The 10 biggest challenges facing the legal profession in 2022

By Jo Hunter of Access Legal

The main challenge for any profit-making organisation this year, including any practice of law, is undoubtedly getting back on track by being able to win and serve customers profitably again. However, the moving feast of challenges facing law firms each year always presents a number of additional specific challenges.

As a team of 400+ professionals working closely with solicitors, we gather a whole raft of relevant information about the profession. Because we are in the business of solving law firm pain points, we learn more about the challenges facing the legal profession every day. With this information we have compiled a list of insights highlighting what we believe are the 10 greatest challenges facing law firms as many start their new financial year in April 2022.

As the well-known adage goes: “Most businesses are faced with a number of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible problems.” Whilst many of the challenges (or great opportunities, depending on which way you look at it) on our list may appear incredibly tricky to solve, technology can help. As the software providers of choice for thousands of UK law firms, in this blog we reflect on the needle of innovation and how the tech can help.

This blog acknowledges each individual challenge recognised by the profession, and whilst we all appreciate that technology cannot solve everything, it certainly has a key role to play. Keep reading to explore the tech that already exists and how it will contribute to solving challenges for law firms, as well as the exciting tech developments on the horizon that will also play their part.

What are the biggest problems and challenges faced by law firms today?

The legal sector continues to reel and adapt to the forced, Covid-fuelled culture-shock that has changed the way the profession works at an unprecedented speed-of-change. Having shifted from predominantly in-the-office-working – to homeworking, overnight – and more recently on to a new and unfamiliar hybrid-working world, the shift in working patterns is only part of the story. Law firms currently face a number of other significant challenges.

The ‘Great Resignation’, fee earner burnout and the ever-present demands of a highly regulated industry all compound the effects of the pandemic for law firms. Also, with the profession being a prime target for Cybercrime, the growing need to keep up with their clients’ rapidly evolving expectations in an increasingly online world, and tackling the work-related stress the career in law is becoming synonymous with, the challenges for the profession continue to mount.

We have pooled a number of our legal tech experts within the Access Legal team and as a collective, we believe managing the modern law firm today presents the following new challenges, as well as a host of new perspectives. This blog seeks to reflect on each, and also what the technology landscape can do to help.

We believe the greatest challenges law firms and the legal sector face in 2022 are:

  1. Law firm recruitment and talent retention
  2. Fee earner burnout
  3. Lawyer competency
  4. Meeting your clients’ digital expectations
  5. Equipping the law firm with the right technology for the new twenties and beyond
  6. Thriving as a hybrid-working law firm
  7. Keeping cybercriminals at bay
  8. Remaining on top of compliance
  9. Renewing Professional Indemnity Insurance (PII)
  10. Knowing how to work your law firm data

1.  Law firm recruitment and talent retention

It has been widely reported that over the summer of 2021, across sectors, more than two million of the UK’s working population found new jobs. Dubbed ‘The Great Resignation’ which is apparently continuing to gather pace globally, as worldwide 41% of us contemplate a job move, the trend in this country has seen job vacancies scale record heights and increasing numbers of headlines about how  many employers are struggling to attract and retain talent.

Although the sector has been described as ‘pandemic-proof’, the recruitment and retention crisis is no brighter for the UK legal profession.  

How can technology help law firms recruit and retain talent? 

A poor recruitment process can cause firms to lose good candidates before a job offer is made. A powerful HR system can help with the recruitment process, as well as onboarding and payroll.

To retain staff law firms need to have decent legal case and practice management software in place. Overcoming frustrations around clunky technology and disparate systems with a lack of integration can have a real impact on talent retention. A G2 survey of 1600 professionals discovered that almost a quarter (24%) would quit their job due to poor software.

Related content: How tech can empower your people and transform your firm.

2.  Fee earner burnout

Most sectors acknowledge that their people are their biggest asset. However, for a law firm this claim is probably even more significant. Law firms are of course are selling legal expertise in terms of fee earner time.

Because of this, there is constant pressure to maximise fee earning time. A fee earner with a billable target of 1400 hours per year is considered modest by the profession’s normal standards, but it equates to keeping up around 6 hours of chargeable time every working day. A tall order for the human beings behind the numbers.

Mental health has suffered for many throughout the pandemic, not just lawyers, and for all sorts of reasons. And although for decades the workplace has taken physical health and safety seriously, it is only in recent years that psychological safety in the workplace has started to become a far higher priority.

