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03 December 2019

UK firms step up new tech investment despite tight budgets

PwC survey warns of technical debt danger as firms invest an average of £579k in new projects

Maksim Kabakou

Sixty per cent of the UK’s top 100 law firms are investing in new tech although their budgets remain tight, according to research published by PwC today (3 December). The findings, which have been gleaned from the accountancy giant’s annual survey of the UK’s top 100 law firms, reveal a 14% increase in the number of firms that have either completed or are carrying out research into technology projects.

However, PwC warned that the average spend across the top 100 was a “relatively limited” £579k, with much of the focus on well-entrenched technologies, including smart contracts, automated document production and mobile apps.

Investment in emerging tech, such as robotic process automation (RPA), big data, predictive analytics and blockchain remains relatively rare, with more than 40% of firms still only at research stage.

Levels of investment

Percentage of revenue invested in technology ranged from 4.1% for the top 10, to 5.2% for firms in the 26-50 bracket by size. PwC’s report on the results warns that the level of investment is lower than in other sectors.

“There is, perhaps, ‘technical debt’ building up in a number of law firms, whereby under investment in technology is resulting in a lack of capability that means proportionately larger future investment will be needed,” it states.

Meanwhile, 43% of the respondents identified AI as the technology most likely to disrupt the legal sector over the next five years, compared to 10% who cited blockchain.

Skills gap

Kate Wolstenholme, leader of PwC’s law firms advisory group and editor of the survey, said: “The mismatch between the skills people have and those needed for the digital world is a major global challenge and one that law firms simply can’t ignore. Building a culture that is relevant and attractive to today’s workforce is absolutely vital and, as our research shows, firms must act now to seize on people’s appetite to learn new skills and open these digital opportunities to all. 

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