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Tech Report

ABA TechReport 2023

2023 Budgeting and Planning

Sarah Megan McGrew


  • The ABA TechReport 2023 pairs data from the 2023 Legal Technology Survey Report, which surveyed practicing attorneys, with analysis, observations, and predictions from experts in the legal technology field.
  • Investment in technology is far from being a novel inclusion in a law firm’s yearly budget.
  • The following TechReport provides high-level information on portions of the Online Research, Law Office Technology, and Life and Practice volumes of the 20203 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report relating to budgeting and planning. 
2023 Budgeting and Planning Kaya

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Each year the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center conducts a survey of ABA members to find out how attorneys are using technology in the practice nationwide. The survey is published in five volumes: Online Research, Technology Basics & Security, Law Office Technology, Marketing & Communication Technology, and Life & Practice. The information gathered in this survey reflects responses received across different firm demographics, with 20% of the responses being from attorneys at solo firms, 29% at firms of 2 to 9 attorneys, 22% at firms of 10-49 attorneys, 7% at firms of  50-99 attorneys, 12% at firms of 100-499 attorneys, and 10% at firms of 500 or more attorneys. Additionally, the respondents make up a wide array of experience levels with 42% having been admitted to the bar for thirty plus years, 20% for 20-29 years, 21% for 10-19 years, 9% for 5-9 years and 8% for 0-4 years. The survey report provides more information regarding the demographics of respondents, as well as the specifics regarding the responses to the specific questions asked in the survey. The following TechReport provides high-level information of portions of the Online Research, Law Office Technology, and Life and Practice volumes of the 20203 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report.

Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic aka The Mobile Attorney

Investment in technology is far from being a novel inclusion in a law firm’s yearly budget. However, what is new is that a significant amount of a law firm spending on technology is now at least informed, if not completely influenced, by the Covid-19 Pandemic. The pandemic concepts of a virtual and/or mobile workplace and the utilization of new and improved technology as an avenue for increased productivity and efficacy, will mold and shape the direction of law firm spending for the foreseeable future.

The pandemic was the impetus of the widespread application of the virtual workplace. As one can imagine, respondents reported  a marked increase of working remotely as a part of their response to the pandemic, with only 21.8% stating that there was no increase to the amount in which they worked remotely. Solo attorneys, firms of 2-9 attorneys, and firms of 10-49 attorneys were the least affected, with 21.7%, 27.7%, and 25.2%, respectively, stating there was no change to their remote working schedules. Please note that this question relied on an increase  to remote work without the assumption that all parties worked from the office 100% of the time. There was at least a 25% increase to remote work for firms of 50-99 (85.7%) , 100-499 (91.1%), and of five hundred attorneys or more (87.0%), with at least 40% of both firms of 100-499 and firms of five hundred attorneys or more experiencing a shift to 100% remote work.

Regarding workspaces, a marked difference exists when comparing pre-pandemic and current workplace settings. Whereas attorneys and law firms worked from traditional office space occupied exclusively by the firm (68%), traditional office space shared with one or more businesses (15%) and co-working spaces (2%) prior to Covid-19, these numbers have dropped to 52%, 10%, and 1%, respectively. Alternatively, working from a home office has increased from 10% to 23% post-pandemic, working remotely has increased from 3% to 9%, and hybrid models have increased from 2% to 5%.

Given the implied reliance on technology to provide a framework where one can work remotely, one can assume that many experienced the need to invest in functionality to address the demands of a virtual practice. On average, 73% of firms noted a necessary investment in new technology – both hardware and software. Speaking strictly to the issue of hardware capabilities, reports have shown that there has been a downward trend in the usage of desktops as a primary computer, with 49% of respondents using desktops as the primary computer in 2020  compared to 39.5% in 2023. Conversely, laptop usage has increased from 47% in 2020 to 54% in 2023, implying at least some focus on ease of mobility for one’s primary work computer. While solo and firms of 2-9 attorneys are more likely to use a desktop computer – at 51.6% and 51.2%,respectively – law firms of five hundred or more highly favor the use of laptop computers with docking stations, monitors, and other accessories with an 87.9% usage rate. Of course, tools that allow for remote use are useless if one does not have the software to ensure safe remote access. Eighty-five percent of respondents responded that their firms had remote access software available, and 79% of respondents reported personally using the remote access software for practice-related tasks.

