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Tech Report

ABA TechReport 2023

2023 Practice Management TechReport

Christopher R Fortier


  • 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.
  • Respondents noted Microsoft products as common use in communications, documents, general office software, with notable exceptions.
  • Technology is an item that has a budget at many firms, however, the disparity between firm sizes on this topic creates a space for legal technology advocates to persuade attorneys to keep pursuing technology competence. 
2023 Practice Management TechReport

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Legal Research: Free Resources Rule the Day but Some Paid Resources Lead in Law, Practical Guides, and Treatises

To prepare for the future, firms should embrace methods of online legal research and data collection to sync with how future generations of lawyers collect information to conduct competent representation of clients.  Significant and growing majorities of lawyers in popular practice areas use online resources. For example, 44% of survey respondents in 2023 stated that they started their research using Google.

Among the respondents that report regularly using free Internet/online services for legal research, 71% are from solo firms, 68% are from firms of 100 or more attorneys, 57% are from firms of 2-9 attorneys, and 52% are from firms of 10-49 attorneys.

Among the leading primary practice areas: respondents in corporate and family law (67% each); commercial transactions (62%); contracts (60%); and estates, wills and trusts (59%) are most likely to regularly use free Internet/online services for legal research.

Respondents who are age 50-59 (64%, compared with 54% in 2022, 61% in 2021, and 57% in 2020) are the most likely to report regularly using free online resources for legal research, followed by 61% of respondents age 40-49 (compared with 52% in 2022, 50% in 2021, and 52% in 2020), respondents age 60 and older (60%, compared with 58% in 2022, 61% in 2021, and 64% in 2020), and 56% of respondents under age 40 (compared with 57% in 2022 and 2021, and 48% in 2020).

Respondents were asked which of three formats (online fee-based, online free, and print) they use most often when researching twenty-three various topics. The largest percentage of respondents named online free as the format they use most often for researching 15 of the twenty-three topics, followed by online fee-based format as the most often used format for researching 7 topics. An equal percentage of respondents use both online free and online fee-based resources when researching federal legislation/statutes, legal treatises, practical guides, law reviews, periodicals,

Free resources are available all over the internet and lawyers are taking advantage of these free resources. According to our survey, the only resources that a majority of lawyers were comfortable with paying for were state case law, practical guidance, legal citators, law review articles, periodicals, federal statutes, and federal case law.

As an aside, 37.8% of survey respondents stated that they used free legal research resources provided as a member benefit to a bar association.

When asked if there were technology training programs, solos and small firms with under 9 lawyers responded with 37.8% and 48.2% under “yes.” Firms need to have a policy and a program for online legal research and data collection. What sites do you want to use and what costs are incurred by using these sites? What are their features and downsides? Does the vendor offer training? Such a program needs to be continuously updated to allow attorneys and staff to research and collect data to reflect not only acceptable evidence practices but reflect the way clients interact with others in their daily lives.  Such a program helps lawyers comply with their duties to maintain competence with technology, keeping abreast of the benefits and drawbacks of technology, which 71% of lawyers believe is their duty. Furthermore, 67% of these lawyers believe that training on emerging technologies is either very important or somewhat important. 

Technology Budget and Goals

Technology is an item that has a budget at many firms, however, the disparity between firm sizes on this topic creates a space for legal technology advocates to persuade attorneys to keep pursuing technology competence.  Nearly half of survey respondents who were solo or in small firms had a budget for technology versus 73% of survey respondents at 10-49 lawyer firms, 79% of survey respondents at 50-99 lawyer firms and 93% of survey respondents at 100+ lawyer firms. Most respondents indicated that they would either maintain or increase their funding level for the technology budget. That includes solos (92%), 2-9 lawyers (85%), 10-49 lawyers (78%), all the way to 58% for large firms. While this number decreases as the firm’s size grows, this is an effect of knowledge of the firm’s operations, as the don’t know answer grows.  This is also apparent as respondents in 100+ lawyer firms noted that an executive committee makes decisions regarding technology.

Where does this spending go? While solos and small firms up to 9 attorneys were dedicating spending towards upgrading hardware, marketing technology, and mobile technology, larger firms were focused on cybersecurity and software development for their internal use.

