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In-house lawyers 'want to embrace technology but lack the skills'

14 / 12 / 2016
In-house lawyers 'want to embrace technology but lack the...Technology is having a significant impact on industries worldwide, but the legal sector has traditionally been slower than most to implement new systems in order to boost productivity and efficiency. 

A new study from Eversheds and Winmark suggested that while many lawyers are aware of the benefits that technology can bring, they face a number of hurdles when trying to transform processes, including a lack of skills. 

The Looking Glass 2016 report found that 87 per cent of general counsels (GCs) want to identify ways to improve information storage and retrieval, and 61 per cent are keen to automate tasks so they can focus more on strategic work. Meanwhile, 60 per cent claimed technology is instrumental to workflow management. 

However, GCs claimed there were various issues preventing them from maximising technology opportunities. One-third said their teams do not have the skills to take full advantage of new capabilities, with 59 per cent saying they were also encountering integration issues with legacy systems. 

Furthermore, more than half (51 per cent) of in-house lawyers said they felt out of their depth when making procurement decisions for new technologies. Forty-four per cent worried about their department's resistance to change. 

Budget restraints were also evident at many firms, as nearly two thirds of respondents said they faced problems securing the money to invest in new systems. Nevertheless, the need to stay competitive may force many businesses to re-evaluate their approach to legal services technology. 

"In-house teams need to free up the highly trained individuals within their teams to focus on work of strategic value and, increasingly, to focus on providing business advice," said Lee Ranson, managing partner at Eversheds. 

"The digital innovations offered by legal services providers can be instrumental in driving efficiencies to achieve this."

Meeting client expectations

Sadly, it appears in-house departments may be falling behind in providing the services that clients require. For example, the report showed three-quarters of clients wanted better access to online templates and examples, yet only 37 per cent of firms offered this. 

Fifty-one per cent of companies hoped for dashboards that listed all their interactions with law teams, but only 20 per cent of respondents provided them. Finally, 42 per cent of clients wanted automatically generated tailored reports from lawyers - a service that only 26 per cent of firms offered. 

According to Suzanne van Montfoort, research manager at Winmark, the growing need for technology skills across legal departments could have an impact on recruitment practices. 

"Future GCs will need to be more well-rounded than their predecessors," she stated. 

"Expert legal advice increasingly needs to be complemented by business acumen, as well as by an understanding of how technologies can be integrated into new ways of working that deliver advantage to the organisation."

Barclay Simpson research has already indicated that many businesses are finding it difficult to source the right people for in-house jobs. Nearly 60 per cent said top-quality lawyers are tough to attract, despite 41 per cent claiming their recruitment budget for such positions had increased. 

Our Mid-Year Compensation and Market Trends Report showed career development is the most important motivation for in-house lawyers who are looking to switch jobs. Fifty-five per cent chose this reason for moving to another firm, while just 15 per cent said higher salaries. 

As technical skills become increasingly important within the sector, businesses may need to offer candidates opportunities to progress and attractive remuneration packages to secure the best in-house lawyers. 

Those that fail to strengthen the technology skills in their teams may begin to lose business to more tech-savvy competitors.

Our 2016 Compensation and Market Trends Report combines our review of the prevailing conditions in the in-house legal recruitment market together with the results of our latest employer survey.

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