Lawyers and Technology – still largely in the back office

Two reports published this month provide an insight into the practical use of technology by legal professions as a whole. And, blow me, despite the hours of discussion of disruptive applications, blockchain and artificial intelligence at high priced conferences around the world, most lawyers use technology in more humble ways – and face more immediate problems – like the humble issue of security.

The first report is from global legal business management software provider, Aderant. This claimed global coverage but was largely a North American survey (87 per cent – with a low looking ) 3 per cent from Europe). This found that lawyers wanted better business management software – in particular prompt billing. Some of the quotes from consultees had the ring of truth (though this happens to be exactly the sort of stuff that Aderant happens to provde): ‘Managing partner does not keep up on his time entry’; ‘Still a very manual process that passes through too many hands causing bottlenecks in each area’, ‘The billing process from pre-bill to invoice does not take us a long time. The bottleneck is getting the attorneys to submit or enter their time.’ 

Less predictable perhaps and therefore more interesting, was the survey’s list of the top ten tech tools:

1. Document management

2. Time and billing management

3. Case or matter management

4. Financial management or ERP

5. eDiscovery

6. Docketing

7. Knowledge management

8. Mobility and mobile applications 

9. Business intelligence

10. Matter pricing and planning

AI came 17th behind document assembly and project or task management but above blockchain at 18th. Such a list may not be all that different from one which you would draw up from the access to justice community practicing outside the commercial bubble. 

The second report is from the American Bar Association. It is its inaugural profile of the legal profession, a publication which it plans to produce annually. This covers a number of issues relating to the ABA’s membership – including legal education, remuneration and pro bono – and also has a chapter on legal technology. Although specifically American, it would seem likely that its findings on technology would be both relevant globally and for those engaged in access to justice. Again, some of the findings had the ring of (sometimes inconvenient) truth. What is the largest single starting place for legal research? Google. Which social media do lawyers most use? LinkedIn (82 per cent). Why? Career development or networking.

The data shows some surprises. About three quarters of lawyers ‘telecommute’, by which I understand remotely access to their office systems. However, they don’t actually do it very much – the average is 40 days a year, less than once a week. Most are working from home when they do this but 17 per cent are lucky enough to have a ‘vacation house’ and a combined 29 per cent are working in public places or coffee shops – which perhaps have become the successors to the ‘Lincoln’ lawyers publicised by John Grisham who used to practice from their cars. 

Wherever they practice, lawyers as a whole should be more careful. And this is probably a global warning. About a quarter had suffered a security breach in the last year. There was good news: ‘Viruses, spyware and malware were reported as fairly common prob- lems, but that threat is slowly dwindling. In 2018, 40% of lawyers said their law firm had been infected at some point in the past. That’s down from 43% in 2017 and 45% in 2016.’ But the prevalence of cyber insurance was still low – only a third of lawyers reported that their firms had a policy. 

The ABA report, in particular, attracted some criticism. ‘ABA Profile Reveals a Profession in Crisis’ was the headline on one report. It really doesn’t. It shows an American profession (like most others) slowly (perhaps sometimes too slowly) responding to the challenges of the modern world – from diversity of membership to the use of technology in its work practices. And they both suggest that the experience of practitioners in access to justice may not be that different from their commercial colleagues. 

Illustration is from Pixabay.

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