As we look back at 2016 and gear up for a new year, it's smart to brush up on new trends in the legal industry. By new trends, I mean new technology, because the terms have become almost synonymous.
Technology has impacted our practice dramatically in recent years, and it continues to do so at an accelerating pace. If you're not on the technology bandwagon, you and your firm will have a hard time staying afloat.
This fact is not a revelation. We've known for decades that success in most industries comes down to adopting new technology. But doing so in the legal profession comes with its set of challenges.
First, regulations make change difficult. Second, sometimes it's hard to know which new products and approaches in the legal industry have value, and which are just hype.
Those challenges aside, firms that do not embrace technology will have trouble attracting the best new legal talent. The revenue at law firms clinging to old school ways will drop off as a new generation of clients taking their business to new-school, tech-savvy companies.
What does it take to join the ranks of the new-school? There are six major trends to be aware of going into 2017.
Social networking is the cornerstone of legal industry marketing. This fact should not be a surprise. Rainmaking has always been about networking, relationship building and word of mouth. It still is; these techniques in their offline form form still build practices. But if you're not working the online component, too, you're at a catastrophic disadvantage.
Social media has become a factor in how clients choose attorneys, according to a survey taken this year by FindLaw. In 2017, take steps to ramp up your social presence on your website and blog, on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Doing so will maximize your online presence and help you grow relationships over time.
Your clients, prospects, and leads are online and checking social media regularly. Being part of the social media landscape is not hard, but there are right and wrong ways to go about it. Invest in expert help this year. Set a goal to get your social marketing plan up and running in 2017.
Virtual Law Firms
These are firms that can operate anywhere: A lawyer's home, a satellite office, even from inside a Starbucks. Many lawyers have closed their downtown offices and work remotely. Technology lets them do this without hurting service or quality. Remote work can reduce overhead and travel time while increasing flexibility and improving work / life balance. Plus, you have the option to rent offices or meeting rooms as needed.
The leap to virtual does not have to happen overnight. Experiment by working remotely one day a week and see how it impacts your productivity and revenue. It may very well provide the edge your firm needs to succeed in 2017.
Electronically stored information (ESI) is now considered discoverable in court. ESI includes e-mails, texts, instant messages, voicemails and other electronically stored information. What you need to know: This technological reality has changed the face of litigation. Lawyers can (and should) use digital services to access all types of records. And we need to remind our clients that their deleted texts and e-mails are retrievable.
Legal process outsourcing
Outsourcing legal work to a vendor, law firm or overseas resource has become an increasingly favorable trend for law firms. Streamlined by new technology, LPO continues to cut expenses and reduce workload overflow. It can be a huge factor in scaling your business and managing workflow. LPO technology firms that market to the legal industry are on the rise. They'll be coming after you in 2017 to present their case. When they do, listen.
Reviews and testimonials
Adding positive reviews to Google+, Yelp and Avvo is critical to growing your business and managing your reputation. 72 percent of consumers said they trusted companies more when they have positive customer reviews, according to a BrightLocal survey in 2014. The number of people reading online reviews is increasing, so take steps to post reviews in 2017. If you can not get customers to go on record, that's OK. According to the data, consumer trust increases even when the reviews are anonymous.
Portals and online document repositories
Cloud-based online document repositories provide secure, on-demand access to records for you, your clients, and your team members. You can store, organize, view, and change files.
More customers want instant gratification and access to their documents and records. It's reliably easy to set up, makes for a better consumer experience, and can save you time from fielding emails and sending attachments. Make sure your clients have this access in 2017!
So there you have it. Six new trends that are not entirely new, per se, but are increasingly important as our industry ventures forth into the brave new world of 2017.
Lawyers like to err on the side of caution. Many of us are slow to embrace new technology or rock the boat. Historically, we get hung up asking ourselves whether we can afford to take such risks.
But what we need to be asking is: Can we afford not to?
At the end of 2016, the answer is a resounding no.