Why lawyers have to re-engineer themselves: digital transformation & law firms

6 min

As the exponential growth of technology takes over businesses and society, lawyers need to understand the legal and commercial aspects of new tech, as well as the challenges of bringing new products, services, and players to the legal market.

The way lawyers practice their profession is changing rapidly. And digital transformation is only accelerating these changes, incorporating disruptive elements that will radically affect the sector—just like we’ve seen it happen in other sectors and across industries. 

All industries, without exception, are experiencing the emergence of new business models. These models use a variety of technologies that have matured in recent decades and have been catalyzed by COVID-19, altering the makeup of their value chains and breaking down the silos between sectors. On many occasions, disruption comes from unexpected competitors, such as startups and even companies from totally different industries. 

Furthermore, businesses are quickly reinventing themselves by transforming data into an asset they can leverage, and digital technologies have become an enabler for both old and new businesses. This requires lawyers to have a solid understanding of the influence of technology across sectors. The way companies relate to each other within different ecosystems, and the playing field that law gives to technology, are some of the most pressing issues for all companies.

But grasping the concept of true disruption may be an especially difficult exercise for those who have a long track record of succeeding by doing «what has always been done.» This is the case with most large law firms and organizations, where there’s a rift between lawyers seeking to preserve the “profession” and the needs of consumers and an industry intent on satisfying them. 

Law comes as no exception. 

Now, looking to the future and the changes accelerated by the pandemic, many will need to re-evaluate and revise their long-term business models. Professionals and leaders will need to start leaning into tech, and identify and create new market opportunities while still reacting swiftly and decisively to manage future challenges.

Getting practical with digital transformation

In the legal industry, transformation presents an opportunity for lawyers to lead and enable the delivery of more secure, efficient, and client-centric legal services based on digital transformation solutions.

Studies from Gartner show that digital disruption is the most important function for businesses, immediately followed by finding talent who can provide new ways to deliver services to clients.

A study from McKinsey & Co. shows that organizations that have undergone a digital transformation are “23 times more likely to acquire customers, six percent more likely to retain customers, and 19 times more likely to be profitable.” 

Digital transformation also has an impact on diversity, collaboration, and the organization’s ability to culturally adapt. The legal industry needs to do a much better job of being inclusive of every group—lawyers, technologists, data analysts, and people of various backgrounds, genders, and ethnicities.

Professor Richard Susskind OBE, the world’s most-cited author on the future of legal services, explains that while the industry has been about automation for the past several decades, transformation is what will take hold going forward.

In this context, lawyers must become aware of digital transformation and either adapt or fail. To do so, the industry must be open to new paradigms regarding talent: how lawyers are trained, what “new” skills they’ve learned, etc. 

Up-skilling and re-skilling lawyers and legal professionals in these new technologies is essential for law firms and businesses to thrive in an era of digital transformation

Be an enabler of change

So what are the specialized skills lawyers need to support and lead companies in the increasingly complex and dynamic digital economy?

It is of utmost importance for lawyers to develop a reputation of being enablers of change. “Lawyers have to re-engineer themselves to deliver the outcomes that clients want,” Professor Susskind explains. Gaining tech savvy and analyzing alternative business models from other sectors is vital in the new world of law—something students in the Master in Legal Tech learn in the Digital Transformation Certification program designed by IE School of Human Sciences & Technology

The winners when it comes to disruption are the resilient professionals who find a way to adapt and are open to a wider spectrum of talent, cultures, professionals (legal and otherwise), and technologies.

With the efficiency and support of new technologies and operation systems, lawyers can focus more time and energy on higher value tasks and client care.

Susskind recommends in his book Tomorrow’s Lawyers that lawyers themselves should take active initiative in learning about and updating their tech skills. “…It will be as important in law as elsewhere for young aspiring professionals to be entirely familiar with the potential and the limitations of online service in their areas,” says Susskind.

Technology may open up a world of opportunity for the global lawyer to tap into a new market for legal services, dramatically improving quality, speed, and access of services, while cutting workplace inefficiencies and costs. 

Alejandro Touriño, Co-Director of the Master in Legal Tech and Managing Partner at ECIJA, explains that education plays a key role in driving technological disruption in the sector. In the Master in Legal Tech, and with the Certificate in Digital Disruption, we focus on the future of the legal industry. With the blended format, we allow students to embrace the newest technologies in the legal industry, the trends in management and business, and a comparative approach to law for new tech. 

More on the Digital Transformation Certificate

Taught in collaboration with world-class digital transformation and technology experts from HST, this week-long module provides students with a practical understanding of digital transformation. Featuring three sub-modules further divided into 12 sessions, students discover how to holistically diagnose the digital maturity of an organization, how to develop a digital strategy, and how to implement and roadmap it within an organization. All insights gained will be immediately applied as students work on a digital transformation project for their own organization across all three sub-modules. Upon completion, students will be awarded an exclusive HST certification.


Renée Cortés is a Content & Communication Manager at IE Law School. She holds a Master in Corporate & Marketing Communication from IE School of Human Sciences & Technology. Before moving to Madrid, she designed, founded, and was Editor-in-Chief of a women’s lifestyle magazine in Bolivia, M de Mujer, that won First Prize for New Brand/Product/Audience Development at the International News Media Association (INMA) Global Media Awards in New York. She is passionate about writing stories and is interested in the future of education, disruptive technologies, innovation, entrepreneurship and its power to impact society.