General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division

Technology & Practice Guide

What’s Hot: Technology Trends for Smaller Law Firms

The ABA Legal Technology Resource Center conducted its Survey of Automation in Smaller Law Firms in February 1996 to explore the current state of technology in private law firms with 20 or fewer lawyers. The survey was divided into two questionnaires: one designed for individual lawyers focused on how they use technology and their attitudes and expectations for future developments; and the other developed for firms that examined firm-wide technology issues such as products in use, the procurement process, and future purchase plans.

What the Survey Found

While the percentage of lawyers using computers appears to have leveled off at 84 percent, this statistic belies the significant changes in technology use by smaller law firms. Advances in hardware performance, continuously declining prices, and lawyers’ ever-increasing expectations of technology have driven a migration toward higher-end hardware.

Most lawyers can access libraries, government offices, and colleagues around the world by simply using a computer equipped with a modem. Many of the 68 percent of respondents who reported using a computer away from the office are remotely connected to their workplace via a modem. Thirty-two percent of respondents have acquired the ability to work anywhere by using a portable computer.

Almost all firms reported investing in new or upgraded software this year. Time and billing, word processing, and legal research programs continue to be the most widely used software products. Firms are also investing in software that facilitates the sharing of information, such as internal e-mail, external e-mail, conflict of interest, litigation support, and work product retrieval database software.

Seventy-seven percent of smaller law firms responded that they now have CD-ROM capabilities, a sharp increase from the 33 percent reported two years earlier. More than 85 percent report having legal-specific and/or general interest online services. Fifty-eight percent of firms use the Internet for research, marketing, and communicating with colleagues, clients, and accessing courts.

Start me up . Ready to try Windows 95? Of the individual lawyers surveyed, 15.1 percent reported already having Windows 95, and a whopping 68.9 percent reported plans to upgrade to or purchase Windows 95 in 1996.

Have laptop, will travel. Are you a road warrior? For individual lawyers, 32 percent reported having portable computers (both IBM-compatible and Macintosh), and many more reported plans to use them in 1996.

Integrated practice systems. Who’s using legal-specific office suites such as Amicus Attorney, CaseLode, Jurisprudence Management System, and ProLaw? Of the firms, 80.2 percent reported that they do not have an integrated firm practice management program. And 93.8 percent of the individual lawyers reported that they don’t use an integrated firm practice management program.

But the use of generic integrated desktop suites is more widespread. For firms, 22.6 percent have Microsoft Office and 16.5 percent have Novell PerfectOffice. For individual lawyers, 17.7 percent use Microsoft Office and 8.8 percent use Novell PerfectOffice. You may want to note that Corel has purchased WordPerfect from Novell since these results were originally obtained.

Access to the Internet. Has everybody gone surfing? The responses indicated that 54.9 percent of firms have lawyers who have Internet access. But 42.2 percent of firms reported that nobody at their firms had Internet access. Of those who do not currently have Internet access, 42.1 percent reported plans to obtain access during 1996. What are firms using the Internet for? The top four reported uses are legal research; nonlegal research communicating with colleagues; and communicating with clients.

Individual lawyers’ responses indicated that 37.6 percent use the Internet. Of those who do not currently have Internet access, 44.9 percent reported plans to obtain access during 1996. The top four Internet activities for individual lawyers are: Nonlegal research; legal research; communicating with colleagues; and private discussion groups.

The Legal Technology Resource Center is conducting two surveys for 1997: the Small Law Firm Technology Survey and, new this year, a Large Law Firm Technology Survey. Results will be published in June 1997.


Source: Adapted from 1996 Survey Report, Survey of Automation in Smaller Law Firms, ABA Legal Technology Resource Center. For more information about this survey or the 1997 reports, contact the Legal Technology Resource Center at 312/988-5465 or send e-mail to

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