New Technologies and Law Firms—An Uneasy Relationship: A European Perspective
The digitalization of law has become a mantra. Law firms across the globe have begun to invest in legal-tech solutions to maintain a competitive edge in an increasingly changing market of legal services providers. While for many this foresees a disruption in the dynamics of the legal field, law firms have proved relatively resilient to radical change. With few exceptions, law firms continue to practice law as usual, while adding a few innovative tools to their old work dynamics to increase efficiency and revenue. This paper takes stock of the state of the art of the digitalization of law firms in Denmark and Italy, two Continental European countries often understudied in terms of the sociology of the legal profession. After presenting the scholarship on new technologies and law firms, as well as the specificities of the Danish and Italian legal fields, by relying on qualitative interviews with key players of the legal-tech and law firm environment in both countries, the paper shows that both Danish and Italian law firms are reluctant to embrace technological change. The paper also identifies two factors that contribute to explain such reluctance on the part of law firms to fully digitalize their practices: 1) partnerships as the main organizational form of law firms, and 2) the inherent tension between the market-oriented, capitalistic nature of digital technologies and the professional nature of legal practice. The paper concludes by exploring the few Danish and Italian actors that are taking digital developments more seriously, showing that these are chiefly recently established legal-tech start-ups and medium-sized boutique law firms.