Law Firm Innovation: A Client-Centered Guide

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The legal industry tends to hold on to tradition. However, as the world around us rapidly changes, so do client expectations. The key to surviving—and succeeding—in this environment is law firm innovation.

More than just jumping on any new technology that comes your way, effectively embracing innovation in law requires a focus on your clients’ needs and providing an end-to-end client-centered experience. Guided by what clients actually want, you can look for innovative solutions that help you deliver the effortless experience your clients deserve alongside efficient and profitable legal services. 

In the following guide, we’ll explore what innovation means for law firms. In addition to practical ways you can integrate innovation at your law firm, we’ll also provide best practices to help you successfully apply them in your practice. We’ll also provide a useful list of resources to help you stay on top of the latest topics in innovation in the legal sector. 

It’s easy to say that you want to innovate at your firm. But what exactly do you need to do in order to be innovative? While there’s no one set answer and the scope of innovation is broad and ever-developing, you can start innovating through a combination of:

  • Trying new approaches and strategies for your law firm processes and systems
  • Seeking creative solutions to challenges that hinder your clients’ experiences with your firm
  • Embracing technologies that simplify and streamline how you run your firm and communicate with clients

Why is client-centered innovation so important for law firms? 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.

Put yourself in your client’s shoes. Imagine how they go through hiring a lawyer, explaining their legal issue, and proceeding with legal matters. What does that experience feel like for your clients? How can you make an inherently stressful experience easier and more convenient for them? By viewing the experience with your law firm from their perspective, you’ll be able to build a more client-centered approach.

8 ways to embrace law firm innovation 

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So how do you get the most out of law firm innovation? Look for opportunities that will simultaneously elevate your client experience and improve efficiency for your team.

Here are eight ways 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 by giving 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 AFAs 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. 

2. Find new ways to communicate with your clients

Although many firms believe they interact effectively with their clients and prospects, research suggests the way that consumers want to communicate with their lawyers is rapidly changing in recent years. The 2021 Legal Trends Report highlights this growing shift. According to this report, 79% of survey respondents saw the option to work remotely with a lawyer as a key factor in helping them decide to hire a particular lawyer. When viewed in comparison to research in the 2018 Legal Trends Report, which found that only 23% of consumers were open to the concept o

Two graphs showing that 79% of clients looked for lawyers with remote options in 2021, compared to only 23% in 2018.

By improving how your law firm communicates with clients, 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 use technology to offer a smoother and more effective client communication experience, such as:

3. Make your services more accessible

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 and easy to find will help your firm stand out from the rest, and may help you win new clients.

Four ways to do this include:

 

  1. Enhance your law firm website’s 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. To learn more about the essentials of website design for law firms, read our guide.
  2. Include image descriptions. Include alternative text, which is the back-end code added to an image, to make online images more accessible. This allows a screen reader to 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. Hire 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

Technology drives innovation in law firms, and the right tools can transform how you make decisions for your legal practice. Enter a game-changer in the law profession: legal analytics supported by artificial intelligence (AI) technology.

Legal analytics refers to the process of using data to make more informed decisions on topics impacting law firms and lawyers. Legal analytics tools and/or capabilities powered by AI technology empower firms to sort through vast amounts of data to find notable trends. 

When used ethically, you can leverage legal analytics and AI tools to more effectively conduct legal research, market your firm, and drive 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 AI include:

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

Beyond legal analytics, the scope of AI’s ability to help streamline some processes and tasks for law firms is growing.

Learn more about how you can use AI at your law firm to succeed.

5. Use cloud-based legal practice management software

As most lawyers now have some flexibility to work remotely, 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 can:

  • 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, and Clio can help make the process easier and more effective. To learn more, schedule a demo of Clio here.

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

As technology empowers lawyers to work effectively while remote, law firms are increasingly seeing the many advantages of running a virtual law firm over a traditional one. 

Here are just some of the potential benefits of building a virtual law firm:

  • Reduced overhead costs. You won’t need to pay rent on office space or purchase large office equipment.
  • Lower file storage and maintenance costs.Virtual law offices use cloud-based software, which means you’ll save time and money on storing and maintaining case files. 
  • Happier employees. While it’s harder to quantify, lawyers and other staff who work at virtual firms can work from home or remotely, which allows for more schedule flexibility. When legal professionals can set their own schedules and have improved work-life balance, they’re better set up for less stress and more happiness. 
  • Better client relationships. 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

Law firm automation can drive innovation by improving and  creating efficiencies in your client intake process in many ways, such as:

  • Enabling e-signatures for legal documents
  • Booking appointments
  •  Creating smarter and easier client intake forms

For example, using automation, law 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 facing 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 should 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. 

When innovating your practice:

  1. Commit to innovation as a business strategy. Innovation is crucial to your law firm’s success, but you’ll never cross a finish line. Incremental, continuous change is the key to achieving your law firm innovation goals. 
  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 to 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 stakeholders  aren’t able to develop a realistic work-back schedule. Try creating a SMART plan that includes the tools, timelines, and budget needed. More importantly, clearly communicate with staff and clients, and solicit feedback often.

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, helps 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—a book 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 Best Legal Podcasts for Improving Your Law Firm
  5. The Daily Matters podcast—by the experts at Clio
  6. LawSites—a technology and innovation blog by Bob Ambrogi
  7. Law 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— a book by Richard and Daniel Susskind
  10. The LegalTech Book: The Legal Technology Handbook for Investors, Entrepreneurs and FinTech Visionariesa book by Susanne Chishti, Sophia Adams Bhatti, Akber Datoo, and Drago Indjic.

Final thoughts on law firm innovation

Innovation can be intimidating for an industry that prides itself on tradition and safety. However, as the world changes and new technologies enter the market, client expectations are changing. Flexibility, accessibility, and personalization are no longer optional—for law firms that want to remain current and competitive, they’re essential. 

Embracing a mindset of 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. 

With this in mind, if you’re on the cusp of implementing innovation at your law firm, your practice management systems are an effective place to start. Learn more about how Clio Manage’s cloud-based legal practice management software can help you simplify—and innovate—how you run your firm.

Categorized in: Business

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