Solo and Small Firm Technology

ABA TECHREPORT 2015

Richard Ferguson

With over 35 years of experience in business and commercial law, Richard Ferguson practices law in Edmonton, AB Canada at a small business law firm, Lynass, Ferguson & Shoctor. In September 2009 Richard was inducted as a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management. Richard is a past chair of the Canadian Bar Association’s Law Practice Management and Technology Section. He remains very active in the CBA and is also a frequent presenter at legal technology conferences both in Canada and the USA. 

This year’s TECHREPORT for solos and small firms is taking a slightly different approach than past versions, and attempts to answer three questions that most solos and small firms might have:

1. What legal technologies are other solos and small firms using?
2. What are the trends in technology used in solos and small firms?
3. What technologies are solos and small firms not utilizing which are in use by larger firms?

We will start by looking at the hardware, then the software, and then discuss the potential for enhanced technology use by solos and small firms. Note that brand names, where reported, are aggregated among all firm sizes and aren’t necessarily specific to solo/small firms.


Primary Computer


The ABA 2015 Legal Technology Survey Report looks at what kinds of computers lawyers have available in their firm or practice and compares that to what lawyers actually use. Overall, the use of desktop computers is at its lowest level in the past five years, and conversely the use of laptops is at its highest level. In solo firms, 52% of those surveyed reported having a desktop computer available in their office, however 82% of solos actually use laptop computers in their practice. The personal use of laptops by solos is the highest of any group surveyed although such use is down slightly from the five-year high of 85% reported for solos in 2013. 68% of small firms reported having desktops in their practice, and 79% of those surveyed reported using desktops for personal use. It would seem that the use of desktop computers in small firms is trending upwards while the use of laptop computers predominates the solo practitioner firm.

Dell computers were the brand preference for lawyers at 38%, however, this represents a decline from a high of 47% in 2014. HP (21%), Lenovo (20%), and Apple (18%) are the other major brands used by respondents.


Operating System


Windows 7 is used by 47% of firms surveyed (down from a high of 54% in 2014) with Windows 8 usage increasing to 26% from 15% in 2014. Windows XP is still alive in 10% of firms surveyed even though it is no longer supported by Microsoft. The Macintosh operating system is used in 8% of firms surveyed, however, amongst solos, Mac is present in 16% of firms (up from 14% last year), and in small firms is at 9% (up from 6% in 2014).

Servers


36% of solos and 80% of small firms utilize servers in their practice. The industry average for utilization of servers amongst lawyers is 81% with larger firms reporting 86%-95% use of servers. Use of servers in small firms reflects a reduction in use of 10% from 2014. Dell servers (45%) and HP (19%) are the dominate brands in this category.


Tablet


The 2015 Survey reports that 60% of law firms have tablets available; this is the highest reported presence of tablets in law firms ever reported by the Survey. The personal use of tablets by lawyers in their legal practice is highest amongst solos (47%) and small firms (46%) as compared to other sizes of firms which report usage of 35%-40%.

The Apple iPad reports use of 78% (down from 96% in 2011) followed by Windows Surface at 12% (up from 5% in 2014) and Samsung at 11% (up from 1% in 2014). 

Smart Phones


The 2015 Survey reports use of smart phones by solo practitioners at 82% (a steady climb of 3% per year in the last three years) and 74% by small firms. The small firm usage reported shows a surprising decline in use from a 2013 high of 80% in small firms.


The highest rate of use of smart phones in legal practice is by lawyers in the 40-49 year old age range (85%) with the lowest usage reported by under 40 years of age (75%). 


The Apple iPhone is the predominant brand of smartphone used (77%,up from 74% in 2014) followed by Samsung (24%), Blackberry (13%), and Motorola at 7%. The Blackberry use shows a slowing rate of decline but still a dramatic change from previous years.


Printers


The following table shows the presence of printers in law firms of all sizes:

Surprisingly, the availability and usage of black and white laser printers shows a sharp decline since 2014. The use of black and white laser printers for firms of all sizes (66%) is down from a 79% high in 2014.