So how are the lawyer burnout statistics stacking up? The 20/21 report from LawCare – the mental wellbeing charity for the legal community that has been supporting the profession for 25 years – provides evidence that suggests legal professionals are at high risk of burnout. A significant 69% of those surveyed (1700 people currently working in the profession) have experienced solicitor mental health problems in the 12 months preceding the survey.

Law firm leaders are increasingly having to ask themselves – what are the working conditions of a lawyer in my firm? Why do lawyers work so much in my Practice? Do we have a problem with overworked lawyers in this organisation?  Of course, just as with physical health and safety, there is an educational piece law firms must carry out in terms of sharing knowledge with staff on how to keep themselves mentally healthy. There is a piece of work to be done to equip managers so they can confidently support workers who are struggling. There is also a duty of care for law firm line managers in terms of signposting when it is clear a mental health professional needs to be called upon. This is all part of a law firm’s developing wellbeing strategy.

How can technology help law firms fee earner burn out? 

Again, technology has a key contribution to make. Software that enables legal workflow automation gives lawyers the freedom to handle more of the high-value tasks they are trained to do, and make their lives easier. Case Management Workflows are designed to automate much of the mundane and menial work that previously filled up lawyers’ days. The profession’s openness to newer technologies such as AI (artificial intelligence) and machine learning is increasing too. Which will take automation to a whole new level. Something Profession Richard Susskind, OBE, has been talking about for many years.

3.  Lawyer competency

So you’ve built your loyal and talented workforce and you are doing all you can to look after their psychological safety and overall wellbeing in the legal workplace. How does the law firm manage the competency of its people in 2022 and beyond? 

This we believe is another significant challenge for law firms in 2022. Particularly following the draft consultation paper published by the Legal Services Board (LSB) in December 2021, which highlights their thoughts on why the current state of affairs is not currently serving the best interests of the public. The LSB is keen for regulators, including the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to scrutinise and improve how levels of competence are managed, maintained and evidenced for the profession. The SRA will be expected to make appropriate interventions when standards are not met.

At an Access Legal online panel discussion in September 2021, Access Legal’s Regulatory Director, Brian Rogers discussed compliance, competence and a range of other subjects with an elite panel – Chris Nichols, Director of Policy and Regulation at the Legal Services Board, Chris Handford, Director of Regulatory Policy at the SRA, Alison Lee, MD and COLP at Biscoes and Gavin Ball, MLRO and Head of Compliance at Aarons & Partners. The debate circled around how lawyers must be regulated to remain competent through their careers, not just at the point of entry, identifying areas of risk and having tools in place to take immediate action where failures occur. 

The ongoing training of staff as well as the onboarding and training of new staff is now under the spotlight. As a result of homeworking the law firm’s traditional methods of upskilling new and existing people has changed beyond recognition, and presents a number of hard-to-crack challenges. This has greatly impacted our junior lawyers’ opportunity to shadow and learn from their more senior colleagues, which was something taken for granted in the pre-pandemic days. Onscreen conversations are scheduled. The chance meeting with a colleague on the stairs or by the coffee machine has gone. There is less spontaneous interaction between co-workers.

Not having those in-person experiences and the advantage of simply watching the experienced members of the team in action, has brought-about a massive culture-shock in terms of the law firm learning experience. Not an easy adjustment for already-stretched profession doing its best to adapt, as hybrid working looks set to become the future of law firms. If hybrid training is not up-to-standard, staff are left trying to make sense of out-dated videos in isolation online, and not getting the input they need or expect – chances are many will vote with their feet.

How can technology help with lawyer competency?

A global report by Upwork on our future workforce suggests that we can expect 73% of all departments to have remote workers by 2028. So developing hybrid-friendly training for their staff is one challenge law firms certainly cannot afford to ignore. There are lots of tip lists online offering a number of quick wins for improving training in our new world. Tips such as microlearning, which is the new term for learning that is presented in bite-sized chunks. Also interactivity, flexibility and asking employees for feedback are all steps in the right direction.

It’s clearly not going to be effective to send remote workers a 500-page tree-of-a-manual and expect them to read, digest and understand it. The heart of law firm training needs a re-think if we are going to reduce the negative impact of the challenges facing trainee solicitors. A good learning and compliance management system designed specifically for law firms should be a key consideration for all practice leaders.

