“The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

No doubt, you’ve seen that William Gibson quote countless times. But it seems particularly pertinent to the 2023 Future Ready Lawyer Survey Report published this week by Wolters Kluwer, the fifth edition of this annual report.

After all, the very premise of the report is that some law firms and legal departments are more “future ready” than others. That means that they have invested in the technology and staff to prepare them to meet the challenges of the years to come.

Yet what is also interesting about this fifth edition of the report is that it indicates just how hard it is for legal professionals to stay ahead of the curve.

Every year, the report ranks the percentage of legal professionals who it calls “leaders” – those that are fully leveraging technology. Last year, it ranked 54% of organizations as leaders. In the very first year, 2019, 49% were leaders. This year, the number dropped to 46%.

Does that mean law firms and legal departments are doing less to leverage technology?

Source: 2023 Future Ready Lawyer Survey Report

I don’t think so. As I read this report, the challenge for law firms and legal departments is that the bar keeps getting raised. And this year, with the explosive arrival of generative AI, the bar has been set higher than ever before.

In fact, the report opens with the question, “Has the legal industry ever faced a period of greater transformation than it does today?”

It’s not just the disruptive potential of AI that’s complicating things, the report points out. The legal industry is also still grappling with the revolution in hybrid and remote working brought about by the pandemic, creating new challenges for recruiting and retaining staff.

Clearly, legal professionals get it. Consider these findings from the report:

  • Most lawyers believe generative AI will change how they work.
  • 73% say they will integrate generative AI into their legal work within the next year.
  • 68% feel prepared for its impact.
  • 87% of lawyers say technology overall has improved their day-to-day work.
  • 91% of lawyers say it is important to have technology that enables them to quickly adapt to change, and to have access to the latest tools to aid productivity.

Opportunity or Threat?

Yet, even as they see the importance of cutting-edge technology, lawyers remain ambivalent about it. For example, while 73% of lawyers plan to integrate generative AI, just 43% see it as an opportunity, and 25% see it as a threat.

Similarly, with regard to technology generally, less than half (46%) of lawyers believe they are fully leveraging technology. Half describe themselves as transitioning (which I take to mean not there yet), and 4% say they are not leveraging tech as much as they should.

Even the percentage of lawyers who say they understand the importance of fully leveraging technology dropped slightly, from 89% last year to 85% this year.

One reason for the discrepancy between the numbers of lawyers who understand the importance of tech and the number who are fully leveraging it is organizational, the report finds, with 44% of firms “remaining stuck in familiar ways, internal processes, and slow decision-making.”

Other barriers to adopting technology include cost (10%) and lack of knowledge (36%). The good news is that fewer this year cite lack of knowledge than did last year, when the number was 48%.

“Lawyers ultimately recognize that if organizational and cost barriers can be overcome, technology will play an important role in boosting productivity and efficiency, as well as improving customer service for law firms at a time when client attrition is a major challenge,” the report concludes.

Challenges in Hiring and Diversity

The report also delves into other topics regarding the state of law firms and legal departments. Among its findings:

  • Respondents face acute challenges in recruitment and retention, with 81% saying these factors will impact them over the next three years.
  • Amid growing depend for environmental, social and governance (ESG) guidance, 69% of firms and 61% of legal departments say they are not well prepared to deliver against expectations in this area.
  • Diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging remains a challenge. Although 82% of respondents said they work for organizations that claim to have successfully created diverse and inclusive environments, 43% of organizations have no formal DEIB policies in place.

“Overall, the Future Ready Lawyer Survey 2023 shows the legal profession navigating complex and uncertain times, as lawyers grapple with transformation and disruption on multiple fronts,” the report concludes.

But it goes on to say: “However, as much as the survey reveals the unpredictability of and difficulties within today’s legal sector, it also shows the ability of the legal profession to adapt to change, remain resilient, and embrace new opportunities.”

You can download the full report from Wolters Kluwer.


Photo of Bob Ambrogi Bob Ambrogi

Bob is a lawyer, veteran legal journalist, and award-winning blogger and podcaster. In 2011, he was named to the inaugural Fastcase 50, honoring “the law’s smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries and leaders.” Earlier in his career, he was editor-in-chief of several legal publications, including The National Law Journal, and editorial director of ALM’s Litigation Services Division.