InkJet Printers


The use of inkjet printers by solos (56%) and small firms (60%) represents the highest presence of inkjet technologies amongst all lawyers surveyed with 41% of solos reporting personal use of inkjet printers. The predominant brand is HP (69%), with Canon at 19% and Brother at 14%.


Black and White Laser Printers 


Only 51% of solos surveyed report actual use of black and white laser technology (the least of all lawyers), with solos and small firms showing the next lowest usage of black and white laser technology at 66%. HP leads the black and white laser technology vendors at 64%, with Brother at 16% and Canon 12%.


Color Laser Printers


Although the availability of color laser printers in solo firms (41%) and small firms (69%) represents a dramatic increase in the availability of this technology, it is far below the averages for firms of  10+ lawyers who report 90%+ as having such technology available. The actual use of color laser printers is lowest amongst solos (26%) and small firms (42%). Both of these represent the lowest usage of color lasers amongst lawyers. HP is the predominant brand (51%) followed by Canon (18%), Ricoh (12%), and Xerox (8%). 


Multifunction Devices 


The 2015 Survey reports nearly all firms (90%+) have such technology available, although 73% of solos and 71% of small firms report personal use of such technology. Such use represents a reduction of 5% in the last year, whereas the use of multifunction devices has grown in larger firms. The HP brand at 30%, followed by Canon (19%), and Ricoh and Brother at 13% each, are the other brands of multifunction devices reported in use by lawyers.


Scanners


Flat Bed Scanners


The presence of flatbed scanners in law firms since the 2014 Survey remains relatively stable at 66%, with use of those scanners highest amongst solos (56%) and small firms (47%). The predominant brand of flatbed scanners in use is HP at 41% (up 5% since last year) and Canon at 20%.


Sheet Fed Scanner


Eighty-three percent of lawyers surveyed from firms of all sizes report having a sheet fed scanner in their firm (up 11% since 2014). Amongst solo firms, 80% report having a sheet fed scanner and 87% of small firms report having sheet fed scanners in their firms. The personal use of sheet fed scanners is highest amongst solos (76%) and small firm lawyers (79%).


HP sheet fed scanners at 24%(up from 17% a year ago), Canon at 18%(down from 22% in 2014), and Fujitsu at 15% are the predominant brands.


Data Storage


Online data storage is reported as being available in 72% of solo practices and 69% of small firms, with the highest rates of usage by lawyers in all firm sizes being solos at 61% and small firms at 62%.


Dropbox (60%), iCloud (28%), and Carbonite (10%) dominate this category. 


External Harddrives


The personal use of external hard drives amongst solo practitioners and small firms is 72%, with Seagate (46%), Western Digital (43%), and Iomega (7%) being the brand leaders.


Communications


The rates of usage of communications software show virtually no change in use rates in the last 12 months, however, there are some small changes within categories.


Email 


Outlook (75%), Web-based email (17%), Outlook Express (11%), and Apple Mail (7%) are the dominant email programs in use, with Outlooks’ predominance being reduced 7% in the last 12 months.


Contact Management Software


Seventy-four percent of solos and 78% of small firms use some form of contact management software, with Outlook being the predominant software used at76%, followed by Time Matters (6%), PC Law (5%), and Interaction (5%). The use of contact management software is down very slightly from the usage rates reported in 2014.


Remote Access Software 


Citrix (39%), Log Me In (21%), GoToMyPC (13%), and Apple (7%) are the dominant brands of remote access software used by law firms, with use by solos at 38% and small firms at 58%, trailing the usage by larger law firms (80%).


Electronic Fax Software


Fifty-five percent of solos and 49% of small firm practitioners report personal use of electronic fax software, with eFax (35%), Right Fax (16%), and My Fax (13%) being the dominant brands.


Instant Messaging


The use of instant messaging in their practices is highest amongst solos (36%) and small firms (30%), with iChat (24%), Google Chat (22%), Windows Messenger (19%), and Outlook Communicator (10%) being the dominant software solutions.


