For roughly the past two decades, the ABA Legal Technology Survey Report has polled lawyers for their opinions about the legal technology options available to them.
According to the results of the 2017 Survey, the state of technology training for lawyers is improving, albeit slowly, as more lawyers recognize the importance and availability of this training.
Overall, 83.4% of respondents indicated it was “very important” or “somewhat important” to receive training on their firm's technology. Those responding that it was “not very important” or “not at all important” were only 16.6%. Even though this is a relatively low percentage, it is still too high.
Overall, the responses break down this way:
- 45.9% — “Very important”
- 37.5% — “Somewhat important”
- 12.4% — “Not very important”
- 4.2% — “Not at all important
It’s heartening to see a slight increase in 2017 to 83.4% compared to 2016 when 81.4% of respondents felt the same (43.4% responding “very important” and 38% responding “somewhat important”).
Digging deeper into the numbers, however, uncovers some troubling trends regarding certain groups’ attitudes and access to technology training.
For example, respondents to the 2017 Survey who were solo practitioners or practiced in firms of 2-9 lawyers were more likely to respond that it was “not very important” to receive training on their firm’s technology, and less likely to respond that it was “very important” or “somewhat important.”
Solo respondents were also more likely to respond that receiving such training is not important.
While the continued prevalence of these negative attitudes remains troubling, at least the 2017 Survey results show a slight improvement from the 2016 Survey, when 7.2% of solo respondents found this training to be “not at all important,” and 21.1% of respondents from firms of 2-9 attorneys found it to be “not very important.”
Who's Getting Training
The 2017 Survey results indicate that nearly three-quarters of respondents (74.3%) are receiving some sort of training at their firm. This is a slight increase from the 70.5% who reported having such training available in the 2016 Survey.
These numbers belie the fact that solo and small firm attorneys are reporting significantly less access to technology training than their peers in larger firms. Solo practitioners were nearly twice as likely to respond that they had “no training” available at 49.0% (versus 25.7%) of all respondents. Respondents from firms of 2-9 attorneys fare slightly better than solos, but 33.5% of them still responded that they had “no training available.” Respondents of firms from 10-49 attorneys report a lower incidence of having “no training available,” with only 11.1% of them choosing this response.
The percentage of “no training available” responses from the larger firm attorneys (2.5% of respondents from firms of 100-499 attorneys and 1.5% of respondents from firms of 500+ attorneys) make the aggregate average look much better than it is for the majority of respondents and firm sizes(solos through firms of 50-99).
Compared with previous years’ responses, solo and small firm practitioners appear to have lost significant ground in the availability of training. In the 2016 Survey, only 9.3% of solo practitioners and 9.0% of respondents from firms from 10-49 attorneys indicated that they had “no training available,” versus the 2017 numbers of 49.0% and 33.5%
The good news for these solo and small firm respondents is that this training may actually already be available to many of them—if they know where to look for it.
Where Are Attorneys Getting Their Technology Training
Collectively, respondents are most likely to have technology training from web-based classes offered by vendors/manufacturers available to them (42.4%).
This is true for solo practitioners (31.7%), respondents from firms between 2-9 attorneys (41.1%), and from firms of 10-49 attorneys (52.4%).
Respondents at larger firms are most likely to have technology training from “live classes offered by in-house staff” available to them—84.4% of respondents from firms of 100-499 attorneys and 90.0% of respondents from firms of 500+ attorneys.
The next type of training most likely to be available to respondents as a whole are tutorials included with software programs, with 34.2% indicating that this type of technology training is available to them. It is the respondents in smaller firms, however, that are more likely to have this option available, with 27.9% of solo practitioners and 40.7% of respondents from firms of 10-49 attorneys reporting so.
For larger firm respondents, the next type of technology training most available varied by firm size; for larger firm respondents, it was training offered by vendors/manufacturers. There was a difference, however, in how the training was delivered. For respondents from firms of 50-99 attorneys and 500+ attorneys, training was delivered via web-based classes offered by vendors/manufacturers (55.6% and 44.8%, respectively). For respondents from firms of 100-499 attorneys, training was delivered via live classes offered by vendors/manufacturers(51.3%).
The technology training options least likely to be available to respondents of the 2017 Survey are:
- Web-based classes offered by outside organizations (not including vendors/manufacturers), 20.5%
- Live classes offered by outside organizations (not including vendors/manufacturers), 14.0%
- CD/DVD/videos, 11.4%
Why Technology Training is Important
Many readers of this article might wonder why technology training is even important for lawyers who are skilled and knowledgeable about practicing in their chosen area(s) of practice.
