As we head into 2018, this year promises to bring new challenges, opportunities and innovation for the modern law firm. Last year, we saw firms embrace innovation and automation to drive greater value for clients and redefine the way lawyers work. Moving forward, firms have the opportunity to bring the benefits of technology closer to their clients and tap into new ways of leveraging technology to create differentiation, build relationships and drive revenue. Here are three trends that we anticipate will have a significant impact on the legal sector in 2018.

Client-Centric & Efficient Service

Pressures of change in the legal race to stay ahead will continue to push law firms toward a more client-centric approach. Today’s clients value - and even demand - efficiency from their law firms, and they expect their firms to be as technologically advanced as they are.

Up until now, most firms have focused on operational efficiency; streamlining workflows and processes into a single system. Yet, as clients seek greater transparency and accountability from their legal partners, forward-thinking firms are shifting their focus to powering greater efficiency for their individual lawyers to deliver better client service.

Manual tasks, such as workflow and task flow, are a prime area of opportunity to improve lawyer efficiency. According to the latest Bellwether Report, drafting and correspondence is the task where lawyers most believe the time they spend doesn’t add much value. Yet, only half of lawyers report using legal tools for drafting, and even fewer for correspondence.

While many firms have already tapped into automation to improve internal processes, it makes sense that the next step is to use it to empower individuals. By automating and streamlining routine tasks, lawyers can focus their time on advising clients rather than attending to the administration of matters. In addition, automation helps ensure higher quality output, compliance, and faster turnaround.

Client-Provider Collaboration

Collaboration can mean many different things to different firms and individuals, from simple file sharing to co-signing contracts. Yet, one thing is certain: clients want to collaborate more closely with their service providers.

The most effective collaboration happens when firms are able to bring together people, knowledge and information to deliver seamless service. As clients seek a more active role with their providers, we’re bound to see more firms turn to truly collaborative technologies and hybrid hosting solutions.

Take the client matter inception process for example. Some firms have already started to more directly involve clients in the process by using online smart forms to capture client details and execute engagement documents. Documents can even be routed directly to clients for an e-signature, which they can easily execute on their mobile.

With the introduction of hybrid hosting solutions, it’s become even easier for firms to share external data outside their organisations, while keeping their internal data in-house. And the possibilities are endless. As a law firm, imagine being able to seamlessly automate and publish client documents directly to a cloud-based client site, where the client can easily create legal documents on-demand, while also automating their own documents to use internally.

Smarter Selling

Though demand for legal services is growing, a combination of market forces is eroding the overall share of work going to law firms. Firms are facing increasing pressure from alternative services providers, as well as GC’s own use of technology. To increase revenue, firms must start selling smarter.

Smarter selling means understanding clients and prospects and effectively showcasing the experience and expertise that differentiate your firm. Too often, however, firms find it difficult to uncover the information they need to respond quickly to RFPs. And once the information is found, it’s still a laborious process to translate the data into a compelling proposal.

However, in order to win new business, firms need to improve turnaround times and increase the quality of their pitches. Many firms already have systems in place to help them address storing and searching experience, however, this is just one component in an increasingly complex pitch process. In the year ahead, we’ll see firms start to use automation to streamline the entire business development lifecycle. Imagine being able to quickly transform relevant experience into a professionally designed proposal, which can then be used to auto-generate a contract ready for e-signing.

By automating the business development process – from experience management all the way to e-signing – firms will be able to respond quicker to RFPs with quality content. Additionally, they’ll ease the onboarding process for new clients, making it easier for prospects to become clients.

Looking at the year ahead, law firms face many new challenges and opportunities. Yet, those that are focused on using technology to deliver better client experiences and improve their working methods are the ones best positioned for success in the months and years ahead.