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Modernization is a Strategic Imperative for Today’s Litigation Function  

It’s modernize or be left behind, according to a new survey released by UnitedLex, the first of an annual series of reports about senior litigation professionals and their practice. The report, Mandate to Modernize: A Deep Dive into Priorities for Litigators in 2024, explores the strategies, tactics, and metrics litigation practitioners are adopting to do more legal work with less budget and fewer resources.   

More than 200 senior litigation professionals from American Lawyer 200 law firms and global corporations with revenue exceeding $2 billion participated in the survey.   

Factors driving modernization 

“There’s an increasing trend of CFOs saying legal needs to operate like the rest of the business,” said Aaron Crews, chief product and innovation officer at UnitedLex. “GCs are being asked by their leadership to figure out how to incorporate technology and leverage AI to do things differently. Many say they are being pushed to do this, and the push is coming from above.” 

Litigation practice modernization is a priority for 92% of in-house teams and 84% of law firm respondents over the next 12 to 18 months as a way to more effectively align budget and resources to meet their litigation priorities.    

“Part of modernizing is to do everything at the lowest possible cost and with the highest possible effectiveness,” states David Cohen, Partner and Chair of Reed Smith’s Records and E-Discovery Group.  

Modernization priorities  

Data and AI initiatives, performance metrics, and strategic overhaul of resourcing approaches, to name just a few, are defining a new paradigm for in-house and law firm practitioners alike.  

AI, and generative AI in particular, is taking center stage as a way to ensure litigation practitioners are not left at a competitive disadvantage, with a majority of in-house teams and law firms currently using, or planning to use, AI and generation AI for litigation work.  

Fifty-eight percent of respondents identified document review as the most likely area where litigation teams use or plan to use generative AI. About half identified witness and deposition prep as an area where generative AI can be useful, along with privilege logging and motion and response drafting.  

Nearly two-thirds of law firms and in-house teams say they are accessing AI tools through their ALSPs, with less than half procuring AI tools directly and just 10% and 8%, law firms and in-house teams respectively, building their own AI tools.  

Beyond AI, both state that budget pressures are affecting how they resource litigation work, with law firms looking to ALSPs largely for eDiscovery-related cost containment and in-house teams seeking access to specialized expertise they do not have in house.  

Looking ahead, both in-house and law firm respondents expect to further reallocate work to ALSPs for routine litigation tasks that have the promise of benefiting from AI expertise.  

Modernization divides  

The survey exposes several modernization divides. For example, 64% of in-house teams say that tracking budget against spend is the most important metric for measuring modernization, while 68% of law firm respondents point to the billable hour as the key metric.  

And as it relates to continuous improvement initiatives, nearly half of law firms cite resource use improvements as a priority, while in-house teams state adopting AI tools and invoice management and review (46% and 45% respectively) as key initiatives to improve the litigation function. 

UnitedLex commissioned Pensar Media, a research firm specializing in legal services, to conduct the survey in March and April 2024. 

Download the full copy of the report here.   

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Survey Report - Priorities for Litigators in 2024