Legal tech now: Social media effectiveness, software trends, mobile security, more

Josh Poje

Josh Poje

Technological advances over the last several years have significantly changed the practice of law. So many tasks once done manually or by assistants are now handled by technology, and more advances are likely to continue to evolve every facet of law practice.

In this ever-changing environment, are you keeping up with your peers? Are you taking full advantage of the available technologies? How can today’s technology improve your practice? To help lawyers answer those questions, Josh Poje, research specialist of the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center, provides guidance.

Poje and the rest of the LTRC team just released the six-volume 2011 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report, a comprehensive examination of the technology use of lawyers in private practice.

Those in the legal profession are embracing social media, not just individual lawyers, but law firms as well. Do lawyers find it effective?

We saw quite a bit of social media adoption in 2011. For example, 37 percent of law firms are using LinkedIn, 19 percent are using Facebook, and 7 percent are using Twitter or a similar microblogging service. In terms of the individual lawyers using social media for professional purposes, we found that 62 percent of respondents are using LinkedIn, 22 percent are using Facebook and 6 percent are using Twitter.

Effectiveness is more difficult to measure. With Twitter and similar services, we learned that 56 percent of individual attorneys are using it as a client development tool, but only 10 percent have retained a client directly or via referral as a result. The responses for social networks were similar, with 53 percent using social networks for client development and 12 percent having retained a client directly or referral as a result. For both Twitter and social networks, respondents were most likely to use the tools for career development/networking (73 percent and 71 percent, respectively).

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Mobile technology has boomed in the last few years, with products such as tablets and smartphones making a huge cultural impact. Tell me about lawyers' use of mobile technology.

As expected, smartphone use continues to rise. In 2010, 79 percent of lawyers responding were using a smartphone outside of the office. In 2011, that percentage rose to 88 percent. BlackBerry is still the leading smartphone platform for our respondents overall at 46 percent, but the iPhone has surged to 35 percent and Android is creeping upwards at 17 percent. Interestingly, at small firms with two to nine attorneys, the iPhone is actually the leading smartphone platform (46 percent to BlackBerry’s 33 percent).

This year, we added new questions about app usage on smartphones. We found that 27 percent of our respondents have downloaded a legal-specific app for their smartphone, and 28 percent have downloaded a general business app. The leading legal-specific app was Fastcase, while the leading general business app was Dragon Dictation.

Though tablets have only been on the market a short time, we're already seeing strong adoption. Overall, 15 percent of our respondents reported using a tablet device for work outside of their primary workplace. At the largest law firms, those with 500 or more attorneys, that percentage rose to 26 percent. The iPad is by far the leading brand reported overall at 89 percent.

More lawyers working on the go using mobile devices and Wi-Fi Internet connections raises concerns about security measures for these vulnerable technologies. What does the survey reveal about security?

Our respondents are using a wide variety of security methods for their mobile technology, but on both their laptops (92 percent) and smartphones (73 percent), password protection is the top security measure. Around 15 percent of attorneys are using file/data encryption on their laptops and 14 percent are using full disk encryption. On smartphones, just 8 percent of respondents reported using encryption.

After password protection, the most popular security precautions for smartphone users were remote data wiping (13 percent) and tracking software (10 percent). An alarming 23 percent of smartphone users reported that they take no security precautions, versus just 7 percent of laptop users.

On the Wi-Fi front, 43 percent of respondents reported using public wireless networks. Among those respondents, the top security measures were virtual private networks at 39 percent, followed by some type of remote access software (27 percent), and using secure SSL/HTTPS website connections (22 percent). Fifteen percent of respondents used no security measures when using public Wi-Fi networks.

What does the 2011 survey say about software? What are the trends worth noting?

One of the biggest trends in legal software right now is the movement to cloud-based solutions, or Software as a Service.

We significantly expanded our questions on the cloud this year and found some interesting results. For example, among those respondents who currently use a cloud tool for law-related tasks, the three most important benefits identified were browser access from anywhere (70 percent), 24/7 availability (55 percent), and low cost of entry and predictable monthly expense (49 percent).

Some respondents have eschewed the cloud, and when asked why, the top factors cited were a lack of familiarity with the technology (63 percent), confidentiality/security concerns (47 percent), and concerns about reduced control over their data as a result of it being hosted on a third-party server (41 percent).

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The work of the Special Committee on Disaster Response and Preparedness this past year raised the importance of business continuity planning. What does the survey reveal about such plans as well as data backup and other measures to ensure business continuity?

We asked respondents specifically whether their firm has a disaster recovery business continuity plan, and 59 percent responded affirmatively. The larger the firm, the more likely it is to have such a plan, peaking at 83 percent at firms with 500 or more attorneys. Respondents from the larger firms are also more likely to be in the dark about whether their firm has such a plan, with 29 percent of respondents from firms of 100-499 attorneys answering that they "don't know" and 17 percent answering similarly at firms with 500 or more attorneys.

Overall, only 3 percent of our respondents admitted that their firm doesn’t back up at all. The percentage of respondents who don’t know if they back up—21 percent—is more worrisome, but at least in the case of the largest firms (where 54 percent of respondents didn’t know), it’s probably safe to assume that there is a backup strategy of some sort. Of those who specified a method for backup, the top three responses were offsite (37 percent), external hard drives (33 percent) and tape backup (22 percent). Nearly 30 percent of solo respondents are backing up online.

To underscore just how important these strategies are, we asked respondents if their firm has experienced a hard drive failure or a natural/man-made disaster. Just over 43 percent of respondents overall have experienced a hard drive failure, and 16 percent overall have experienced a natural or man-made disaster. Respondents from the largest firms (500+ attorneys) were most likely to report having experienced a natural disaster (37 percent).

The legal hiring market really hasn't improved much since the recent recession, indicating that many law firms continue to struggle. How has the economy affected technology budgets?

In our 2008 survey, shortly before the economic crisis, 49 percent of the respondents whose firms budgeted for technology reported that their budgets had increased versus the prior year. In 2009, that number plummeted to 29 percent. This year, it's up slightly to 34 percent, but clearly we haven't returned to the level of budget growth seen prior to the crisis.

Interestingly, firms appear more likely to freeze budgets rather than cutting them. In 2009, 15 percent of respondents reported that their firms had decreased their budget, while 34 percent—a plurality—reported that budgets had stayed the same. This year, 11 percent of respondents reported decreased technology budgets and 28 percent reported that their budgets stayed the same.

Many lawyers say that the ABA Legal Technology Survey Report is a vital practice tool. How do lawyers and law firms use the report?

One unique aspect of the Legal Technology Survey Report is that it's based entirely on responses from practicing attorneys rather than IT staff, consultants or vendors. As a result, it provides law firms with accurate insights into the technology other attorneys are actually using.

To make benchmarking simpler and more accurate, each question in the survey is broken down by the number of attorneys in the firm (solo, 2-9, 10-49, 50-99, 100-499 and 500+). Firms can use this data to compare their technology directly to the technology at similarly sized firms, or they can look to larger or smaller firms for potential opportunities.

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