Using Technology to Fight the Litigation Talent War

Within the legal community, technology is typically viewed as a means to increase lawyer efficiency, whether through document assembly, document review, collaboration, and remote work or lately through the use of artificial intelligence to extract hidden insights from large datasets.

But some litigation experts see another promising use for legal technologies: as a weapon to wield in the current war among law firms for top legal talent.

Many young lawyers value these criteria higher than compensation levels.

During a recent webcast on the future of litigation presented by American Lawyer Media, litigation experts outlined several ways in which modern legal technologies are improving job satisfaction among associates while at the same time delivering better legal outcomes for the client:

  • With remote depositions, unnecessary business travel –— an often-cited sore point among litigation associates — is eliminated.
  • Document analysis technologies enable law firms to shrink their litigation teams to smaller, more-engaged groups than was previously possible.
  • The presence of technology specialists and data scientists on litigation teams frees up lawyers to do what they do best: reason, strategize, and advocate for the client.
  • With remote depositions, more members of the litigation team can meaningfully contribute to the questioning of the deponent and meaningfully participate in the post-deposition analysis of the deposition’s impact on the case.

Job Satisfaction Is About More Than Money

The problem of turnover of legal talent within U.S. law firms is acute. According to the 2022 Report on the State of the Legal Market, published in January 2022 by the Center on Ethics and the Legal Profession at Georgetown Law and Thomson Reuters Institute, law firms lost nearly one-quarter of their associates to competing firms in 2021.

What’s more, the lure of higher salaries has not been enough to stem the hemorrhaging of legal talent. Compensation for associate attorneys at the nation’s leading revenue law firms rose 15.6% from November 2020 to November 2021 with scant impact on retention.

Law firm leaders told the report’s authors that the three highest risks to their firm’s profitability all stemmed from the ongoing law firm talent war. Their top concerns: lawyer recruitment and retention, poaching lawyers by competitors, and rising associate salary levels.

Higher Engagement Through Technology

Christopher A. Smith, a litigation partner at Husch Blackwell in St. Louis, explained how e-discovery document review technologies are helping to create smaller, more engaged litigation teams. Before these technologies came on the scene, large-scale document review efforts were undertaken by any available associates or outsourced to vendors. These were good lawyers, of course, but they didn’t always have a deep understanding of the case.

“What the technology has allowed us to do is to retain a more limited set of people that you can really focus on educating about the case, so you have a more quality review,” Smith said. “With that quality review you get, I would like to say, more quality outcomes.”

In Smith’s view, quality outcomes result in greater lawyer satisfaction, which leads, in turn, to greater lawyer retention.

“I don’t think you’re going to keep a good associate for long if they are spending all their day clicking through a thousand documents,” Smith said. “But if that associate is getting a core set of documents and is engaged in the case, you actually get an involved player who then takes that and comes back and contributes. It’s leading to a more efficient, effective team and better outcomes.”

Esquire Deposition Solutions General Counsel Avi Stadler identified a similar benefit with remote deposition technologies. Remote depositions promote higher levels of engagement within the litigation team by allowing all of them to observe and contribute to the success of the deposition.

“You’re allowing more people to be around the table and collaborate and you can have those core individuals involved in the case,” he said.

In complex, high-value cases, remote technologies can be a game-changer, Stadler said. When the entire litigation team is participating — or observing remotely — the questioning attorney won’t be helpless if the deponent’s testimony wanders into unexpected territory. Other members on the team will have the ability to find the relevant documents and provide assistance to the questioner in real time.

“The ability to do that with technology and on the fly is helping lawyers be better lawyers,” Stadler said. “The good lawyers, the ones who are able to master this technology, those are the ones who are going to be successful in the big cases where there is a lot at stake.”

Another way that remote depositions help litigation firms handle cases with smaller, more-involved teams is by eliminating travel time in complex cases that span multiple jurisdictions. Freed from the burden of travel, a smaller, core group of litigators can handle all the deposition workload from their offices, Stadler noted.

Finally, legal technologies are a key strategy for leveraging attorney talent to get more work done in less time. According to the 2022 Report on the State of the Legal Market, long working hours are a strong “push factor” motivating young lawyers to leave their current law firms.

The program, Future of Litigation: Trends for 2023 & Beyond, is available on-demand from American Lawyer Media.