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The Digital Imperative for Law Firms

It’s no secret that traditionally, the legal services sector has been slow to embrace digitalisation. But why should law firms care about digital transformation at all? After all, law firm profitability appears to be holding relatively steady, even in the current climate; and historically, the legal services sector tends to survive downturns better than other sectors of the economy.

At the College of Legal Practice, we see three compelling reasons driving the need for change in the legal industry. 

1. Mirror your client base

Digital is now integral to the strategy of most large corporations, and in many cases is driving the business strategy itself. If law firms are to remain the trusted advisers of large corporate clients, they must understand, at a deep level, how their clients’ businesses are being disrupted, so that they can respond ahead of the competition to those changing demands. To be authentic as advisors to evolving digital businesses, law firms must demonstrate a commitment to digital within their own organisation.

2. Changing market conditions

Law firms cannot ignore the signs that the world is changing. Although we are yet to see the emergence of an ‘Amazon of law’, disruption is manifesting itself, inexorably, in different ways 

  • Clients are pushing harder for better value and are increasingly willing to turn to providers beyond traditional law firms 

  • Process engineering approaches are being more frequently used to identify those elements in matters (including bespoke or complex matters) that can be ‘commoditised’ – or even ‘productised’ 

  • Automation and other technology solutions are increasingly being developed in the legal sector to increase efficiencies and automate workflows and knowledge 

  • Corporate legal teams are sending less work to external counsel. They are doing more of their work themselves, using flexible resourcing to scale when they need to

  • New competitors, in the form of law companies, the Big 4 and boutique legal services providers, are threatening traditional law firm dominance

  • Diversity (whether cognitive diversity, or diversity based on gender, ethnicity, sexuality or religion) is emerging as an important consideration for clients, many of whom will only engage external counsel that demonstrate diversity in practice 

Law firms should embrace these evolving market conditions. When treated as opportunities rather than threats, they present chances to differentiate from the crowd and to find a competitive edge.

3. Growth

There is plenty of evidence that organisations that do not digitise will not succeed at the same rate as those that do. McKinsey research into the benefits of digitisation shows, for example, that companies that fail to invest in digital will on average see a decline in revenue of 12%. Those that “lead from the front with a disruptive strategy (and at least decent execution)” will see gains of 16% above that depressed level.

Digital transformation requires digital learning

Digital transformation is not an indulgence, but a strategic necessity for law firms. To serve clients effectively in the future, firms must make digital an integral part of their firmwide strategy. This is a question of culture and mindset, as much as technology adoption. Law firm leaders will need to cultivate the kind of culture that digital companies, who are accustomed to volatility and uncertainty, have already developed. A culture that is curious, adaptive, honest and comfortable with change. This requires a new set of skills to support a modern practice. Learning and development is crucial to this effort.

At The College of Legal Practice we continue to develop new content and learning resources based on evolving client and industry needs. We provide legal firms and legal functions within organisations with the tools they need to build a practical and customized digital learning experience.


The College of Legal Practice is a digital provider of legal education. We create collaborative, interactive and practical learning experiences to help students progress in law. This blog is part of our Online by Design content series, exploring ways to help L&D teams reimagine their learning experiences for a post-pandemic digital age.


up next: Digital Learning: the case for change