The first reason gets right to lawyer effectiveness and productivity. The more time lawyers spend trying to make software X fill in the blank, the less time that lawyer spends actually handling client matters or generating new clients. This is especially true for the solo or small firm attorney, for whom technology in general, and software in particular, can increase productivity and help them compete with larger firms that have more human resources.
The 2017 Survey did not ask respondents why they might believe technology training is not important, but we can imagine them falling into at least two categories: those who don’t use technology in their practice, and those who believe that they are already proficient in the use of the technology they use in their practice.
Attorneys should not rely on their own belief that they are “good enough” at using the software deployed in their firm. Self-assessment of one’s skills is notoriously inaccurate. In their research, social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University identified people’s general tendency to, “fail to adequately assess their level of competence—or specifically, their incompetence—at a task and thus consider themselves much more competent than everyone else;” a principle that has come to be known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Generally, their research found:
- The least competent performers inflate their abilities the most.
- That the reason for the over-inflation seems to be ignorance, not arrogance.
- That chronic self-beliefs, however inaccurate, underlie both people’s over and under-estimations of how well they’re doing.
In short, people don’t know what they don’t know, and therefore think they know more than they do.
The purpose of this article is not to use the 2017 Survey results to argue that technology is a panacea to solve every problem a lawyer might encounter in their practice. But, we are long past the time when it can be reasonably argued that a lawyer can provide effective representation to their clients without it. The purpose of this article is to remind lawyers that any technology tool is useless to users if they do not know how to use it properly; that if they’re using technology in their practices (and they should be), then they should be getting training to use that technology more effectively.
That said, some level of training would even benefit attorneys not using the software directly. This training would familiarize them with the software’s capabilities so that these non-users could understand what those attorneys and staff in their firms who do use it are capable of producing. A lawyer who has some idea of what the firm’s case management software can produce will make much more realistic requests to their direct reports than a lawyer who thinks any request for information is possible because “it’s on the computer.”
Another reason technology training is increasingly important is that the majority of bar associations in the U.S. are familiar with “the risks and benefits associated with technology” mentioned in the Model Rules of Professional Conduct.
The Rules of Professional Conduct
In 2012, the American Bar Association formally approved a change to Comment 8 of Rule 1.1 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, making it clear that one measure of a lawyer’s competence is tied to knowledge about technology related to their practice.
The amended comment reads:
To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, [emphasis added] engage in continuing study and education and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject.
As of this writing, 28 states have adopted this comment (either verbatim or with local changes) as part of their respective Rules of Professional Conduct. (This is five more states than had adopted it when we reported the results of the 2016 Survey.) They are:
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- West Virginia
While there are still critics of this amended comment who believe the ABA has promulgated unnecessary changes that “might as well say water is wet,” knowing what resources are available and how they can be used to effectively represent your client is clearly not that obvious to everyone.
When lawyers were asked whether or not lawyers are required to stay abreast of the benefits and risks of technology as part of their basic competency requirement under their jurisdiction’s enactment of the rules of professional conduct, nearly 40% of the respondents either said “no” (19.2%) or “don’t know” (20.6%).
It is possible that the respondents who chose “no” might practice in one (or more) of the 22 states that have not adopted some form of this new comment, so their responses might be correct. However, it is alarming that one-fifth of respondents just “don’t know” whether or not they have such a requirement.
At least the 2017 responses represent an improvement over 2016 Survey results, where nearly half of the respondents said that they “don’t know” (22.1%).
As more states adopt this new standard, lawyers cannot ignore this new focus on technology aptitude. One state has taken it a step further. Beginning January 1, 2017, lawyers admitted to the Florida Bar are now required to take a minimum of three hours of technology-related CLE courses during each three-year CLE compliance period.
Even states that have not yet adopted this new comment are recognizing that technology training is an important part of a lawyer’s ability to effectively and competently represent their clients. For example, some of these states have based their ethics opinions on the new comment and have even granted ethics credits for technology-related in-person and web-based CLE programs.
The Federation of Law Societies of Canada is considering a similar amendment to its Model Rules of Professional Conduct, but its wording and definition of “relevant technology” may be a bit narrower than the language adopted in the United States.
