Last fall the American Bar Association released its annual Legal Technology Survey Report, providing data and analysis on the technologies that lawyers are using and how they are using them at their law firms.
Among the topics covered by the Legal Technology Survey Report are cybersecurity practices, the types of legal software being relied on at firms, cloud computing and mobile use trends and the marketing systems used by law firms.
The 2021 report offered lots of interesting data on how law firms have approached incorporating technology into their firms in the midst of a global pandemic. In light of the continued uncertainty and unpredictability caused by the pandemic, in conjunction with the social distancing requirements often in place, it’s no surprise that the statistics showed increased investment in remote-working systems, although not all of the data made sense.
For example, according to the report, the percentage of lawyers using cloud-based software for work-related tasks increased ever-so-slightly over the past two years. In 2019, 58% of lawyers used cloud-based software. This increased by only 1 percentage point to 59% in 2020, and then again by 1 percent to 60% in 2021. All three of these percentages are surprisingly low and fail to square with both the realities of the pandemic, my personal experience, and data obtained from other surveys. For example, according to the MyCase Legal Industry Report that I wrote and that was released in the fall of 2021, 88% of survey respondents said their firms were using cloud computing software in 2021, up from 76% before the pandemic.
Those numbers are more accurate and comport with the increased levels of remote working that lawyers have been faced since the start of the pandemic. I would suggest that the reason for the discrepancy is due to the way the question was framed along with lawyers’ unfamiliarity with technology terms. In the ABA Survey lawyers were asked if they’d ever “used cloud computing for work-related tasks.”
Unfortunately, many lawyers do not fully understand what cloud computing is, and thus are unaware they’re using it. For example, when I’ve presented to lawyers about cloud computing and have asked attendees whether they use cloud computing, about half of attendees typically raise their hand. But when I follow that question up and ask about specific cloud-based software commonly used in business settings, such as Gmail, Dropbox or Office 365, nearly all lawyers in the room will raise their hands.
The bottom line: most law firms would be inoperable at this stage of the pandemic in the absence of reliance on at least one or two cloud-based technologies. So, at the very least, 88%, if not more are using cloud-based software as determined in the MyCase Report.
This conclusion is supported by other data from the ABA Report. For example, when lawyers were asked how the pandemic affected their work, 61% shared that they were forced to work remotely. And, on average, 42% reported that due to the pandemic’s impact, they used more of the technology already in use in their firms.
Law firm technology investment also increased during the pandemic. According to the ABA Report, the average amount of increased technology spending was $1,451.
Next, survey respondents were asked if they intended to go back to their old way of doing things or if the changes implemented during the pandemic had increased productivity. Only a small minority, 7%, planned to go back to the way they’d worked before March 2020. Fourteen percent shared that they planned to continue working with the new changes in place, and 74% intended to implement a combination of both old and new. Five percent were unsure as to how they planned to proceed.
Finally, turning to hardware, the ABA Report showed that since the start of the pandemic, lawyers’ desktop usage declined, while laptops became more common. In 2020, 49% of lawyers relied on desktops as their primary computer, with that percentage dropping to 44% in 2021. In comparison, 53% of respondents shared that laptops were their primary computer in 2021, up from 47% in 2020.
How does your law firm compare? Did your rates of remote work increase or decrease? Did you incorporate new technologies into your law firm, and how much did your firm’s technology spending increase since the start of the pandemic?
Nicole Black is a Rochester, New Yor, attorney, author, journalist and the legal technology evangelist at MyCase legal practice management software. She is the nationally-recognized author of “Cloud Computing for Lawyers” and co-authors “Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier” (2010), both published by the American Bar Association. She can be contacted at [email protected]