Every November, the American Bar Association (ABA) publishes its annual Legal Technology Survey Report. In it, it gives an overview of the trends in legal technology in 2021. And while the data for the 2020 report were mostly collected before the pandemic, the 2021 report does reflect the impact of the pandemic. Those effects were reflected, e.g., in the primary hardware people use, where their primary workplace is, in the flexibility of work hours, and in telecommuting.
Each year, the Law Technology Today website publishes a series of articles, providing a summary of the key findings of the report. Here are the most important highlights.
The average age of respondents remains high, at 57 years old (compared to 58 last year). More than 60% of respondents have been practicing for 30 years or more. The youngest age group (25-39) made up only 13.6% of respondents.
The respondents came from firms with the following sizes: 24% came from solo firms, 20% from firms with 2-9 attorneys, 20% from firms with 10-49 attorneys, 6% from firms with 50-99 attorneys, 15% from firms with 100-499 attorneys, and 15% from firms with more than 500 attorneys. The size of a firm is significant in the survey, as larger firms typically have greater budgets for investing in legal technology and the necessary corresponding technology training.
Websites and Marketing
The survey pays a lot of attention to communications with clients and the role websites, and more specifically client portals play in these communications. (We have previously published an article on client portals for law firms). The report recommends using secure client portals because communications are more secure than through email or traditional mail. But even though client portals have been around for years, only 29% of respondents say their firm website includes a secure client portal. They are most common in firms with 100+ lawyers (51%), followed by firms of 10-49 lawyers (22%), 2-9 lawyers (19%), while only 9% of solos offer a client portal. Most lawyers use traditional email to communicate with their clients, with only a minority using more secure email modalities like registered or secured email (23%), encryption (43%), or password-protecting documents (32%).
Lawyers mainly use their websites for marketing purposes. By now, 94% of lawyers have a website. 69% of respondents said their website was mobile-friendly, 5% said it was not, and 26% did not know. Virtually all websites for law firms contain profiles of the lawyers. By now, 59% of law firm websites also provide legal articles and 51% provide information on recent cases of interest. 37% of law firms said they have a blog, 57% said they did not, and 6% did not know. The larger the law firm, the more likely it had a blog. Law firms are still underutilizing their websites and use them mainly for one-way communication. Lawyers need to find better ways to engage with their target audiences, rather than just push information out to them. And simple things like client-intake or scheduling of appointments also remain the exception, rather than the rule.
Social media have become an important marketing tool for law firms. 87% of respondents said they were active on LinkedIn, 61% on Facebook, 37% on Twitter, and 13% on Instagram. Client email alerts remain important, too, with 72% of law firms using them. Video is a medium that is barely utilized, with only 28% of respondents saying their law firms use video for marketing purposes. (If you would like to find out more about using video in your law firm, we published an article on the subject).
As was the case in previous years, the report concludes that law firms largely lack a strategic approach to marketing. They also are not paying attention to analytics, so they do not really know which strategies are working, and which are not.
Overall, the report found few noteworthy changes when it comes to practice management. The main exception pertains to hardware trends and changes. This is an area where effects of the pandemic were most clearly felt. With more attorneys working from home, for the first time, the majority of respondents (53%) indicated that they were using a laptop as their primary device, while 44% still use a desktop as their primary device.
The number of attorneys using e-books for legal research has remained unchanged at 52%. Website libraries remain the most convenient tool for legal research.
Document-related software can be split up in five categories: document assembly, metadata removal, document and records management, redlining, and PDF creation. All five categories stayed relatively constant in the last year.
Communication software can also be broken down in five categories: voice recognition, CRM (customer relations manager), instant messaging, electronic fax, contacts, and remote access. Here, too, there are no noteworthy changes compared to last year.
General office use and management software can be broken down into nine broader categories: project management, databases, presentation, accounting, electronic billing, time and billing, spreadsheets, calendaring, and word processing. Overall, “general office use” is the most popular reason to have software. Of these nine categories, usage of project management comes in last position, but did grow from 27 to 31% of law firms using it. Counterintuitively, the use of accounting software dropped from 78% to 72%.