The proposed new Comment 5A to Federation Model Rule of Professional Conduct Rule 3.1-2 reads:
To maintain the required level of competence, a lawyer should develop and maintain a facility with technology relevant to the nature and area of the lawyer’s practice and responsibilities. A lawyer should understand the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, recognizing the lawyer’s duty to protect confidential information set out in section 3.3.
As of this writing, the comment and its specific wording are out to the individual Law Societies for feedback and discussion. It remains to be seen what the final language might be, if approved, or how it might be interpreted.
With the growing number of jurisdictions adopting the new technology competency Comment, lawyers can no longer claim ignorance of technology as an excuse for not knowing or not doing something the court or the bar believe they should have known or done.
Not Everybody is Getting the Message
While 83.4% of respondents who indicated training was “very important,” these overall percentages are not as good as they may seem because they are skewed by large firm responses: 52.2% of respondents from 500+ attorney firms said training was “very important,” 55.7% of respondents from 100-499 attorney firms and 62.2% of respondents from 50-99 attorney firms answered similarly.
However, only 41.0% of solo attorney respondents indicated that it was “very important” for them to receive training on their firm's’ technology—a 1.5% reduction from the 42.5% in 2016. Respondents from firms of 2-9 attorneys are even less likely to believe that this training is “very important,” with only 38.9% of those respondents indicating so. At least this is a 4.1% increase from 2016 when only 34.8% of respondents from firms of 2-9 attorneys responded this way.
It remains troubling, however, that 16.6% of all respondents believe that this training is either “not very important” (12.4%) or “not at all important” (4.2%). Here again, we’re left wondering how efficiently these lawyers are serving their clients. There is some comfort, at least, in the fact the prevalence of these negative opinions has dropped slightly from the 18.6% who responded the same way to the 2016 Survey—when 14.5% responded “not very important”—although 4.1% responded, “not at all important.”
Even more troubling is who thinks that training is “not very important” or “not at all important.” Solo respondents (24.7%) are the most likely to report that they consider it “not very important” (19.0%) or “not at all important” (5.7%) for them to receive training on their firms’ technology. They are followed by respondents from firms of 2-9 attorneys (20.1%; “not very important” 16.3%, “not at all important” 3.8%), respondents from firms of 500 or more attorneys (12.0%; “not very important” 4.5%, “not at all important” 7.5%), respondents from firms of 100-499 attorneys (8.9%; “not very important” 5.1%, “not at all important” 3.8%), respondents from firms of 10-49 attorneys (8.1%; “not very important” 7.3%, “not at all important” 0.8%), respondents from firms of 50-99 attorneys (6.6%; “not very important” 2.2%, “not at all important” 4.4%).
Solo and small firm (2-9) attorneys probably have the most to gain from training on the software (and other technology) they use, yet they are still more likely than the overall average to respond that it is “not at all important” to receive this training. The incremental increases in productivity and effectiveness they would achieve with such training would allow them to deliver the best possible service to their clients, manage more clients, and increase revenue.
In their book How to Do More in Less Time: The Complete Guide to Increasing Your Productivity and Improving Your Bottom Line, (published by the ABA Law Practice Division) authors Allison Shields and Daniel Siegel illustrate the point this way:
“If you store files in a file room, it could take you one minute to get up from your desk and go to the room, another thirty seconds to find the file, and then another minute to go back to your desk. That’s two and a half minutes, and if you do this ten times a day, that’s two hours a week, or over 100 hours (two and a half weeks) a year, doing nothing but getting up to find files. And we haven’t even factored in the time it takes to find what you’re looking for in the file.
On the other hand, if every file-related item is scanned immediately when received and given a name you’ll remember, you will be able to quickly and easily locate it on your computer, whether it is stored locally, on a file server, or in the cloud. If your system is set up correctly, you could do the same file search in a few seconds and save $20,000 per year in billable time (100 hours @ $200 per hour).”
While the authors use document scanning/paperless office workflow as an example, lawyers can realize similar time and productivity gains from any software or technology they’re trained to use more effectively.
A bright spot from the 2017 Survey is that the percentage of solos responding that training is “not at all important” (5.7%) has been cut by more than half since 2015, when 12% responded this training is “not at all important.”
The Most Effective Types of Technology Training
Overall, respondents selected live classes offered by in-house staff as the most effective form of training, with 28.5% of all respondents selecting this response.
Since larger firms are more likely to offer this type of training, it is not surprising that this assessment generally increases with firm size. Respondents from 64.4% of firms of 50-99 lawyers, 62.3% from firms of 100-499 lawyers, and 50% from firms of 500+ lawyers felt this way. Only 3.1% of solo practitioners, 9.1% of respondents from firms of 2-9 lawyers, and 23.9% from firms of 10-49 lawyers shared this opinion.