4. Clients’ digital expectations

There are seven statistics all law firm leaders should acknowledge when thinking about how the business can meet their clients’ expectations in our ever-increasing online world. According to leading ecommerce drop-shipping specialist Oberlo – this is how the global situation looks:

  1. There are 4.66 Billion active internet users on the planet.
  2. 65.6% of the world population has internet access.
  3. 28 Billion of us globally have mobile internet.
  4. Staggeringly, on average, we are each spending almost 7 hours per day online.
  5. People are spending 2 hours 22 minutes every day on social media, on average.
  6. There are 1.8 Billion websites
  7. Projected revenue from ecommerce globally in 2022 is $5 Trillion (£3.68 Trillion)

The way we all shop and interact with the world has made a revolutionary shift to online during the last decade. People shop online, book doctor and dentist appointments online, we book and pay our cab drivers using apps, we liaise with our insurance companies, our gyms and even our kids’ school teachers online – so law firms must be geared up to do the same. And many law firms are. Those that work with good legal software suppliers have all the tools they need to interact with clients and prospective clients online.

How can technology help law firms meet clients’ digital expectations?

The future of legal practice management and case management software systems today offer a range of functionality that enables law firms to embrace the online world. There are mobile apps for lawyers on the move, there are client portals so that law firm clients can check in 24/7 on the progress of their cases without needing to speak to their solicitor and good case management systems provide SMS texting features.

Law firms are learning from consumer-centric sectors, especially those wishing to accelerate their firm’s digital transformation.

5.  Equipping solicitors with the right technology

Choosing the right technology for a law firm is a significant and ongoing task. We are in the midst of a technological revolution so innovation is happening at a rate of knots with new software, apps and platforms being presented to us all on a daily basis. With so much choice the world of law firm tech can be a daunting place for law firm leaders, when all they really should be doing is concentrating on serving their clients and earning their fees.

Switching to new legal practice management software affects everyone in the practice, and sometimes the thought of managing a data migration over to a new system can be off-putting for some. However, when the balance of satisfaction with a firm’s existing software tips too far the wrong way in terms of functionality, integration, and the levels of support your people are receiving from your software supplier, it is time to make a change.

With the right software partner  a move to a new suite of software designed specifically for law firms will improve the business. Firms ditch their software and replace with new for all sorts of reasons. They also delay it for just as many reasons, as they focus on spinning plates and running their businesses.

How to equip solicitors with the right technology?

Figuring out where your law firm sits on the digital adoption spectrum that has paper-heavy processes at one extreme and digital disruption at the other, is a good starting point. Law firms are regularly criticised for being slow to adopt leading tech. However, at Access Legal we know lots of firms that are blazing a trail in terms of embracing innovation to improve their businesses. We also help firms who come to us wishing to reduce their reliance on traditional paper processes and become paper lite.

Much can be done to automate the mundane and repetitive processes in a law firm. Automation through case management workflows is proven technology that is paying dividends for lots of legal practices. However, some fee earners are put off by past experiences of cumbersome and clunky systems from yesteryear and have vowed never to use it either consciously or sub-consciously. 

A good legal software supplier will have long-established history in your sector, will understand your pain points and will have seen every scenario and have their finger on the pulse of where leading law firms are heading. As they evaluate new technology, and embrace it making it relevant for your sector, a decent software partner will take you with them, guide you and be the firm’s trusted advisors when it comes to tech. Their aim will be to free you up to concentrate on the reasons you are in business – i.e. helping people with the law and earning fees in exchange for your expertise.

Taking care of the technological side of your business for you, and keeping you in the current century so you can remain competitive and efficient should be the remit of your chosen tech partners. When a law firm wants to automate the processes of a new area of law, it should be able to build on proven workflows that already exist within their case management system, and develop them for their own purposes, using intuitive tools provided by the software system.

Access Legal is well on its path of development for a first-of-its-kind legal workspace for law firms. Its focus is to enable law firms to join all the dots, in terms of brining all their people, their data and multiple systems into one place. To find out more, sign up for a free consultation with a legal software expert.

6. Thriving as a hybrid-working law firm

Although we are all suffering pandemic fatigue, having had seen enough Covid-related articles to last us a lifetime, there is no escaping the challenges that homeworking brings to law firms. The need for flexible working as we transform to the unfamiliar world of hybrid working represents epic change for traditional office-based sectors and the working landscape has altered forever, beyond recognition. There is no doubt it will continue to be the subject of analysis and debate for a long time yet.

The pre-pandemic in-office working environment is now a relic of a former life. As much as many law firms would love to have everybody back in the office, with the labour-market power-shift law firm staff along with employees across all sectors are favouring the hybrid option.