Maybe surprisingly, the use of web-based software and cloud computing only rose from 59 to 60%. The firms not using cloud software mention concerns about confidentiality, privacy and security as their main reasons. Many of those concerns, however, are unfounded. (See below in the section on cloud computing).
Legal-specific software can be broken down into four broad categories: specialized practice, docket/calendaring, case/practice management, and conflict checking. Like other software areas, the access rates to these categories have stayed relatively constant.
Budgeting and Planning
2021 saw law firms increasing their technology budgets. The increases were most notable for solo practitioners and small firms. The report found, however, that solos and small firms still fall short when it comes to budgeting for security to protect confidential client information. The report urges all law firms to increase their budgets for security.
In the introduction, we mentioned that the larger the firm is, the larger the budget is for technology training. By now, 39 out of 50 states within the US have imposed a ‘duty of technological competence’ on their lawyers. More are in the process of doing so. This corresponded to 68% of respondents replying that they had a duty to stay abreast of the risks and benefits of technology.
Another important consideration regarding competency is whether attorneys have input into the types of technologies they use. 74% of respondents said that they were involved in the selection process for the technologies employed at their firm, which is down from 81% in 2020. The report recommends each law firm should set up a committee of potential users that identifies their needs, evaluates existing solutions, and make recommendations. 88% of respondents state they asked peers for advice for the chosen solutions.
While 74% of respondents mentioned they had the duty to be technology competent, only 59% considered themselves very comfortable in using the technology they had at their disposal, and only a dismal 29% thought they had received adequate training. 67% of respondents said they had some sort of technology training available at their firm, but this availability varies widely based on the size of the firm, with only 35% for solo practitioners, 56% for firms with 2-9 attorneys, 71% for forms with 10-49, and 99% for firms with more than 100 attorneys.
48% of respondents replied they have internal support staff, and again those numbers grow depending on the size of the firm, with 94% of +100 firms, and only 9% of solos.
By now, 62% of law firms have a technology budget, and about half of them have increased it in 2021. For solo lawyers, hardware was the biggest expense, while the largest firms invested more than ever in security. Noteworthy is that virtually no budgets were needed for software customizations.
2021 also saw an increase in law firms creating technology policies and procedures, with 83% of respondents replying that their law firms have them in place. (The pandemic and lawyers working from home plays a role in this).
Solo and Small Firms
2021 saw changes for the hardware solo and small law firms are using, with laptops becoming the primary work computers. Windows remains the most popular OS (77%), but the usage of MacOS devices has grown from 16 to 21%. The iPhone remains the most popular smart phone, with 81% of lawyers in small firms, and 61% of solos using one.
Probably the biggest change caused by the pandemic is the primary workplace. Where in 2020, 22% of solos listed their home as their primary workspace, in 2021 that number had nearly doubled to 43%. This major change in primary workplace also happened in the big law firms with more than 100 lawyers, where the number spectacularly jumped from 3% to 46%. In smaller and medium sized firms, the changes were not that dramatic.
Along with the shift in primary workplace came a shift in implementing a flexible work schedule. In 2021, 79% of solo practitioners had flexible hours, 75% of lawyers in law firms with 2 to -49 lawyers, and 93% of lawyers in firms with more than 100 lawyers.
In line with these shifts, telecommuting, too, increased due to the pandemic, with 64% of lawyers saying they had telecommuted in 2021, compared to 55% in 2020. Notable is that of those who did telecommute, 39% of them did so full time.
Law firms are primary targets for cybercrime. They have a lot of valuable, sensitive information, which makes them “one-shop-stops” for cybercriminals. And law firms’ security set-up often is not very advanced. This combination of more data and easy access is what makes them prime targets.
While about three quarter of law firms use solutions like antivirus and antispyware, only half use firewalls, multi-step authentication, or encryption.
The report urges lawyers to spend more resources on security and on teaching staff to use the security tools that are available to them.
The report also recommends law firms should a) create ‘Acceptable Use Policies’ that outline the use of the firms hard and software; b) adapt cloud-based technologies, as they are considerably more secure than on premise or hosted software; and c) develop an incident response plan.