Voice Recognition Software


Solo practitioners (34%) and small firm practitioners (17%) are the highest personal users of voice recognition software amongst all lawyers surveyed, with Dragon Natural Speaking (81%), MacSpeech (10%), and Cisco (4%) being the dominant brands.


Document Software


PDF Creation


Eighty-seven percent of solos and 83% of small firms use some form of software to create  PDF files, with Adobe (89%), Word Perfect (10%), and Nuance PDF Creator (7%) being the dominant brands. 


Redlining Software


Although more than 70% of solos and small firms report having redlining software available, this is far below the 97% access statistic reported by firms of 100+ lawyers. 57% of solos and 50% of small firm practitioners report using redlining software in their practices. Microsoft Word (77%), Word Perfect (13%), Comparite (11%), and Delta View (7%) are the dominant brands in this category.


Document Management


The availability and use of document management software in solos and small firms is far below the statistics reported for lawyers from firms of all sizes. 56% of all lawyers report having document management software in their firm, and of those, 46% report personally using it. Meanwhile, 35% of solo firms report having document management software but only 26% report using it. In small firms, 45% have access to document management software but only 36% report personal use. Overall, both the availability and usage of document management software amongst lawyers seems to be down from 2014. iManage (21%), Worldox (15%), and Docs Open (11%) are the leading brands in this category.


Document Assembly


The availability and use statistics for document assembly software seems to be very similar amongst solos, small firms, and lawyers from larger firms: 44%-50% of lawyers report having access to document assembly software, and 36% report personally using such software in their practices. Hot Docs is the most used software at 32% (down from 40% in 2014) followed by Pro Doc (13%), Microsoft Word (7%), and ProLaw (6%).


Software


Word Processing


Solo practitioners report the lowest personal use of word processing software (91%) and associates in law firms of all sizes report the highest use (97%). The predominant software used is Microsoft Word at98%, with Corel Word Perfect a distant second at 18%. Note that some firms use multiple word processing platforms. 


Calendaring Software


Seventy-one percent of solo practitioners surveyed report use of calendaring software (down from 78% in previous years), whereas small firms report an increased use of calendaring software (81%) since last year’s report. The most common calendaring software reported in use is Outlook at76%, followed by Google Calendar (8%), Time Matters (4%), and iCal (4%).


Spreadsheet Software


The usage of spreadsheet software is a consistent 65% across firms of all sizes with Microsoft Excel holding the largest market share at98%, followed by Quick Books (6%), and Corel Quattro (5%).


Time and Billing Software


Although present in 62% of solo practices and 79% of small firm practices, the report of usage of time and billing software by solo practitioners (50%) and small firm practitioners (56%) both represent reductions in utilization from previous years. The most common software applications are Quick Book 6 (13%), Timeslits (12%), PC Law (9%), and Tabs (8%).


Presentation Software


The utilization of presentation software is lowest amongst small firm practitioners (44%) and solo practitioners (46%). Perhaps this is a result of the kinds of practices carried on by solo and small firm practitioners. The most common software applications are Microsoft Powerpoint (96%), Trial Director (7%), Apple Keynote (6%), and Corel Presentations (5%).


Accounting


 The average availability of accounting software in firms of all sizes is 74% whereas the availability in solo practices is only 67%. In small firms, the presence of accounting software is 83% (down from the previous high of 90% in 2013). That said, the highest reported personal use of accounting software by lawyers is by solo practitioners (55%) compared to overall average of 35%. The differentiation in these numbers may be due to the fact that in larger firms the utilization of accounting software is most commonly handled by support staff, not by attorneys. The most common software used are Quickbooks (42%), Elite/Quicken (10%), and PC Law (9%).


Database Software


The 2015 Survey reports the availability of database software in solo practices at 42%, down from 50%+ during the previous three years. Database software is most present in larger firms, however, only 30% of practitioners report personal use of such software (down 6% from last year’s results). The most common software used for database functions are Microsoft Access (71%), SQL (14%), and Filemaker PRO (5%).


Electronic Billing Software


Although present in the smaller percentage of solo and small firm practices, electronic billing software is most used by small firm practitioners (40%) and solo practitioners (32%). The lower level of the utilization by lawyers in large firms is probably because this is a staff function in larger firms.