Little did we know on 23-3-20 when Boris Johnson instructed us all to: “…work from home if we can…” that 2 years on our working patterns would have been changed forever with such enormity. Getting people set up at home was easier for some law firms than others. Access Legal’s customers all had the remote-working option already, and many regularly took advantage of it from home, from court, and from police stations etc. However, other firms that were not so well-equipped, struggled. However, getting everything working from home was only part of the story. Law firms, being a prime target for cybercrime, had to then quickly tackle homeworking security. A serious challenge that gave a lot of law firm leaders many sleepless nights. Two years into pandemic homeworking, attention is focused on other remote working issues such as isolation, division, employee engagement, and the impact of all of these factors on the mental health of the legal profession.

The transition to hybrid is going to take significant rethinking, coordination, and a total reconfiguration to meet the new needs of the hybrid workforce. For those that have returned to their physical workplaces, being back in the office is not turning out to be quite as expected. It is clearly not ever going to be quite the same in the office as it was. Early hybrid experiences show that some are finding themselves sat in half-empty offices on the same zoom calls they could have attended from home.  Returnees are finding the colleagues they were expecting to meet are not there. It seems whilst in the past hardworking lawyers were spending too many hours at the office, causing burnout. Now whilst many are enjoying a better work/life balance, as they are able to cut out the daily commute and be more present for their families, other are now literally ‘living at work’ as lines blur. 

What can technology do to help law firms thrive in a hybrid-working world?

There is a fine-line between big-brother style monitoring and keeping a caring eye on your people. The productivity analytics that come with cloud-based systems can really help law firm leaders watch over their workforce, making sure their teams are not overdoing it, without micro-managing and adding more pressure.

From a technology perspective, it is time for law firms to turn to their trusted software suppliers. A good legal IT partner will be prepared to share with you the lessons law firms are learning about making the most, technology-wise, of the legal hybrid working world. Software-as-a-service and cloud hosting for all your mission-critical applications are obvious advantage for the hybrid times ahead.

7.  Keeping cybercriminals at bay

Cybercrime is rife. There’s no denying it. And it is well documented that law firms are prime targets. Underground cybercrime ecosystems continue to grow in sophistication and gather momentum. Law firms are taking it seriously, quite rightly. This is one of the most significant challenges that is probably most likely to be turning the hair of law firm leaders grey right now.

There is a lot law firm owners and leaders need to know about cybersecurity in 2022. It is worthwhile reading up on the learned experiences of other legal Practices that have made mistakes. We have gathered information on this, as well as a number of top cybersecurity tips for firms with homeworkers, steps to a healthy no-blame culture and the questions law firms should ask prospective new tech suppliers before entering into a contract with them. It’s all in our blog: Everything a law firm needs to know about cyber security in 2022.

Access Legal regularly hosts webinars on important matters for law firms, and recently Access Legal’s Regulatory Director, Brian Rogers led a discussion with Tom Lyes, Key Relationship Manager at the Practical Vision Network on “Prevention is protection.” The webinar shares insights into the risks law firms and law firm clients face as cybercriminals target funds as they are transferring during the processing of client matters, as well as recommendations re how these risks can be mitigated. 

What can technology do to help law firms keep cybercriminals at bay?

An IT partner for any aspect of your firm’s business system must be ISO 27001 certified and have Cyber Essentials before you should even consider them.

A good learning management system designed especially for law firms, that is geared up to present training of this incredibly dry area, in digestible, bite-sized chunks is a must. As is a reliable tool for logging all your staff training, so that the firm has a record of exactly where it is with cybersecurity training for its people, and their quiz scores.

8. Remaining on top of compliance

As key contributors to a highly regulated profession, firms of solicitors have to be on entirely on top of their compliance game at all times in order to remain in practice. The Solicitor’s Regulation Authority (the SRA) – an arm of The Law Society – is the regulatory body for solicitors in England and Wales. The Legal Services Board oversees the SRA ensuring legal services are carried out to a high standard with public interest in mind.

Law firms, no matter the size, of course have to appoint a COLP (Compliance Office for Legal Practice) and COFA (Compliance Officer for Finance and Administration) and there is continual and growing stream of considerations keeping both busy roles busy.  Anti-Money laundering is just one area of focus that is continually under the spotlight. It was the subject of the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority thematic review in 2021, on the back of the fifth AML Directive which was published in 2020 – the sector’s definitive guide, after a major overhaul in response to shortcomings recognised. Firms have been fined as much as £230K+ in recent months, as AML remains a key challenge for the sector.

