New Survey Profiles Lawyers’ Use of Technology

Only a third of lawyers use a case, matter or practice management system — just a slight increase from a decade ago, when a quarter of all lawyers used such a system. Among lawyers who have not adopted a case management system, the most common reason they give is that their “current method works and is not worth changing.”

These are among the findings of an illuminating new survey of lawyers’ use of technology, Case, Matter & Practice Management System Study, conducted by Andrew Z. Adkins III, director of the Legal Technology Institute at the University of Florida Levin College of Law.

While the overarching purpose of the survey was to study lawyers’ use of case, matter and practice management systems, the survey asks about a wide range of technology issues, from word processing to Software as a Service, all with the goal of documenting the current technology environment within the legal profession.

Surveys were mailed to 27,500 lawyers using randomly selected mailing lists provided by the American Bar Association and other bar groups. Adkins received 341 completed surveys, enough to produce a 95 percent confidence level in the results.

In the executive summary, Adkins describes the results from the survey that most surprised him. Among them:

  • While lawyers have been reluctant to upgrade from Microsoft XP to Microsoft Vista, a large number — 61 percent — had upgraded from Microsoft Word 2003 to Microsoft Word 2007. (It would be interesting to see an update to these numbers now that the more-stable Windows 7 and Office 2010 are out.)
  • More than half of respondents do not use a document management system. Not surprisingly, larger firms and legal departments are more likely to use such a system than smaller firms.
  • Only about half of lawyers use metadata cleanup software. Among lawyers in smaller firms, fewer than 40 percent use such software.
  • Nearly half of lawyers use technology for paperless routing of workflow and notifications, and some 38 percent say that half or more of their practice is paperless.

In the not-so-surprising category, Adkins cites these findings:

  • Microsoft dominates the legal industry with its operating system, office applications and Outlook e-mail. Even so, the one-time favorite of the legal profession, WordPerfect, maintains a foothold within 14 percent of law firms and legal departments.
  • While there has been some talk of increased use of Macintosh computers among lawyers, only 8 percent of lawyers use them, the survey found.
  • Lawyers talk a lot about confidentiality and security, but only 25 percent of them use encryption when sending client e-mails.

With regard to lawyers’ use of Software as a Service and cloud-based applications, only 14 percent of law firms and legal departments say that they currently host software and data online. Another 5 percent said they are actively considering it. Forty-two percent said it is unlikely they ever would. Use of SaaS is most predominant among large firms, with 26 percent saying they currently use SaaS applications and another 40 percent saying they are very or moderately interested in using SaaS.

The full survey report is a 312-page PDF. If you are a member of TechnoLawyer, you can download a copy from its library. If you are not a member, it costs nothing to sign up, and then you can download a copy. Information on how to obtain it is available here.

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  • Even knowing that lawyers are typically resistant to technology, I’m surprised that the percentage of lawyers consistently using technology only increased from 1/4 to 1/3 in a decade. That said, I bet the numbers are much different if you look at paralegals and other support professionals at law firms. So even if lawyers have continued to resist technology, I’d guess that law firms as a whole have become much more tech friendly.

  • Ronnie

    I’d say I’m surprised, but I’m not. I’m reviewing the survey now, and am reminded of my former assistant and her troubles at her new firm, where they have needles but have actively refused to use it. They won’t even check their own voicemail messages. She’s said she’s been spoiled, because our firm actively scans documents, uses workflows and document automation, and uses a comprehensive case management system (Houdini ESQ). We know we’re not alone, but it certainly often feels that way.