Skip to main content

Clifford Chance

Clifford Chance

Innovation & Best Delivery Insights

2021 Strategic technology trends: A Clifford Chance perspective

After such an 'unusual' year, it's no surprise that we are now looking back on the many lessons that 2020 has taught us about how our sector works.

The disruptions and transformations we have seen are nothing new for us at Clifford Chance. But the pace and acceptance of that change are so encouraging to see and give us plenty of reasons to be optimistic going into 2021.

Of course, we are still to discover what "normal" now looks like for the legal sector. But there is a genuine opportunity to shape the way we deliver legal services. Gartner's strategic technology trends for the next 12 months shine a light on areas that will be deeply influenced by innovation and technology. So, what could these technology trends mean for the legal industry?

And more importantly, how can we apply them in the work we are doing?

The current landscape – and the direction we are heading

Like all industries who had to find new ways of working through the coronavirus pandemic, here at Clifford Chance, we had to adapt our legal services delivery in 2020. As offices closed to support the wider public health effort, our services continued. The people tasked with delivering them were now operating out of bedrooms, living rooms and home offices. And the prevailing mood at the end of 2020 is that many in our sector prefer it this way.

Let's not overlook other changes though. Home-working is perhaps the most visible of these but it has encouraged more firms – legal or otherwise – to consider their strategic use of technology. It is this shifting mindset that guides Gartner's strategic technology trends for 2021. For us, it offers a useful opportunity to take stock of our work so far in this context – and what comes next.

People Centricity

People, as we are so often keen to emphasise, are the catalyst for any changes that we explore. The work of our Innovation and Best Delivery hub is founded on a 'people, process, technology' approach for a reason. And we can see, in the People Centricity theme, how the strategic use of technology validates our efforts to date in this space – and also creates new ideas for the future.

Under this theme sit three of the new strategic technology trends: Internet of Behaviours (IoB), Total Experience and privacy-enhancing computation. But what do these actually mean?

Internet of Behaviours

First, we have the IoB – using data to change behaviours. Our work is already leading us on this path; creating solutions in collaboration with lawyers and clients to improve processes or service delivery. But can we go further? Can we harness the myriad of data (and data sources) present in the work we do to further improve our solutions? For example, we are leveraging IoB to help us to better personalise experiences and preferences across our digital assets which range from client portals to microsites and digital products.

Total experience

We are already starting to witness the emergence of a 'total' experience in the work we do. A more strategic use of technology can further help legal firms to embrace things like remote work and virtual interactions as a longer-term solution. It is one that brings together the user, client and employee experience into one united approach.

It has long been one of our main aspirations. Create works with a wide range of partners in our transformation-led approach. But we can and will do more going forward to develop solutions in search of a 'total' experience. How we help our clients achieve positive outcomes must also help our lawyers deliver their services. And, of course, this applies if the scenario is reversed.

Privacy-enhancing computation

Where people and organisations are present in the process there are significant considerations to ensure data privacy. This is why privacy-enhancing computation is one of the most important of the latest strategic technology trends. It is not only enough to protect and secure data when it is not being used, security must also be upheld when business-critical data is being used.

Three technologies will support this. One is to establish a secure environment for when data is in use. The second is the decentralised processing and analysis of data so that it is not found in one single location. And the third is to encrypt data, formulae or algorithms before that processing or analysis takes place. For us to share data and collaborate securely with our clients, this strategic use of technology is paramount. 

In addition to these three essential technologies, there is also a need for widely acceptable and understood standards. There is important work being done in this space to develop open standards and we believe that this will be critical to continued progress in this area.

Location Independence

For Gartner, an 'anywhere operations' model is going to be one of the most important strategic technology trends of 2021. As a sector, we have arguably succeeded in how we adapted to coronavirus. But as we emerge from it, we must now adapt to a hastened future if we are to thrive. What does this mean in real terms? It means our services are available to anyone, anywhere.

We have seen that it can be achieved as a solution in 2020. But 2021 is a year for us at Clifford Chance to see how our strategic use of technology can make Location Independence a long-term reality.

Anywhere operations

This is perhaps a contentious legal technology trend. Why? Well, Gartner proposes that "digital should be the default at all times." This is exactly what we believe at Clifford Chance. But there is also an appreciation that, as a sector, we are perhaps sceptical of this attitude. We made the changes we did in 2020 out of necessity. In 2021, the changes are more borne out of desire.

With our Create+65 lab, for example, we want to educate and inspire people to see digital disruption and transformation as an organic process. People will always have their place in the physical space. But our aim is to improve our service delivery offer through the strategic use and management of technology. 'Anywhere operations' is going to be central to this, especially across borders.