In terms of what’s coming next for law firm compliance, the SRA is considering for its next series of Thematic reviews for 2022. Access Legal held a Compliance panel discussion in October 2021 and the SRA told our audience what they are likely to be looking at this year:

Chris Handford, Director of Regulatory Policy at Solicitors Regulation Authority, pointed out at the Access Legal panel discussion that whilst this list is not yet fully nailed down, these are the areas likely to be of interest for the next phase of their thematic review visits to law firms.

Access Legal runs a regular compliance update webinar the first Thursday of every month, as well as an anti-money laundering webinar once a quarter. Both are well attended, often attracting in excess of 1000 law firm execs per webinar. Our compliance webinar recordings are available to anyone from a law firm who would like to view them retrospectively, and all solicitors, law firm owners/managers and support staff are welcome to sign up for future Access Legal Compliance and anti-money laundering webinars. There is also a blog series, highlighting topics covered at the webinars.

How can technology help a law firm stay on top of compliance?

Excellent practice and case management software is a must, where compliance tools are built-in through every module whether is the solicitors regulation authority’s accounting rules, the provision of specific anti-money laundering modules for law firms, or tools that enable firms to comply with the likes of GDPR for data protection etc. Also a good law firm specific learning management system, where compliance training can be distributed, managed and logged is a powerful addition to a law firm’s armoury.

9.  Renewing Professional Indemnity Insurance (PII)

The solicitors’ market has been described as “…currently the hardest profession for Professional Indemnity Insurers…” and it’s all about the profession’s risk profile, particularly in the area of conveyancing. The underwriter’s view of risk for future claims is taking a number of factors into consideration. The Stamp Duty Land Tax holiday which kept conveyancers mega-busy for 12 months from July 2020, has meant high transaction volumes have led to higher numbers of errors that could result in PII claims. PII proposal forms are full of pandemic-related questions as a result of the kind of claims insurers have seen. Also, although the legal profession has faired better than expected during the pandemic, financial stability with regard to loans, deferred VAT etc. are being taken into account at renewal time.

How can technology help a law firm appease PII providers at renewal time?

By making best use of the law firm software your Practice uses your firm should be better positioned to apply for quality standards such as CQS (Conveyancing Quality Scheme) and the Law society’s lexcel standard.

Also having everyone trained up and all their training logged, along your compliance policies and decision-making will give insurers peace of mind when it comes to renewals.

10.  Knowing how to work your law firm data

There are two sides to every coin. And with law firm data – on one side the profession has  more rich data available to them than ever before, offering insights and answers to most challenges. However, on the other side of the coin, we are a world suffering from information overload across all sectors. Therefore, all the answers the legal industry needs can become buried and completely lost for those firms who are not in touch with their data.

Back in 1987, in his book, “The Future of Law” Professor Richard Susskind MBE spotted this predicament evolving then when he spoke of the profession moving towards a paradox of the information age.  He said, “…it should surely mean we can gain access to all but only the information we need, but the reality seems to be that we are less informed and focused than in the past.” He spoke of “information overload” even back then. More than three decades the so-called paradox he spoke of is evident and it is hugely compounded by the digital age as it continues to build momentum.

The Access Legal blog, Taking law firm business intelligence to the next level looks at the age-old principles of the legal sector was built upon, and how for generations the profession has led the way in ‘making data pay’. However, it highlights that there is more to be done in terms of using law firm data to get closer to clients and prospective clients to bolster understanding, in order to grow legal Practices.

How can technology help law firms work their data?

Good Practice: connect your data and differentiate your law firm is a good read for any law firm wishing to make more of their data.

A good practice management system should come with a range of standard reports you will find useful and a suite of reporting tools so that your people can slide and dice your data themselves.

Access Workspace for Legal is new technology on the horizon that we are working very closely with law firms to develop. This is about providing firms of solicitors with a space for focus, simplicity and confidence – where they can bring together all of their people, make sense of all of their data and access all of their multiple systems, from one place with a single secure sign-on.

In Conclusion

So whether you and your colleagues view the ten points highlighted in this blog for law firms as ten challenges to overcome or ten opportunities to get ahead of the competition, it is clear that the innovative use of tech will help the profession go a long way to solving most of them. Having a trusted software supplier with a large and knowledgeable team that works together on law firm tech every day, will certainly help move things forward faster for the legal profession.