos. Pre-recorded videos should have captions or transcripts available as text alternatives to the audio content.
  4. Increase hiring lawyers with disabilities. A great way to ensure your communication tools are accessible is to hire lawyers who would use of these alternative channels.

4. Leverage legal analytics and artificial intelligence

legal analytics

Legal analytics encompasses tools and/or capabilities powered by artificial intelligence technology capable of sorting through vast amounts of data to find notable trends. 

Legal analytics and artificial intelligence are game-changers in the law profession. This is true for conducting legal research, marketing your firm, and driving business insights. Law firms have access to large amounts of data. And with the use of new technologies, you can turn that data into data insights. These insights will help you make better business decisions.

Major benefits to leveraging legal analytics and artificial intelligence include:

  • Helping you win cases for clients
  • Attracting new client business by quantifying relevant experience
  • Pricing legal projects

Learn more about how your firm can use legal analytics to succeed.

5. Use cloud-based legal practice management software

As work takes place increasingly out of the office, it’s become absolutely key for attorneys to access their case information from anywhere. By keeping case details and documentation on cloud-based practice management software, lawyers are able to:

  • Work remotely
  • Respond to clients more quickly
  • Allow other team members access to necessary information whenever they need it 
  • Keep automatic backup files of client information in a secure environment
  • Use whichever operating system they want 
  • Reduce the need for in-house IT specialists
  • Scale at lower additional capital costs as your law firm grows 

If your law firm has yet to move to the cloud, this is an area of innovation to start with.

Learn more about using the cloud in your legal practice.

6. Build a virtual law firm (if you haven’t already)

Increasingly, law firms are seeing the many advantages of running a virtual law firm over a traditional one. The overhead costs of running a virtual law firm are significantly reduced. You won’t need to pay rent on office space or purchase large office equipment. Virtual law offices also use cloud-based software. Meaning you’ll have fewer costs when it comes to storing and maintaining case files. 

Another advantage of running a virtual law firm is employee happiness. Lawyers and other staff who work at virtual firms can work from home or remotely. Legal professionals can often set their own schedules. Clients benefit from this added flexibility, as well. Operating a virtual law firm can help lawyers manage their relationships with clients in a mutually beneficial way.

Learn more about building a virtual law firm in this webinar with Cynthia Morgan-Reed of Vanst Law.

7. Automate your client intake process

There are so many ways that law firm automation can improve and create efficiencies in your client intake process. From enabling e-signatures for legal documents to creating smarter and easier client intake forms. 

Firms can create customized forms to suit each client’s needs, so that they only need to fill in relevant data entry fields. These forms help clients to save time and reduce the risk of the law firm making manual errors. Clients and potential prospects can also fill out these forms right from your firm’s website. This will create a more streamlined onboarding experience.  

When researching the best tools to automate your client intake process, look for those that integrate seamlessly with your practice management software. As clients fill out their intake forms, you can create new contacts and matters automatically. 

8. Challenge traditional law firm culture norms

Cultural change is the biggest challenge law firms face in keeping up with innovation and technology. The legal industry is at a tipping point as law firms struggle to stay relevant in consumers’ eyes. Consumers are increasingly seeking the degree of personalization and digital experience they receive from other industries. Law firms need to urgently consider the longer-term impact of technological change on their organization’s business strategy.

The culture of law itself is a major barrier to successfully adopting technology, since law is structured around rules and regulations. These barriers make it difficult for technologists to understand clearly what the firm needs and how to integrate solutions successfully. To implement technology is to embark on a new path away from the norm of law, which makes firms reluctant to take the first step until they have seen other firms do it successfully.

An example of innovation in law firms is Vanst Law. Using Clio’s suite of products, owner Cynthia Morgan-Reed created a virtual law firm with low overhead that increased the work and life satisfaction of its employees.

 

When it comes to true legal innovation, law firms must think of the ultimate benefit to the client first. Clients may be in very stressful or time-sensitive situations. Law firms should focus on using innovation to deliver the best possible client experience. 

That said, the goal is to be client-centered, not client-first. Your firm must consider the efficiency and profitability of any new, innovative processes. 

If executed well, innovation will lead to revenue growth and opportunities for business development. 

Consider these when applying innovation ideas in the legal environment

  1. Commit to innovation as a business strategy. Innovation is key to your law firm’s success. But you’ll never cross a finish line. Incremental change is the key to achieving goals related to law firm Innovation. You’ll need to commit to continuous innovation long term.
  2. Appoint a person or department to manage legal innovation. In a small firm, this may be a lawyer or office manager. If you have room in your law firm budget, also consider outsourcing innovation consultants or strategists.
  3. Prioritize each legal innovation idea. Develop a set of criteria that will help you determine which ideas are most needed. Also, consider how much of your client base a new idea will impact.
  4. Develop a plan. Implementing your legal innovation ideas is often the most challenging part of innovation. Many projects risk failing if project managers and teams aren’t able to develop a realistic work-back schedule. We recommend creating a SMART plan that includes the tools, timelines, and budget needed. More importantly, we recommend clearly communicating with staff and clients, and soliciting feedback often.
  5. Put your plan into action. Innovation ideas are only as good as your firm’s adoption of them. Hiring a project manager, or outsourcing this role to a qualified, trusted partner, will help ensure the project moves forward and lawyers and staff adopt changes.

Legal innovation resources

For keeping up-to-date with the latest industry trends, here are a few resources that you can explore:

  1. The Client-Centered Law Firm by Jack Newton
  2. Clio’s legal resource library, offering white papers, success stories, webinars, and more.
  3. The Clio Cloud Conference—The world’s largest legal conference
  4. The Top 11 Legal Podcasts to Listen to in 2020
  5. The Daily Matters podcast, made in-house by Clio
  6. LawSites— technology and innovation blog by Bob Ambrogi
  7. Legal Technology Today—A publication by the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center that provides the legal community with practical guidance for the present and sensible strategies for the future.
  8. ABA Center for Innovation—A place for collaborative and creative thinking about transforming the US justice system
  9. The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts by Richard and Daniel Susskind
  10. The LegalTech Book: The Legal Technology Handbook for Investors, Entrepreneurs and FinTech Visionaries
  11. Designing Your Law Firm’s New Normal to test your innovative ideas for law firm success, by legal industry expert Mike Whelan, Jr. and Clio

Conclusion

Innovation can be intimidating for an industry that prides itself on tradition and safety. However, as the world changes and new technologies begin to enter the market, client expectations are changing. Flexibility, accessibility, and personalization are no longer optional for law firms. For those who wish to remain current and competitive, it’s essential. And law firm innovation can get you there.

The good news is you don’t need to implement everything at once. Workplace innovation is an ongoing process. By taking a step-by-step approach to implementing new tech-driven approaches, you can improve everything from new client intake, case file management, and even employee morale. 

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