In the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center’s 2018 Legal Technology Survey Report volumes “Technology Basics & Security” and “Law Office Technology,” the light continues to shine on the intricacies of adoption and usage of technology in the modern law firm. 30% of the respondents to the 2018 Survey are sole practitioners and 29% are lawyers in firms with 2 to 9 attorneys. Almost half of the responses come from sole practitioners and small firm lawyers.
This article will explore findings for solo and small firms and highlight trends and information relating to small firms. As solo and small firms make up the largest demographic of US lawyers, both in general and by percentage of those surveyed, this article can be a reference when exploring the habits and technology usage among them compared to that of their colleagues in larger firms.
The full report contains much more demographic trend information on practice areas and fee structures in use by sole practitioners and small firms with 2 to 9 lawyers. One interesting statistic to follow is that of fixed fees; when looking to determine the state of the billable hour, solos have the highest percentage of fixed fees at 22%, with 2 to 9 attorney firms next at 15%. Despite this, 69% of firms responding continue to rely upon hourly billing methods. Direct technology conclusions may not be directly drawn, but it is a trend to consider when regarding future technology surveys.
Among the respondents, Windows 10 was chosen over the Mac OS by most solo and small law firms. The number of users now using Windows 10 has grown from 46% in the past year to 59%. This growth is noteworthy, as Microsoft has enhanced its market share. Particularly, the Office 365 platform has shown maturity as an option for more and more law offices.
Apple’s Mac OS is not as widely used, but 14% of solos reported using Mac OS as their primary operating system and 9% of the firms with 2 to 9 lawyers did. 8% of all lawyer respondents are using Macs, and while this number is holding steady around where it has been over the last several years, the level of loyalty to the Apple brand continues to have a grip among some of the smaller law firms and solo lawyers.
Most firms are still using laptops for law-related tasks. 77% overall are using laptops, and in the small
iPads are still the most popular device among tablet devices for the lawyers surveyed. 77% percent of the respondents naming their product’s brand chose the iPad as their tablet. Microsoft Surface products took second place among user respondents and were up to 22% from 18% in 2017. The rise in users of Surface tablet devices might be the result of more firms looking at the Microsoft brand. This would be consistent with the large number of Windows 10 users who might seek a tablet device utilizing that operating system.
Eighty-six percent of firms with 2 to 9 attorneys have a server available to them where only 48% of the solos responding have servers available. It will be interesting to see if this server availability divide shrinks as more cloud computing is adopted.
Remote access continues to grow in usage with 84% of respondents indicating it is available for their firm. This, along with the 99% of users who continue to find email available in their firms for communication, indicates that much of the legal work continues to happen in the digital age. E-mail has not changed by an increase or decrease over the last year. However, contact systems were in place at 77% for solos and 89% for lawyers in firms of 2 to 9 lawyers.
Document assembly availability remained steady at 44% for solos and 47% for firms of 2 to 9 attorneys, with the actual use of such programs at 34% and 30% respectively. Looking at these numbers, both the work in the digital world and the adoption of systems across office space continues slowly.
Web-based Services and Cloud Computing
Fifty-five percent of respondents say they have used cloud computing technology for work-related tasks. Usage is up by 2% overall since last year, and up 17% over the numbers for 2016. This trajectory has stabilized a bit versus the rapid growth between 2015 and 2016. Still, 59% of solos and 58% of lawyers in firms of 2 to 9 lawyers indicated they use cloud computing for legal work-related tasks. The cloud services named specifically in the survey include products for online document storage, file sharing, collaboration, and to a much lesser degree, practice management solutions. As the market continues to develop services to be consumed via the internet, it is likely this move toward the cloud will continue steadily.
Security precautions and measures undertaken by firms also remain stable, with only 13% of respondents saying they use no precautions for their data. Yet, the adoption of cloud computing has brought with it measures like reviews of privacy policies, regular local data backups, reviews of terms of service, ethics rules and opinions review, and advice from law firm peers.
The most cited benefits of using cloud computing for law-related tasks include easy browser access from anywhere and 24/7 availability. These benefits are cited by 68% and 59% of respondents respectively as most important, closely followed by the low-cost for cloud services at 48%; robust data backup and recovery at 46%; quick to get up and running at 40%; eliminating IT and software management requirements at 34%, and better security at 31%. Interestingly, only 8% indicated no benefit from cloud computing programs.
Sixty-three percent of respondents felt confidentiality and security were their biggest concerns. When compared the general consensus regarding perceived benefits, only two things were cited by more than 25% of respondents: confidentiality and security and the lack of control over data. Likewise, among those not using cloud-based services, these concerns were seen at 56% and 40% respectively as what has prevented them from adopting these solutions.
Only 10% of respondents indicated they would be replacing traditional software or services with the cloud-based alternative in the next 12 months. This percentage includes 5% of solos and 15% of lawyers in firms of 2 to 9 attorneys. These numbers are only up by 1% and 3% respectively over last year’s numbers.
Data Protection and Security
Thirty-three percent of the solos and 51.2% of those in firms of 2 to 9 attorneys said they had data retention policies in place. Regarding where lawyers back up their files, solos most often chose external hard drives. 58.1% of solos and 41.5% of those in firms with 2 to 9 attorneys use this method. Offsite storage is used by 18.5% of solos and 33.8% of lawyers in firms of 2 to 9 attorneys. Online backup is used by 38.5% of solos and 39.6% by those in firms with 2 to 9 attorneys.
When asked if they use any password management tool, 26.6% of solos and 22.9% of those in firms with 2 to 9 attorneys indicated that they did. Interestingly, 70.1% of solos and 63.2% of those in firms with 2 to 9 attorneys do not make use of this security measure. Perhaps the idea of this precaution being too cumbersome has some credibility among solos and those in smaller firms, even though 30.6% of solos and 47.7% of those in firms of 2 to 9 attorneys say they have been infected by a virus, spyware or malware.
Fourteen percent of solos and 24.2% of those in firms of 2 to 9 attorneys have experienced a breach, but no significant business disruption or loss was reported by 65.8% of the solos and 65.1% of those in firms of 2 to 9 attorneys. Perhaps this is why cybersecurity insurance is held by 26.6% of solos and 36.1% of those in firms of 2 to 9 attorneys.
Technology Budgeting and Education
Over 60% of the respondents say they are required under ethical competency rules to stay abreast of the benefits and risk of technology. This was true for both solos and those in firms of 2 to 9 attorneys.
For technology purchasing decisions, lawyers are most influenced by various informational sources, from print ads to CLE programs and peers. Solos are most influenced by consultants, with 32.7% saying they were very influential. In firms of 2 to 9 attorneys, 43% say they are most influenced by staff feedback. The next most influential source for solos were their peers, at 30.7%, and consultants at 41.8% for those in firms of 2 to 9 attorneys.
More than 39% of solos and 40.9% of those in firms of 2 to 9 attorneys found training on firm technology to be important. Despite these numbers continuing to hover around 40%, the
growth in this area seems bleak because as surveyed, when lawyers need or want to learn about technology, they first search Google or another online source—solos would first search Google or another online source by 33.3% and those in firms of 2 to 9 attorneys look to Google or another source at 27.2% after first asking their IT staff first at 44.7%.
Even though legal technology continues to grow in products and services, and particularly in the area of viable cloud-based systems, the adoption rates still remain low. This seems to be the case again for solo and small firm lawyers, even though they are the ones most likely to be in a position to more freely and easily choose, learn, train, and use technology for law-related work. Future growth, while certain, is also likely to continue to happen at a relatively slow pace.