Building a versatile family law practice will ensure that you are equipped to support clients both virtually and in person. The following key takeaways from Clio’s most recent Legal Trends Report should be part of every family lawyer’s 2021 roadmap.
By Bryce Tarling, Senior Content Strategist
With all that’s happened in the past year, many family lawyers have struggled to meet the shifting needs of their clients, and these challenges have continued as the coronavirus pandemic persists across the US. Much of the circumstances for 2021 remain uncertain – especially the lasting impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic will have on how we think about the delivery of legal services.
Most family lawyers have already adjusted how they operate their legal practice in some form or another, and much of this shift has seen firms adopt more online cloud technologies to support secure remote work – both among staff and with clients.
What many family lawyers are also realizing is that these shifts will be permanent in many ways. For example, in 2020, 83% of family lawyers were meeting with clients virtually and said they will continue to do so in the future, even after the social impacts of the pandemic subside.
These are just some of the findings from Clio’s 2020 Legal Trends Report, which is based on aggregated and anonymized data from tens of thousands of legal professionals in the US. The report has become an industry benchmark for understanding what’s impacting the legal profession and how lawyers should be adjusting their practices to see better returns for their business.
1. Lawyers Need to Maximize Their Client Opportunities
According to Clio’s ongoing research into the impact of COVID-19, compared to other practice areas, family lawyers may have fared slightly better through the early months of the pandemic, but caseloads in the second half of 2020 have been about average.
Although caseloads have largely returned to baseline levels, many law firms have seen an ongoing negative impact in their monthly billings, which have remained about 6% to 9% below year-over-year monthly averages compared to 2019. Many factors related to the court system remain out of the lawyer’s control, and many potential clients remain unsure about whether or not to pursue their legal matters.
Given these circumstances, family lawyers should be looking at how to maximize their opportunities in what remains a potentially volatile market. There are a couple of goals to focus on here. The first is to build the types of potential client opportunities that will turn into profitable work once the circumstances allow for it. Clients that may be holding off on their legal matters will eventually seek assistance, and the lawyers who have been keeping abreast of the situation are the ones that will come across as the most knowledgeable and trustworthy.
The second goal should be to identify and support the types of opportunities that can still be pursued. While many people indicated that they are postponing legal work, the data suggests that many are still willing to pursue these matters with their lawyer.
2. Clients Are Seeking Tech-Enabled Legal Services
Clients have grown more accustomed to technology during the pandemic and are using it more. Data from the Legal Trends Report indicates:
- 58% of clients say technology is more important to them now than before the pandemic
- 69% prefer to share documents electronically
- 56% prefer video conferencing over a phone call
- 65% prefer to pay through electronic payments
This shift is significant because it signals that people have changed their behaviors as they adapted to the pandemic restrictions, which in turn shapes their expectations for working with businesses and professional service providers.
As clients adopt new technologies, they also grow more reliant on the ease, convenience, and time-saving benefits of solutions like video conferencing software. The fact that we can connect face-to-face without leaving our home or office vastly reduces commute times and allows more flexibility within the context of other personal and professional commitments. The same advantages apply to paperless workflows, which are fast, easy, and help keep a clear record of communications.
3. Client-Centered Law Firm Design Is Key to Driving New Business
As client expectations shift, family lawyers should be especially aware of how these needs have changed. Being able to meet these needs is key to securing new clients and ensuring client satisfaction. This is the idea behind client-centered law firm design, which requires designing your services based on the needs of your clients. This goes beyond any considerations regarding the actual outcome of a client matter, and focuses entirely on the experience of working with the lawyer.
When potential clients think about the hireability of a lawyer, positive reviews and referrals are key. How are lawyers to earn these positive reviews and referrals? The data suggests most people are looking for more flexibility and transparency in the overall pricing and cost of legal services, and the traditional method of meeting in a commercial office space is at the bottom of their list of priorities.
Consumers are seeking a different format for legal services – and the innovations lawyers implement will be relevant both now and after the pandemic.
4. Technology Adoption Leads to Increased Revenue
Clio’s research compared caseload volumes and revenue collection of firms using certain types of technology solutions against those not using them. For example, Clio’s analysis shows that in 2020, firms that used client portals had up to 17% more cases than those that did not – and were projected to earn $37,000 more in revenue per lawyer.
A few points stand out here. First, the revenue advantages that firms have seen with these client portal solutions were extremely strong during the first months of the pandemic. Firms using these technologies were much better prepared to manage the transition to remote online working conditions during the initial lockdowns and social distancing recommendations.
Second, the revenue advantages of these technology-focused law firms have only increased since the start of the pandemic; these technologies continue to support business continuity and the types of revenue-generating activities that drive firm earnings.
5. Virtual Legal Services Should Be Part of Every Family Law Firm’s 2021 Roadmap
Our data makes it clear that clients are less interested in meeting in person and are more equipped to receive invoices and pay online, as well as communicate via video conferencing and other forms of online communication. Family lawyers who adopt a cloud-first approach to managing their firms will benefit from it in the coming months and years.
When envisioning the future of your legal practice, you must know that the infrastructure standards for technology have evolved in a way that has made it more flexible, more secure, and easier to set up. Building a versatile family law practice will ensure that you are equipped to support clients both virtually and in person, while also supporting secure remote access for staff as well.
Bryce Tarling is a Senior Content Strategist at Clio, and a member of the research team involved in publishing the annual Legal Trends Report. An avid learner, he strives to dig deep into the underlying indicators that can help businesses thrive. To read the full report, visit www.clio.com/resources/legal-trends/2020-report.
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