Solo practitioners (36.5%) and respondents from firms of 2-9 lawyers (29.5%) identified web-based classes offered by vendors/manufacturers as the most effective method of technology training available to them.
Only respondents from firms of 10-49 lawyers found live classes offered by vendors/manufacturers to be the most effective (36.7%).
Tutorials included with software programs were ranked as second most effective by solo practitioners (16.3%) and third most effective by respondents from firms of 2-9 lawyers and ranked least effective by respondents in all other size firms except 500+ lawyers, where only 6.5% of respondents indicated it was most effective.
Finding the Training That's Already Available
The two most prevalent sources for technology training cited by respondents from smaller sized firms (solo practitioners and 2-9 attorneys) are freely available to anyone who has purchased any particular software (tutorials included with software programs and web-based classes offered by vendors/manufacturers). Somehow, though, 49.0% of solo respondents and 33.5% of respondents from firms of 2-9 lawyers still responded that they had “no training” available to them.
Some questions to consider would be:
- Are these lawyers even looking for training, in the first place?
- If these lawyers are looking for training, why aren’t they finding these sources?
It is possible that some of those respondents who reported “no training” available at their firms might not be using technology in their practices at all, and therefore are not looking for training opportunities. However, it is more likely that if they are seeking training, they are doing so ineffectively.
Some reasons might be found in the Dunning-Kruger effect: These lawyers may just believe that their skills are adequate (or more than adequate) so they don’t…
- Read instruction manuals or help screens.
- Seek out the available training resources at all.
- These lawyers might use a search engine to seek out available training resources, but the self-assessment of their own search skills leads them to conduct ineffective searches that do not produce useful results.
In many cases, results of a search engine search for “training” and “software name” might return numerous links to third-party training options that crowd out the free or low-cost, vendor-supplied resources that are available. A search for “training,” “webinar,” or “tutorial” limited to the website of the technology’s manufacturer might prove more effective.
For more general (non-law-specific) software, attorneys might want to try the tutorials available from Lynda.com. The site offers thousands of video tutorials and practice exercises for various software, including Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint; Wordperfect; Quickbooks, and others. Subscriptions begin at $19.99/month. However, many public libraries offer their patrons free remote access to the entire library of Lynda.com’s educational materials, so lawyers should check their local library’s website to see if they already have access to this resource.
It is also possible that some respondents understood this question to be asking whether their firm offered a formal training program. Since most solos or small firms would not have a formal training program, it is possible that these respondents might have responded “No” even if they were seeking out some of these training options on their own.
The good news is that, overall, a majority of lawyers believe that getting trained on the technology they are using in their firms is important and are, in fact, getting that training. However, while the overall numbers and trends are encouraging, many lawyers in smaller firms, particularly solo practitioners and those from firms of 2-9 lawyers, still have room for improvement. While there have been improvements from previous years, these solo lawyers and those in smaller firms are still less likely than the overall average to view technology training as “Very important” and to have some type of training available.
Regardless of firm size, lawyers are using a variety of different types of resources to get training on the technology they’re using in their practices. Unfortunately, the 2017 Survey responses indicate that lawyers in solo practice or in firms of 2-9 are much less likely to report having access to any type of technology training compared to their peers at larger firms. The availability of legal technology training does not have to be dictated by the size of the firm in which an attorney practices, however. Free and low-cost technology training options are available to any lawyer from vendors and manufacturers, bar associations, CLE organizations, and other online sources. However, the 2017 Survey results show that many lawyers are not taking advantage of these resources even though they are probably already available to them—just a simple web search away.
To locate these resources, lawyers must learn to overcome the Dunning-Kruger effect that is likely coloring their own perceptions about their technology competence (to understand that training would benefit them) and seek out those educational resources that are already available to them by conducting more effective searches.
There is no one best answer as to what type of training lawyers should seek. Based on the overall responses, no single type of technology training was definitively identified as most effective. For survey respondents, the determination of what constituted the most effective type of training appears to have been dictated by what type of training they reported as being most available to them.
Ideally, lawyers should seek out the types of training that work best for their personal learning style. However, if the ideal type of training is not available, then lawyers should learn to better identify whatever training resources are most readily available to them. To borrow the old Nike advertising/motivational slogan, when it comes to legal technology training, lawyers should “just do it.”