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  • Sole and smaller practices can be limited by time and resource constraints so they must find ways to achieve and juggle a range of competing priorities while servicing existing clients.
  • While new technology and software tools are generally aimed at medium-to-large law firms, small practices can also take advantage of innovation to manage their practices.
  • Five areas of innovation for smaller practices include use of practice management software, client intake, document automation, social media management and unbundling legal services.

This article offers five ways sole and smaller practices (‘SPs’) can adopt new technologies, software tools and ways of working for lawyers (‘LegalTech’). Generally, LegalTech is pitched at medium-to-large law firms. This is partly a function of scale, as there is a greater capacity for efficiency savings in larger matters, and larger practices generally have more resources to spend on innovation. However, most lawyers in Australia and around the world practise as, or in, SPs. Indeed, of all private law practices in New South Wales in 2021, the majority were sole practices (61 per cent); a quarter had one principal (27 per cent); and one in ten had two to four principals (10 per cent).

SPs, however, can be limited by time and resource constraints. Within this context, they must achieve and juggle a range of priorities: building new client relationships, increasing market reputation and developing the practice’s offering – all while servicing existing clients. Balancing these objectives is further intensified by the wider pressures being exerted across the legal profession: to cut costs, do ‘more for less’, and compete with alternative legal service providers. The pandemic has amplified these tensions. Simultaneously, the disruption of the pandemic has offered a unique opportunity to experiment with innovation and change. The LexisNexis Bellwether Report Series 2021 reported that 77 per cent of SPs in the United Kingdom saw COVID-19 as a chance to drive innovation and change in workplace practices. Indeed, 43 per cent of these smaller practices have already increased investment in processes/technology, while 28 per cent plan to.

What about SPs who want to introduce LegalTech innovations but are not sure where to start? We examine five possible areas of technological change for SPs.

Practice management and client relationship management

Legal practice management software are integrated technology suites (or software combining multiple functions into one tech platform) that help lawyers centralise and manage their case-related workflows and legal operations (their business processes/activities). These include management of documents, calendars, cases, billing and accounting. In 2018, a study of nine Gold Coast SPs’ technology use found practice management software to be the most commonly adopted technology. Software used included LEAP (both offline and cloud-based), FilePro and Evolve Practice Management. While each of these help a legal practice manage their clients, matters and accounts, according to the study, using cloud-based LEAP had the best results and provides a ‘one-stop shop’ for everything a lawyer needed to manage a file. Cloud-based software refers to moving IT data infrastructure and operations to the ‘cloud’ – or delegating the management of data, storage and servers to third party ‘hosts’ or software providers. This gives lawyers remote access to documents and means there is no fear of data loss from hardware failures or computer crashes.

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