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Legal Technology Trends

Each year, the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center (LTRC) surveys ABA members about their use of technology. This year, more than 2,500 ABA members in private practice in the United States returned questionnaires relating to law office computing, litigation and courtroom technology, Web-based communications, online research and mobile technology. Here are just a few of the highlights from the 2006 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report, sponsored by LexisNexis and Thomson West.

 

What's Hot

Disaster Plants

Disaster recovery planning is on the rise: Over half of respondents (54%) now have disaster recovery plans, up from 42% in the 2004-2005 survey.

 

Mobility

PDA, smart phone, BlackBerry and laptop use is increasing. Overall, 35% reported that their firms had purchased either a PDA, smart phone or BlackBerry in the past six months, compared to 23% in the 2004-2005 survey. Additionally, the number of solos saying they had never purchased one of these devices fell to 48% from 56% in the previous survey. Twenty-three percent of overall respondents plan to buy a PDA, smart phone or BlackBerry within the next six months, an increase over last year's 15%. As for laptop use, 82% of respondents said laptop computers were available at their firms, up from 71% in the 2004-2005 survey, and 66% in the 2002 survey. And 25% of all respondents are planning to buy a laptop within the next year.

 

Firm Web Sites

Almost three-quarters of respondents' firms (73%) have Web sites, the highest figure in the past four surveys. Solos and small firms are the least likely to have firm Web sites (40% and 65%, respectively). Web content creation is handled by various parties—multiple lawyers at the firm (38%), one lawyer at the firm (22%) and marketing staff (16%). The use of outside consultants to create content has increased to 24% from about 6% in the past three surveys. As for other forms of Web communication, only 9% of respondents said they were aware of someone in their firm maintaining a blog, while 55% said there was no one in their firm maintaining a blog. E-lawyering initiatives are stagnant: Self-help legal guides (12%) are the only online service offered on more than 10% of respondents' firm Web sites, while other services such as client intake questionnaires (just shy of 10%), online form preparation (5%), real-time consultations (2%), online dispute resolution (less than 1%) and expert systems (1%) showed no significant gains over previous years.

 

E-Information

Almost all respondents (96%) use the Internet to read news and current events. They report using the following online resources for current awareness one or more times per week: third-party Web sites (69%), e-mail newsletters (52%), e-mail discussion lists (39%), e-mail case alert services (31%) and online advance sheet services (25%). As for newer technologies, blogs are only being used for current awareness one or more times per week by 10% of respondents, with 62% saying they never use them. RSS feeds and podcasts are not widely used as current awareness tools either, with 88% of respondents saying they never use RSS feeds and 90% never using podcasts.

 

Free Research

Eighty-seven percent of respondents conduct legal research using free online resources—a 14% increase over the 2004-2005 survey. When asked which one free Web site they used most often overall for legal research, respondents ranked Findlaw.com first at 39%, followed by state bar associations (26%), other sites (14%) and Cornell's Legal Information Institute (12%). Solos were more likely to use their state bar sites, while large firm respondents were more likely to choose Findlaw.com.

 

Flat-Fee Resources

Most respondents (83%) also use fee-based online legal research sources. Almost three-quarters (74%) have a negotiated flat-rate fee structure for their online legal research providers, more than in the previous survey (55%).

 

Desktop CLE

Both teleconferences and live webcasts saw big jumps this year: 56% of respondents said they had attended a teleconference—up 20% over last year—while 45% said they had attended a live webcast—up 18% over the 2004-2005 results. The top three types of CLE events attended by respondents are traditional live seminars (92%), teleconferences (56%), and videotapes and live webcasts (45% each).

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