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Digital upskilling must match law firms increased tech focus -PwC-research

Dec 03, 2019

  • Almost 60% of UK law  firms have completed or are carrying out projects to introduce new technologies from mobile apps to smart contracts - PwC 2019 Law Firms’ Survey.
  • But capital spend is relatively limited with only £597k on average spent on this in the last year.
  • 78% of the Top-100 law firms said they were somewhat or extremely concerned about cyber security.
  • Digital upskilling research reveals approximately 60% of legal sector employees believe technology will change their roles in 3-5 years - but only one in four are being upskilled by employers. 

IT is now critical to law firms with almost 60% of the Top-100 focused on implementing key ‘foundation’ technologies according to new PwC research, which also warns of the dangers lurking if firms fail to match this investment by implementing digital upskilling for employees. 

PwC’s 2019 Law Firms’ Survey reveals that three in five firms have either recently delivered or are carrying out projects such as smart contracts, automated document production or creating mobile apps - a 14% increase since last year.

However, other emerging technologies remain less mature, with more than 40% of firms still only at research stage with projects such as robotic process automation (RPA), big data, predictive analytics, and blockchain. 

According to the PwC Survey, large firms are leading the way in using and developing digital technologies to increase profitability and improve client service, with leading firms investing in or acquiring LegalTech start-ups to get ahead of competitors.

Despite the progress on emerging technologies, capital spend is relatively limited with the Top-100 firms reporting average capital investment in emerging technologies of only £597k in the last year. With a growing focus on innovation, new technologies, improvements in legal service offerings and associated investment, it’s critical that firms have a robust strategy and metrics to manage the experimentation and change.

Firms must also widen their technology strategy to include employee upskilling opportunities warns Kate Wolstenholme, Leader of PwC’s Law Firms Advisory Group and editor of the Law Firms’ Survey:

“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. 

“While the will to embrace technology is clearly evident in this year’s survey, the future impact will depend on both the digital capability of systems and how tech savvy staff are.” 

Digital upskilling remains vital

According to PwC’s recent Digital Upskilling survey, despite an overwhelming appetite and willingness to learn new skills in the face of increasing automation and technology (81% - UK / 88% global), only one in four legal sector employees is being offered upskilling opportunities by their employers. 

This is helping to foster a growing mistrust and fear of automation and technology with around 55% of people believing their jobs will significantly change or be obsolete in 10 years as a result of automation and technology.

The upskilling research also reveals that while approximately 60% of legal sector employees believe technology will change their current jobs over the next 3-5 years, many employees believe this will help to change their daily roles for the better (72% - UK / 83% - global).

Cyber fears

According to the Law Firms’ Survey, every firm suffered a security incident in the last 12 months, with phishing attacks being the most prevalent.  Unsurprisingly therefore, almost 80% of firms said they were somewhat or extremely concerned about cyber security.

Despite this, a number of law firms still lack executive level risk ownership around cyber security, with senior management participation in annual crisis management exercises worryingly low: 45% in Top 11-25 firms, 56% of Top 26-50 and 69% of Top 51-100 compared to 80% of the Top 10 firms. 

Law firms investing in new technology need to be aware of the cyber security risks that this can bring. Security awareness needs to be a part of digital upskilling for staff, and security should be built into firms’ Software Development Lifecycle and the procurement of new technologies.  

Paul Brady, cyber security and technology specialist at PwC, commented:

“Cyber security is a risk for all law firms. Law firms are targeted as they hold a wealth of sensitive data and large amounts of client money. Making a firm ‘securable’ often requires new ways of thinking, re-engineered business processes, a stripping out of complexity and a reimagining of technology infrastructure to make firms fit for the digital age.”




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Kate Wolstenholme

Kate Wolstenholme

Leader, Law Firms' Advisory, PwC United Kingdom

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