Legal Laggards: The Communications Gap

  • Legal lags behind when it comes to technology-based collaboration.
  • The fast-paced advent of social networking challenges the legal arena.

Sales and marketing like to do it, Human Resources is fervent, and IT can be a little reticent. But, when it comes to communication-enabled collaboration, it appears no one lags further behind than legal.

How well are today’s legal businesses collaborating?

“Collaboration Frontiers: An Integrated Experience,” a 2013 commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of AT&T, found that just 46 percent of respondents in the legal profession used collaboration or social technologies compared with 75 percent of colleagues in IT, 64 percent in HR and 62 percent in marketing. When it comes to external collaboration, legal lags more: 14 percent of legal professionals used the tools, compared to 59 percent in marketing.

collaboration puzzle

It’s clear there are powerful benefits of collaboration for professions like the law – sharing knowledge and expertise to provide a better service to clients, speeding up case resolution by making meetings easier to arrange, and maintaining profit levels by improving productivity.

There is pressure for change, too. Law firms face the problems of global competition while clients expect the same level of 24/7 service they receive from other professions. The speed and productivity benefits of collaboration seem vital here.

Explaining the communications gap

So, why does resistance remain? Effective collaboration solutions require strong leadership, which may be compromised by a current generational structure. Many companies strongly agree that their organizations foster trust and sharing. But, in many cases, senior management fails to explain the benefits of collaboration, publicize successful collaborations or reward successful collaborators.

A lawyer who had been with his firm for thirty years commented, “People collaborate on the road or work at home and have flexible hours, and all of that is just second nature to the younger attorneys. And for some of us who are older, it’s an acquired taste, and it’s something we didn’t immediately embrace.”
What about ethical and confidentiality issues? According to the International Bar Association survey “, The Impact of Online Social Networking on the Legal Profession and Practice,” over 90 percent of respondents (IBA member bar associations) found that social networking presents a new set of challenges for the legal profession, but only 15 percent felt that lawyers’ use of social networks negatively affects the public’s confidence in the integrity and professionalism of the legal profession.

Navigating the changing workplace

The profession is going through fundamental changes due to the impact of social technologies, and the growing influence of a  younger generation of lawyers. The legal profession sees the changing workplace as a major challenge and is attempting to focus on this through research programs. Some law schools encourage their students to take classes focused on the adoption of technologies across the range of litigation, transactional, and corporate practices.

If collaboration becomes the norm, will it protect current commercial models and fee structures or do practices need to rethink income models? Leading law schools are noticing that clients are demanding change and want law firms to demonstrate results, not efforts, making collaboration key to success.

Interested in more information about collaboration? Read about AT&T unified communications solutions.

The Networking Exchange Blog Team About NEB Team