Legal Technology: the ABA’s annual survey of the field

The American Bar Association has published its 2016 Legal Technology Survey in six volumes, the combined version  of which you can get for a shade under $2000 – with around a 25 per cent discount if you are a member. Luckily, you can get shorter cribs in the form of ten articles and a bit of a skimpy overview for free. The individual articles are worth scanning and include coverage of the following:

Mobile Technology

American lawyers increasingly practice on the move. 16 per cent work primarily from home and a further 14 per cent from shared office space. Sole practitioners and small firms are at the forefront:  35 per cent are without offices; 37 per cent work primarily from home; and 25 per cent use shared office space. Even those with offices often work remotely –  from home (77 per cent); while travelling (38 per cent); from client’s or other counsel’s offices (28 per cent); or at court (19 per cent).

Laptops and mobiles are popular. Almost all lawyers have a smartphone and use it some degree with 70 per cent continuing to use their smartphones even when in their offices. The main use of smartphones is for their built-in features like email and calendar: ‘Other than these core, built-in features, most lawyers don’t even use other apps for work, despite the many great legal research, practice management, time & billing, and general productivity apps specifically designed for working remotely … The only business apps lawyers do claim to use in any notable quantity are Dropbox, LinkedIn, and Evernote.’

Virtual Law Practice

Five per cent of respondents characterised themselves as practicing virtually – with the figure rising to nine per cent for sole practitioners. However, a wider number take advantage of elements of virtual practice: ‘There are a growing number of tools to encourage and facilitate virtual/mobile practices’. Document sharing, largely through Dropbox, was most popular  (33%) with much lower take-up for expert systems (1%) and online dispute resolution (1%).

The report suggested that significant growth opportunities exist for lawyers in using ‘basic tools such as real-time consultation services (only used by 11% of respondents), fillable forms for document preparation (7%), case status updates (14%), and scheduling (16%).’

Small and solo practices

In the US, as in the UK, small firms make up the heart of the legal profession. 62 per cent of the ABA respondents were sole practitioners or in firms with nine or less attorneys. Their average age was, in professional terms, venerable: 54. Perhaps understandably, this group has been wary of new technology: ‘A common response has been to maintain status quo operations, avoiding and ignoring innovation.’ However, there is increasing use of tablets to supplement desktops: ‘Solo and small firm practitioners are the most likely to report the availability of tablets (67% and 59% respectively). The most commonly used were: Apple iPad (77%), Microsoft Surface (19%), Samsung Galaxy (9%), Amazon Kindle Fire (7%), Google Nexus (4%), and Asus Transformer (1%).’

Use of customer relationship management tools was, however, low, if growing: ‘23% of solo attorneys and 26% of small firm attorneys (compared with 17% in 2015, and 14% in 2014 and 2013) report utilizing customer relationship management software. The brands identified most often as available at respondents’ firms are: Microsoft Outlook (55%), InterAction (10%), and Time Matters (9%).’

Deployment of voice recognition software, with its obvious advantages in a small firm, was growing: ‘7% of solo and 23% of small firm attorneys report personally using voice recognition software for law-related tasks. The tools used most often include Dragon Dictation (83%) by a landslide (there is also a legal version available), followed by MacSpeech (7%), and Cisco (6%). This is an area of opportunity where lawyers should begin experimenting, as voice recognition solutions may replace some traditional team members.’


14 per cent of respondents reported a security breach at some point – with the largest firms the most vulnerable (probably because of their larger number of employees and data). Mercifully, incidents of unauthorised access to client data were very low (about 2 per cent overall). However, close to half of respondents reported trouble with viruses, spyware and malware. Smaller firms were likely to have no policies in relation to security. The report concluded that it ‘generally shows increasing attention to security and use of safeguards, but also demonstrates that there is still a lot of room for improvement.’ Given the publicity given to data breaches in the political and commercial spheres this is something to which lawyers in all countries may need to pay more attention.


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