Who influences these decisions? Respondents noted their most important sources as somewhat influential, as very influential was not a significant response. Noted as somewhat influential were online demos and webinars, online customer reviews, expert reviews, peers, staff feedback, CLE, and consultants.

Communications: It’s About Remote Access

While a majority of survey respondents replied that they have remote access to their workstations, this trend highlights in larger firms. While at least 85% of respondents in firms with 2+ lawyers had the ability to remote access their workstations, only 63.6% of solo firm respondents had this ability.

When it comes to how to communicate, firms prioritized contact management, remote access, fax, and instant messaging with at least 68% adoption while customer relationship management was further down the list at 47%.  Most firms do not have voice recognition software.

General Office Software: Lawyers Like PDF Creation

A supermajority of respondents uses PDF creation (95%) and redlining software (80%), which allows users to compare versions of documents to determine differences.  Smaller majorities use document assembly software, metadata removal, and document management software.

Additionally, supermajorities of respondents in all practice’s settings indicated that they use accounting/bookkeeping software (75%), calendaring (90%), electronic billing (78%).  Respondents also noted having word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software. Far fewer respondents had database and project management software (59% and 32% respectively).

Legal Specific Software: Case Management and Conflict Checking Software Dominate

While most respondents reported having the basic general software to improve their functionality and client services, respondents reported more sporadic use of legal-specific software. Most commonly seen at firms, according to respondents was case management software and conflict checking software, with 53% and 63% of respondents responding that they had such software. However, in firms between 50 and 99 lawyers, 78% reported having case management software and 89% reporting having conflict checking software.  Other types of software were not as prominent but were adopted mostly in firms of 50 to 99 lawyers, such as docketing software (38% generally versus 56% in 50 to 99 lawyer firms), specialized practice software (36% generally versus 56% in 50 to 99 lawyer firms), task assignment and management software (32% generally versus 45% in 50 to 99 lawyer firms), and contact lifecycle management software (11% generally versus 33% of 50 to 99 lawyer firms).

Comfort Means Adoption

Lawyers are generally comfortable with the technology in their offices with over 90% of survey respondents noting that they were either very comfortable or somewhat comfortable with the technology in their offices.

When it comes to an office set up, most lawyers have two monitors while a majority of solos have one monitor. When it comes to the type of computer, most lawyers note they have a laptop, followed by a desktop computer. Many solos prefer having a tablet to assist (46.5% of all respondents who were solo), however, as the firms were larger, fewer attorneys reported having tablets (12.3% of all lawyers in 500+ attorney firms).

The software lawyers use generally maintains good customer satisfaction ratings.  With responses of at least 80% very satisfied or somewhat satisfied, respondents noted their general approval with document assembly software (33% very satisfied and 58% somewhat satisfied, respectively), document and records management (32% and 57%, respectively), time and billing software (38% and 52% respectively), and case/practice management (35% and 58% respectively).

What Is Everyone Using?

Respondents noted Microsoft products as common use in communications, documents, general office software, with notable exceptions. eFax had 50% of respondents when it came to electronic faxes, iManage was the most common document/records managed program, Adobe was the most common PDF creator, Quickbooks was the choice of 50% of respondents for accounting software, Clio was the most popular choice for respondents with electronic billing and time and billing software.  Many players exist in the legal specific market, with Microsoft Outlook being the most popular choice for case/practice management, Tabs3 for conflict checking, Compulaw for docket/calendaring software, Westlaw for specialized practice, BigHand for task assignment and management, and DocuSign CLM for contract lifecycle management.

Policies – Don’t Forget to Have Them

When it comes to rules and policies governing the use of technology in law firms, the larger the firm, the more likely there is a policy governing different uses of technology. For example, while nearly 90% of firms of 500+ lawyers had email and internet use policies, 35.2% of solos had an email policy and 27.2% of solos had an internet use policy.  However, there is work in this area that all firms can accomplish. Nearly half of all firms had email, internet use, acceptable computer use, and remote access policies while fewer firms had social media use, disaster and business continuity, employee privacy, incident response, or bring your own device (BYOD) policies.  All of these policies can further firm and employee safety, protect client data, and ensure that attorneys can continue to meet client, court, regulatory, and statutory deadlines that continue to exist, no matter what happens to the firm, its infrastructure, or its staff.