Our company provides business consultation and other services to law firms. A client called as he was frustrated that his email wasn’t syncing up to his phone properly. This was an ongoing issue and, despite the IT guy’s proposed solutions, nothing was working.
Did we have any suggestions? Sure – sign up for G Suite, move everything in your office over to the cloud, ditch your own server, and while you’re at it, stop paying your IT guy. Everyone in your office will have access to what they need, on any device, when they need it. And as an added bonus, your files will actually be more secure, because it is a lot harder to hack Google or Microsoft than it is to hack your firm’s private server.
If this solution sounds like a no brainer then you may be surprised to learn that, after several days of emails, questions, and going back and forth, our client decided to keep everything exactly the way it was. And he still isn’t regularly getting his emails pushed to his phone.
You might wonder why a firm that has successfully been in business for over thirty years and staffs nearly twenty people would have trouble making a change that would so obviously help the business run smoother. Or you might recognize yourself in this scenario, because in our experience, attorneys who run small to midsized law firms have a difficult time making technology related changes to their business.
Status Quo Bias Prevents Professionals From Innovating
The good news is that this trend isn’t specific to lawyers. Humans are hardwired to resist change and are more likely to choose the option they already have when faced with difficult decisions. It’s a phenomenon called the “status quo bias,” a term first coined by psychological researchers Samuelson and Zeckhauser.
The bad news is that this tendency to stick with the status quo is easy to rationalize and hard to overcome. In the meantime, failing to make changes to one’s legal business can result in the loss of clients as the competition embraces software which allows for cheaper and more efficient work.
Legal Software Disrupts the Legal Profession
Bob Goodman and Josh Harder explain that while 9-12 billion dollars are spent on legal software each year, this is just a tiny portion of the 300 billion dollars spent on legal services. These investors are betting that the reliance on software will only grow, and are putting their money in startups that seek to automate more mundane tasks and bring a higher level of efficiency to the legal process.
Companies such as Clio began offering solutions to automate clerical tasks such as billing, calendaring, and task management as early as 2009. Legal research tools such as Casetext were founded in 2013 and provide firms the ability to perform in depth legal research with a fraction of the staff. The use of e-discovery and predictive coding has been a game changer in corporate litigation when it comes to sifting through tens of thousands of documents while Technology Assisted Review (TAR) was first recognized by the US Courts in 2012.
By 2020, these services will be widely accessible, affordable, and would provide an opportunity for solo and small firm attorneys to compete with larger firms and provide services as if they had a large support staff.
Status Quo Bias Creates A Disconnect
In spite of the increased accessibility to legal software, there is a disconnect between the technology that is available and the attorneys who utilize it. As of 2014, only 30% of American lawyers use a case management system, despite the dramatic reduction in price since their original inception.
I’m betting that our client, mentioned above, isn’t the only attorney in the country still reluctant to make the leap to cloud services. After all, it’s 2017 and some small and mid-sized firms are still debating whether they really need a website.
If small and mid-sized firms have access to the same sophisticated services as the “Big Law” firms, why don’t they take advantage?
Why Attorneys Resist Adopting Technology
The answer may be in the status quo bias. Researchers have posed a number of explanations for why a person may be reluctant to try something new if it could prove beneficial for them. The following are reasons why attorneys may resist using available technology, despite potential benefits.
- Fear of Transition: Learning something new is a pain and implementing a new system in an office causes a disruption. When it feels like there is always an urgent matter to take care of, it never seems like a good time to stop everything and put in a new task management system.
- Risk Adversity: An attorney’s job is to warn about and mitigate risk. Attorneys may be hesitant to adopt services such as e-discovery or research software, for fear that a mistake will be made that could be exposed in Court later.
- Sunk Costs: Technology is changing so rapidly, the cost of upgrading to the last “latest thing” might still be fresh in some attorney’s minds. If one still remembers what they paid for their server, or the last round of office computers, it can be a difficult to accept that your last investment is now “obsolete,” and a new investment is required.
- Psychological Commitment: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. With a lot of technology, you don’t know what you “need” until you already have it. It’s hard to appreciate how much easier life could be, if you believe that you’re fine. Remember, fifty years ago law firms did all of their work on typewriters, and didn’t see anything wrong with that.
Preventing Future Cognitive Errors
The best way to fight your own status quo bias is to actively question why you are making your decisions. It is natural for people to focus on the risks, the negatives, and the unknowns of change. If you are considering whether or not a new technology is right for your office, consider the gains your office could make.