The Smith & Williamson Survey of Irish Law Firms 2014/15 has found that even though a total of 70% of firms believe IT is a source of competitive advantage, many mid-tier and smaller legal firms are lagging behind when it comes to investing in technology.

Updating or improving their IT system was an immediate or medium term priority for 66% of firms. This rises to 91% of the top 20 firms who took part in the survey. Investment decisions are also more pronounced for the larger firms with 92% indicating planned expenditure in the next 12 months, while only 54% of all firms surveyed are planning such an investment. Overall, law firms report spending on IT to be 4.7% of turnover (including IT salaries and consultants).

There are several drivers when it comes to implementing new or upgrading existing IT systems,says Paul Wyse managing director of Smith & Williamson Dublin.

While competition is one of them, one rapidly growing in importance is the growing technological sophistication of clients and the increased pressure from clients looking for instant access, improved transparency through online document access and fee tracking. This is becoming the norm internationally and Irish firms are under pressure to follow suit. However, of those surveyed only 12% of firms are providing online access for clients while only a third of large firms do so. But investment in technology will increase as firms catch up on what they put off during the recession to get themselves back up to speed.

There is also an international trend towards e-disclosure of documents in cases. However, only 28% of firms surveyed have this capability (58% of the top 20 firms). This is particularly surprising given that 69% of the firms surveyed with such a capability state it is increasingly being used by them.

Interestingly one-in-two firms surveyed believe social media is not a suitable communication channel for the legal profession. This jumps to 100% of the top 20 firms.

However, of those that are using social media 36% of firms are currently using it to develop new clients and to develop a professional network, while 57% use it as a marketing tool. Surprisingly only 20% of firms are using social media for recruitment purposes. This is an obvious opportunity missed to communicate and connect with today’s generation.

This would suggest there is a solid section of first adopters within the legal sector who are aware of international studies highlighting that firms who embrace social media win new clients, develop more closely knit relationships with their existing client base and are able to develop a far higher and more effective media profile,” says Paul Wyse.

It is therefore our view that firms not embracing and using social media are ignoring a potentially key competitive tool to not only maximise existing business, but to attract new clients and staff. They are also in danger of falling behind to the more forward-thinking firms who are already using social media to gain new clients and boost their existing business.

You can download the full report from this link.