Solos struggled more significantly than larger law firms in adapting to remote work throughout the pandemic, suffering greater shortfalls in new cases and firm revenue.
But solos who harnessed modern legal technologies fared significantly better during 2020 than those who did not — bringing in $50,000 more in revenue on average — and solos who continue to adapt and innovate are most likely to do well both in the immediate future and in years to come.
These are among the findings and conclusions of a report issued today, Legal Trends for Solo Law Firms, published by the practice management company Clio.
The report uses data first published last October in Clio’s annual Legal Trends Report, which is based on analysis of data from tens of thousands of legal professionals and surveys of legal professionals and legal consumers.
But today’s report analyzes and reframes that data with specific reference to solo attorneys, in order to identify the specific challenges solos face and provide recommendations on how they can be more successful going forward.
Solos Hit Hardest
The report finds that, overall, solos had a harder time in adapting to the challenges of the pandemic than did lawyers in larger firms.
In terms of new cases, solos fared only slightly worse than other firms, seeing as much as a 33% drop in the early days of the pandemic, but then seeing caseloads return close to baseline by June.
In terms of revenues, however, solos saw declines extend longer into the summer months and drop overall from 5% to 7% more than other firms.
Solos also tend to be in the practice areas that were most severely affected by the pandemic. Criminal law casework, for example, dropped 59% in the spring, the report says, and practice areas such as personal injury, immigration and bankruptcy have seen lasting negative impacts throughout the fall and winter.
As a result, many solos have indicated concern about the future of their practices, with as many as 66% expressing concern about the success of their legal practice and 47% worried about making a living.
The $50,000 Advantage
But even as solos suffered in the early months of the pandemic, those who used certain key technologies were able not only to mitigate that initial impact, but also to accelerate their recovery, resulting in these tech-using solos earning an average of $50,000 more in revenue than other solos.
Solos who used key technologies such as electronic payments, client portals, and client intake and CRM products collected $54,507 more revenue than other solo firms, and $14,885 more on a per-lawyer basis than larger firms.
Even before the pandemic, Clio’s data shows, solos who used these technologies collected more revenue, but the advantage was even greater during the pandemic.
“When looking at month-to-month comparisons of how solo law firm performed against industry averages, those using electronic payments, client portals, and client intake and CRM solutions saw significant advantages in terms of both matter volumes and revenue generation,” the report says.
Further, the report finds that tech-enabled solos did not see gains only in relation to other firms, but saw growth compared to their own business performance the prior year.
“Solo law firms saw both greater advantages to using these technologies as well as greater detriments to not using them. In July, solo law firms that had adopted these technologies saw their revenues grow by 20% compared to the previous year, while those not using these technologies collected 8% less the same month, and 12% less in the following month,” the report says.
Recommendations for Success
These developments came against a backdrop in which everyone — lawyers and clients — became more comfortable with technology and made greater use of technology, particularly cloud technology.
Clio’s data finds that many clients prefer technology options such as electronic payments, videoconferencing, and electronic document sharing.
For solos, therefore, the lessons to be derived from this data are that those that adopt modern technologies and innovate their practices are the firms that will be most successful, the report concludes.
Those innovations come not only from using modern technology, but also from offering their services virtually; modernizing their billing and payment structures, including through price transparency and payment flexibility; and adopting alternative billing models and unbundling legal services.
“As client expectations continue to shift, and new behaviors become more habituated, it’s clear that firms that continue to adapt and innovate in the interest of their clients are the ones that will reap the benefits both in the immediate future, and in the years to come,” the report concludes.