Law firm investment in automation lagging behind other sectors, survey finds

Firms struggling to adopt new tech due to lack of skills and poor legacy platforms despite employee appreciation of digitisation's benefits


Law firm investment in digital automation technology is lagging behind the rate in other sectors, according to a survey of 14,500 UK professional services workers and employers. Fifty-eight per cent of the legal employers who took part in UK recruiter Hays’ third What Workers Want report said they were investing in digital automation or had plans to do so compared to the average for all the sectors covered of 70%.

While 29% of the respondents had implemented automation technology, the same proportion were in the early stages of implementation and 42% were unaware of any investment activity.

Asked to identify the factors holding back adoption, nearly a third (30%) of respondents said the technology and tools at their disposal were not fit for purpose and half (54%) pointed to a lack of skills from current staff.

Implementation barriers

However, the report found that many law firms were working to overcome implementation barriers. Improved staff communication (65%), hiring new permanent staff (54%) and hiring project managers, teams or agencies (54%) were cited as the most common areas of investment.

And while law firms are less likely than the UK average to regard automation as a positive force (32% compared to the UK average of 39%), they are more optimistic about it creating opportunities in the future (43%).

Meanwhile, the report found that employees were fully embracing new technology with 86% believing automation should be embraced in the work place, 32% regarding themselves as early adopters and one in ten (11%) describing themselves as technology innovators. 

Employee enthusiasm

Simon Winfield, managing director of Hays UK & Ireland, said: “Our findings show that professionals are more enthusiastic to use digital technology at work than in their personal lives. They are also of the opinion that automation within the workplace should be embraced - it certainly isn’t a case that workers are worried about robots taking over their jobs.”

The report adds to a growing body of research about the impact of AI and other advanced technologies on the legal workplace.

Research published in December by the Law Society of England and Wales found that the deployment of AI could trigger a four per cent decline in the number of lawyers by 2027 while a report by the law firm network Lex Mundi argued AI would add ‘new layers of complexity’ to the already challenging role of general counsel.

Click here to download the report.

Further reading: Stephen Allen: 'Lawyers using the technology will triumph over those who do it the old way'

Email your news and story ideas to: [email protected]