Distributed cloud

The cloud is not a new concept to us. We use it in our delivery of legal services and in many of the Applied Solutions that we offer, for example. But what we may see happening in 2021 is the shift to a distributed cloud model; regarded as "the future of cloud" by Gartner.

This is essentially the decentralisation of the cloud – and the benefits that it can bring to services within the legal sector. While the control and governance of the cloud stays in the hands of one provider, services are 'distributed' to different locations.  

For Gartner and indeed for us, the benefits are achievable and desirable. By locating the cloud services closer to a client or lawyer, it can speed up data transfer and reduce the associated costs. It can also help an organisation's compliance with specific requirements to hold data in particular jurisdictions and with data laws such as GDPR. In addition, it negates the need for a private cloud solution, which has its own cost benefits. Reynen Court is one example of the benefits such an approach can have.

Cybersecurity mesh

It is natural to regard security as the greatest risk to the strategic use of technology within the legal sector. And Gartner's technology trends do recognise that assets both for us as a law firm and for our clients are now outside the conventional perimeters of security.

By taking a scalable and flexible approach to controlling security however, it is now possible to implement a modular and responsive approach. A cybersecurity mesh is a concept that enables us to define a security perimeter around sensitive and business-critical people or things. 

Resilient Delivery

If there is one thing that we can certainly say about our sector in 2020, it is that we showed great resilience in the face of unique challenges. From this comes a challenge in itself, however, namely how can we take our learnings and implement them in order to accelerate and enhance our strategic use of technology?

As much as we hope that coronavirus will soon be a thing of the past, we are not immune from future disruption. Pandemics, economic recession, and even natural disasters are ever-present challenges to legal service delivery. So, we need to keep exploring the strategic technology trends that can further enhance our resilience in 2021.

Intelligent composable business

To encourage faster digital transformation, the legal sector must be able to show agility in the decision-making process. But not at any cost. The only way to be sure that business decisions are taken correctly and successfully is to ensure access to information is better.

In times of difficulty, being able to draw on the most recent and relevant information is crucial. In addition, law firms must react at pace and qualify information with robust insight in order to protect both their own needs and those of their clients.

We believe this can be achieved in two ways. First, we must educate relevant stakeholders including lawyers, internal teams and clients. This will help us put the power in their hands; giving them the ability to react and increasing their own autonomy when it comes to accessing information. Second, and something we place huge importance on, is having the right people to decipher that information. This is one of the reasons for our dedicated data science lab who work together with our lawyers to understand and leverage data.

AI engineering

AI. How often do we hear that term raised in conversations about digital transformation? It is a phenomenon with incredible potential. When many start out on AI projects, however, it is often found that scalability and maintenance put up barriers to the overall success and value of them. But the strategic technology trends for 2021 suggest a pathway is now possible.

Let's not assume that AI has no place in the sector at present. There are many successful uses of the technology already in place. Our Best Delivery team have implemented it in creative and innovative ways to great effect. But we continue to explore how to best scale these solutions.  

One approach is through the creation of an AI engineering strategy. It brings AI discipline into the DevOps process – no longer maintaining it as a specialised and standalone area. It could also prove useful for refining how we use AI and apply it in the future − incorporating it into other processes. With it, comes a commitment to responsible AI use and its accountability.


Automation can also have a major impact on the delivery of legal services. Within our sector, teams are often communicating and operating with a "patchwork" of solutions, none of which are optimised or compatible to an extent that we believe to be effective.

Our team embraces the aspirations of efficiency and efficacy in our legal service delivery through automation. But we approach all automation carefully. While we believe that it will help to achieve a smarter model of delivery, our people and processes are critical to making that successful. 

The Clifford Chance outlook

Gartner's strategic technology trends for 2021 are a reminder that we cannot afford to slow down in our continuing pursuit of digital disruption and transformation. The world will reflect on 2020 and its learnings in all aspects of life. Let us hope the legal sector will take on board some of the lessons we have learned about our attitude to a digitalised future and what we can make possible.

The strategic use of technology requires careful thought and must be informed at all levels. In these latest technology trends we can see many things: that our current work stands us in an excellent position to capitalise; that people are central to the use of technology; and that our sector simply cannot afford to pass up this platform to transform legal service delivery.

Would you like more information about the work of our Innovation teams? Are you interested in joining forces to work on the tech solutions that will reshape legal services for the better? We would like to hear from you – please contact a member of our team today.

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on LinkedIn
  • Share via email
Back to top