Project Management


Amongst lawyers and firms of all sizes, the average availability of this kind of software is still very low at 25% versus 15% in solo practices and 22% in small firm practices. The most common software used is Microsoft Project at 44% (8% higher than previous reports), Case Map at 32% (down from 40% in 2013), and Mind Map at 7%.


Image Scanner Software


 Eighty-four percent of solos and 80% of small firm practitioners use image scanning software—the highest amongst lawyers in firms of all sizes. The most common software used is Adobe Acrobat (87%), ScanSoft (11%), PaperPort (7%), eCopy (6%), and Onnithee (4%).


Text/OCR Software


The personal use of this software by solos and small firms is near 70%, which is above the average for all lawyers surveyed. The most common software utilized is Adobe Acrobat at 85%, followed by ScanSoft (11%), PaperPort (7%), with eCopy and Omnipage at 4% each.


Legal Specific Software


Case/Practice Management Software


Solo practitioners report that 31% have access to this kind of software for use in their practice, and 30% of solos report personal use of this software in their practices. The personal use statistic is, however, up 5% over the reported use last year. In small firms nearly 50% have case/practice management software available to them, but only 37% report personal use, a decline of 5% from the previous year (but still above the overall average of the 36% for lawyers in firms of all sizes). The most common software in this category is Outlook at 49%, followed by Casemap (11%), Clio (10%), Time Matters (9%), and PC Law (7%).

Conflict Checking Software


Of the solo and small firm practitioners, 25%-30% report using conflict checking software in their practice (well below the overall average of 36% for lawyers in firms of all sizes). The most common conflict checking software utilized are PC Law (13%), Time Matters (11%), and the Elite (10%).


Rules Based Calendaring 


This kind of software is not commonly available in solo and small firm practices (21%-32%), however, only 17% of solo and small firms report personal use of such software in their practices. The most common software in this category is Compulaw (16%) and Pro Law (14%).


Security Software


More than 90% of firms surveyed, including solo practitioners, report use of antivirus software, with the most common brands being Norton/Symantec (40%), McAfee (32%), Kaspersky (11%), and AVG (10%).


Encryption Software


The use of encryption software by firms of all sizes is reported to be 50%. Solos report the availability of such software at 38% and small firms at 42%, but the lowest users of encryption software are solos and small firms at 23%. In this category, Outlook reports 38%, with Norton/Symentec (25%) and Apple (12%) following.


Lawyer Satisfaction


Lawyer satisfaction with document assembly, records/document management, and time and billing and case management software is 89%+ in the categories “somewhat satisfactory” or “very satisfactory.  In all categories, however, the percentage of lawyers very satisfied with the software is less than it was in previous years, with an equivalent increase in the number of attorneys reporting that they are somewhat satisfied.


Intranet and Extranet


Although predominantly present in larger firms, only 8% of solo practitioners reported availability of extranets in their practice. 22% of small firm practitioners reported accessing client hosted extranets as part of their practice. 84% of extranets are used for lawyer access, while staff use is reported at 48% and client use at 33%.


Summary


Solos and small firms report the top utilization of laptops, Macintosh computers, smartphones, tablets, and voice recognition software. A reflection of less printing being done by solos and small firms is the current highest use of scanners and online storage. 


Solos and small firms report lower usage of servers, black and white laser printers, remote access software, and document management software than firms of larger sizes. 


The predominant number of the 2015 Survey respondents are from solos and small firms which may slightly affect the percentages reported, but the results do appear to confirm that solos and small firms, in some respect, are industry leading innovators in utilization of technologies in their smaller practices.


For solos and small firms, the choices of hardware and software solutions are numerous, and a large consideration for the decision to purchase is dependent upon the availability of product support and training. Do not hesitate to contact other practitioners in your area for their take on what software works best in their practices, but also keep in contact with the online resources and publications of the American Bar Association’s Law Practice Division and its Legal Technology Resource Center which provide ongoing information and product reviews for lawyers.


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