The continued focus on the ability for attorneys to work outside of the four walls of the office is further implied by information collected from those who have invested in cloud computing. Over 68% of respondents stated they have used cloud computing technology for work-related tasks, with firms of firms of five hundred or more attorneys confirming at a rate of 70.5%, firms of 10-49 attorneys at a rate of 73.2%, and firms of 100-499 attorneys at a rate of 83%. While those who use cloud-based technology named several benefits, the two items respondents found most beneficial were the fact that cloud computing allowed for 24X7 availability (68.7%) and easy browser access from anywhere (76.8%).

It is not simply that attorneys are working outside of the office at a higher percentage, but that there is a continued and growing reliance on technology to assist attorneys in their mobile state. Due to attorneys being more mobile and not tied to one way of performing tasks, the change in environment resulted in a change in process. Thus, the pandemic necessitated development and change in technology to ensure that attorneys could serve their clients and address administrative needs.

Many firms invested in extranets to ease communications within their firms as well as with clients and third parties. Thirty-six percent of respondents reported the availability of extranets at their firms. Firm use and availability of accessibility has trended upward since 2020. Access by firm attorneys has grown from 84%  in 2020 to 90% in 2023 and from 62% in 2020 to 72% in 2024 for use by law firm staff. The use of extranets exists more in larger firms, with firms of 57.6% of respondents from firms of 100-499 attorneys and 74.4% of firms of five hundred attorneys or more stating they had an extranet. However, there has been an increase in smaller firms having extranets, with solo firms stating an increase from 5% in 2022 to 14% in 2023, and an increase from 27% to 32% for firms of 2-9 attorneys.

Outside of extranets, there was also the issue of assigning administrative tasks within the firm while being mobile. Task Assignment and Management Software saw an increase of availability from 25% in 2022 to 32% in 2023. Additionally, there is an increase in all firm  sizes regarding the personal use of those task assignment platforms.

When it comes to the legal practice portion of the use of technology and the mobile attorney, we can start at basic legal research. To emphasize the need to be able to work from anywhere, we see that 92% of the respondents for the 2023 report stated they were not performing research outside of the office. While one could imply that they are simply taking materials elsewhere for review, there has been a marked decrease in the use of print materials since the beginning of the pandemic. In 2020, 40% of respondents stated that they were using print materials for research whereas in 2023, only 25% were using print materials. In comparison, both free and fee based online services held steady at around 60% and 56%, respectively. Additionally, there is an increase in the use of mobile devices from which attorneys are performing research; additionally, there has been an increase in the use of both mobile apps and internet-based platforms to perform legal research.

While there has been some fluctuation in the availability of other practice-specific technologies, the respondents stated that availability of these items were at least at, or above, percentages in 2020. For example, the availability of conflict checking technology was at 64% in 2023 compared to 63% in 2020, case/practice management was at 59% in 2023 compared to 52% in 2020, docket/calendaring – rule based software was at 38% in 2023 and 2020, specialized practice software was at 36% in 2023 compared to 37% in 2020, and contract lifecycle management software availability is at 11% in 2023 but numbers for 2020 were not available.

However, it is interesting to note that firms did not, necessarily, rely solely on new tools because of the pandemic, but also increased utilization of technology already owned by the firm. An average of only 26.7% of firms noted that that there was no increase to utilization of existing technology, with 73.3% of respondents stating that there were increases (of various impacts) in the use of existing functionality. Regardless of the size of the firm, respondents note by a majority (61%) that their continued processes will include a combination of new and pre-pandemic utilization levels of technology. An additional 26.3% of firms will continue with the new  processes and platforms,  and only 6.9% of firms stating that the use of technology with return to pre-pandemic levels.


The Covid-19 Pandemic caused a shift in the way we view the world. For the legal arena, part of that shift is what a law firm “looks” like. Many law firms and attorneys have found that the quintessential brick-and-mortar buildings and all their trappings no longer serve their purpose as being the primary place an attorney must perform their work. As such, one must look at the implications of that shift and plan accordingly. Overall, firms have and will continue to focus on their physical footprint a well as the investments in hardware, software, and subscriptions to facilitate the broader definition of an attorney’s office space.