This is the first “Life and Practice” volume of the annual ABA Legal Technology Survey Report conducted by the Law Practice Division’s Legal Technology Resource Center (LTRC). Some questions in this volume were asked in previous years, in other volumes, and those past results are incorporated here.
Some 647 lawyers in private practice responded to the 64-question “Life and Practice” volume, which is the data used to write this article.
Seventy-one percent of the 2019 Survey participants were male, although the gender gap decreased as age decreased. The age of the most significant number of participants was between 60-69 (33%). On average, those responding reported practicing law for 30 years.
Very few of the participants, less than 2%, were under 29 years old; 21% were in their 50s. 35% of those surveyed identified themselves as partners, 26% were solos, 27% worked at firms of 50 or more lawyers, and about 10% were associates.
Most lawyers participating in the 2019 Survey said they are litigators (42%); 29% most closely identified with the transactional category.
Despite widespread criticism, the billable hour is still the primary business model. 71% of all respondents said that it is their most used method of billing, ranging from 58% of solos to 89% of firms of 500+ lawyers.
Traditional office space is still the primary workplace for all lawyers (roughly 70-90% across all firm sizes except for solos). Solos report the highest use of home offices (34%).
Most firms offer flexible working hours for their lawyers (77%). This percentage is roughly the same regardless of firm size and most lawyers report taking advantage of the flexible hours that their firms offer (75%), though taking advantage of flexible hours was less at firms of 500+ lawyers.
Roughly over 50% of lawyers across all firms report telecommuting. Among those who telecommute, most say the most common place they work is home (88%). The flexibility of the schedule and family obligations are the main reason for telecommuting, especially for younger lawyers (29% and 24% respectively). About 20% say telecommuting boosts productivity. Of those who do not telecommute, over 70% say they have no interest. There does not appear to be any significant discrepancy based on firm size.
Office space innovations used by other businesses have not gained footholds in the legal profession; over 92% of lawyers say they have a permanent desk and 93% of lawyers do not have an open office floor plan with open office concepts. Of those who have an open office concept, most cite lack of privacy as their chief objection.
Most firms require ethical training (over 70%). A significant percentage of large firms (those with 50+ lawyers) also require cybersecurity training, workplace harassment training, and diversity training. Interestingly, technology-related training was not mentioned.
When it comes to smartphones, the iPhone is still the king by a large margin. Almost 80% of lawyers when use smartphones use the iPhone.
Almost everyone relies on passwords of one form or another for cyber protection for their devices. Use of other forms of cyber protection such as tracking software (38%), remote data wiping capabilities (22%), etc. fall off dramatically across all size firms.
Somewhat surprisingly given that a smartphone became mainstream only about 10 years ago, over 70% of all lawyers report using the smartphone as the “primary” way they access emails outside the office. This is more or less true across firm sizes. About a quarter of lawyers in large firms say their firms will not pay for mobile phone service. Nearly half of all firms will pay for that service, the highest level at solo shops.
Large firms are much more likely to pay for commuter benefits, long-term disability benefits, life insurance, and medical insurance. Most lawyers in firms of all sizes report their firms offer some sort of retirement program (73%).
Most firms will pay for CLE programs (91%) and bar association dues (90%) regardless of firm size. Most firms do not offer unlimited paid time off (59%).
The two most popular offered amenities are quiet rooms (22%) and an onsite gym (20%). Of those who reported availability, 68% report that they use quiet rooms and 60% report that they use the onsite gym. Not surprisingly, bigger firms are the ones more inclined to offer gyms and quiet rooms. Among those who take advantage of firm amenities, one of the most well-used amenities are pet-friendly policies—almost 78% have taken advantage of this perk.
About half of all firms offer paid maternity leave, but again, the larger firms are much more likely to provide this benefit. Smaller firms are less liberal, both in terms of having a policy and, if they have one, the time allowed. About 55% of firms 500+ lawyers offer over 12 weeks paid maternity leave. Smaller firms will generally provide somewhere between 6-12 weeks.
Only the very largest firms recognize the need for paid paternity leave; the larger the firm, the more liberal the policy in terms of time. 30% of all firms offer paternity leave; 67% of firms of 100+ lawyers provide paid paternity leave.
Very few firms offer mother’s/lactation rooms. The very large firms seem to recognize this need (56% at firms of 500+ lawyers and 46% of firms with 100+ lawyers), but few small firms provide this option.
Nevertheless, most lawyers across all firm sizes believe their job allows them to spend enough time with their families. And over 70% of lawyers say the support they received from their firms as working parents is good to very good. The highest satisfaction rates seem to be at small and solo firms and firms with 50+ lawyers.
Over half of lawyers across all firm sizes say they make time for themselves (about 51%). But over 9% of all respondents say they never stop working; over 55% of lawyers at firms of 500+ say they often work long hours. As you might expect, this is more pronounced at the very largest firms and among those who work in employment and IP practice areas. Almost 60% under age 40 say they seldom or never take time away from their electronic devices to relax. While many of the larger firms offer information for such things as 12-step programs or other mental health resources, very few firms smaller than 50 lawyers provide those programs or related information. There does not seem to be much consensus on whether adequate breaks are taken during the workday; 11% strongly agree with the statement: I take adequate breaks during the workday. 43% agree, 21% neither agree nor disagree, 20% disagree, and 5% strongly disagree. 59% of lawyers report taking time away from their desks to each lunch more than one day a week. Overall, however, the average is only 2.4 times per week. 24% of lawyers agree with the statement that they feel pressure to not take offered vacations.
Still, close to 50% of lawyers across all firm sizes agree that their firms are supportive of mental health needs. There seems to be more or less the same percentage regardless of firm sizes. Given the widespread mental health issues among lawyers reported in a recent ABA study, this could suggest that many lawyers still don’t recognize the mental health strain under which we may be.
Some 61% of lawyers think technology has made their work-life balance better. 58% of all lawyers in all firm sizes agree that being constantly connected to technology makes it easier to balance work and family obligations.
Most lawyers will attend a professional conference if not regularly, at least occasionally (41%). Almost 70% of lawyers say they are interested in going, but nearly 80% don’t do so regularly. When they don’t, it’s usually because of workload pressures, which should be of no surprise.
About half the time, lawyers will take their families along with them to professional conferences, which ought to be important to event planners. This could be part of the reason why most lawyers across all firm sizes believe their job allows them to spend enough time with their families.
In short, the profession is continuing to be mobile. Lawyers are becoming more flexible as to where and when they do work. As in most things, there is a large and continuing gap between what the larger firms offer in terms of amenities, cyber protection, and training and what smaller firms offer. This gap does not seem to be closing. And for those with growing families, this gap is even more pronounced. As a profession, we are still working too hard and continue to be slow in recognizing the strain our work lives place on our mental health. But most of us do realize the benefits that technology has brought us, which may give us some hope for the future.