Wills and Probate early adopters of technology

A major piece of research conducted by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in partnership with the University of Oxford has revealed “extensive” changes in attitudes towards technology and innovation in the legal sector.

The Technology and Innovation in Legal Services report found that since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic 55% of surveyed law firms have improved or increased their use of technology, 48% have made changes to service delivery and 35% have introduced new technology. The report also found that more legal providers are planning to migrate their interaction with consumers online.

The area of wills, probate and trusts ranked highly in early tech adopter surveys, scoring as the second largest group of respondents currently using, or planning to use legal technology. Residential conveyancing topped the survey with the most users of technology.

Service providers in wills, probate and trusts said that 58.4% had already adopted technology, 31.2% were planning to adopt, with just 10.4% indicating that they are not planning to adopt at all.  This is despite findings that “People Law” firms, such as those specialising in wills, probate and trusts, were less innovative, less likely to adopt legal technology, and faced higher financial, staffing and regulatory uncertainties than “Big Law” such as those dealing with tax and litigation and dispute resolution for corporate clients.

The top five most prevalent types of technologies currently in use were videoconferencing with clients (87% of total respondents), storing data in the cloud (66%), practice management software (62%), legal research software (50%) and e-verification/e-signature (37%), many of which have been widely adopted in the wills, probate and trusts sector.

Other advances in the use of new technology included help with client identity verification. One case study found that several “People Law” firms, including wills, probate and trusts providers, were using apps for clients to take a selfie and a photograph of their passport to validate their identity, therefore reducing the firms’ regulatory risk exposure during the pandemic.

“We have limited options in terms of other people certifying ID, so using these platforms has been absolutely key to being able to get through that first stage”

said a large “People Law” firm.

Barriers to adopting legal technology were found to be highest amongst “People Law” firms with the biggest obstacle being due to a lack of financial capital to invest in technology. 58.2% indicated that this was a problem,

“we don’t have access to external capital and … our members aren’t going to shell out. So, we develop on a shoestring. So, we have kept our model of development very light, very focused. We can’t afford an hour of misspent time. So, we get a long way by having a highly disciplined approach”, said one ABS firm.

A further 50.1% cited lack of staff expertise to assess and implement technology as a barrier saying that, “the biggest barrier is securing and retaining IT development resource. There is a limited pool of experts and keeping them is a challenge” (Law firm).

Regulatory uncertainty was found to be more of an issue in “People La”w than in “Big Law”, with 44.7% indicating that this was a barrier for them.

Other barriers include the risks that come with technology deployment. The report found that one of the more common risks felt by firms is the perception that the investment will not bring any business benefits (cited by 55.6%), or that clients will not like the new technology (cited by 22%).

In terms of technology risk reduction however, one potential solution highlighted in the report was the use of “low code/no code” technology platforms. Such solutions allow firms to build their own legal technology‐based products and services in‐house at minimal expense, which usually only requires a licence fee and technical support.

One Law firm commented that,

“we license the platform, and then we can completely build it all ourselves. We have arrangements where we have consultant developers that support us, as well as in-house developers, so we have a mixed approach. We have licence freedom to do as we will with it”.

Anna Bradley, Chair of the SRA, said of the findings:

“Supporting innovation and the adoption of legal technology is a key priority, as we set out in our Corporate Strategy. It can help increase access to justice for the public and small businesses, as well as supporting firms to be more efficient, benefitting everyone and the economy as a whole.”

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