Technology is the motor that keeps the modern law firm running. Applied carefully, technology can make a firm run more efficiently and effectively, allowing the talent and legal expertise of the firm’s lawyers to shine. In a competitive market, however, poorly implemented or missing technology can bring a firm to a standstill.
The challenge with technology is striking the right balance between cost, utility and innovation. Firms that invest in the latest and greatest are often disappointed by the return on their investment, while firms that prioritize cost above all else may find themselves lagging behind their competitors in more ways than one.
For more than 20 years, the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center has collected data from lawyers in private practice to help provide practitioners with guidance on difficult technology issues. The 2012 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report was recently published, and we’ve pulled out 10 interesting facts and figures for you to consider:
- iPhone moves into the lead. In terms of the “big three” smartphone platforms — BlackBerry, iPhone and Android — BlackBerry devices have consistently come out on top in our annual surveys. The iPhone has made gains in each year since its launch, though, and this year it finally broke through: Forty-nine percent of respondents overall reported using the iPhone versus 31% who used BlackBerry and 18% who used Android. The numbers looked quite different at the biggest firms (500-plus lawyers): Just 39% of those respondents reported using the iPhone versus 57% who used BlackBerry and 6% who used Android.
- 3 percent is 3 percent too many. Three percent of respondents in 2012 reported that they don’t back up firm computers, while 27% didn’t know if their firm backed up. To put the danger of failing to back up into context, 15% of respondents reported that their firm has experienced a natural or manmade disaster, and 40% reported having experienced a hard-drive failure–both cases where a reliable backup could become essential.
- Preferred tablet: iPad. Tablet use grew in 2012, with 33% of respondents overall reporting that they use a tablet for work outside of the office. Large-firm lawyers (100 to 499 lawyers) were the most likely to report using a tablet, at 40%, while solo practitioners were the least likely, at 24%. It might be more accurate, however, to replace the word “tablet” with “iPad”: 91% of respondents reported that their tablet device was powered by Apple’s iOS.
- Landing a client in the Twitter era. According to our respondents, blogging was the most effective social media tool for client development in 2012. Of those who blogged, 39% reported retaining a client directly or via referral as a result. The number dropped to 17% for online communities/social-networking sites and 11% for Twitter.
- Budgets heading up? In 2012, 39% reported that their technology budget increased, 27% said it stayed the same, and 8% said it decreased. The remaining 26% didn’t know if their firm’s budget had changed. Compare that with 2011, when 34% said budgets increased, 28% said they stayed the same, 11% said they decreased, and 27% weren’t sure if there was a change.
- Fee-based software generates more satisfactory results. In general, respondents in 2012 reported higher satisfaction with their research results when using fee-based online resources versus free resources. For example, when asked about depth of coverage, 13% were very satisfied with free resources, while 64% were very satisfied with fee-based resources.
- The cloud has room to grow. Despite the hype, the adoption of cloud computing remains fairly low: Just 21% of respondents overall reported ever using the cloud. The No. 1 reason cited by those who have yet to use the cloud? Unfamiliarity with the technology (55%).
- Litigation support focuses on fundamentals. Not surprisingly, the most useful features in litigation-support software, according to our respondents, are the most basic: full-text search (35%), document review (27%) and Bates stamping (22%). Least popular of the options offered? Conceptual grouping or clustering, at 5%.
- Email security habits improving? While respondents continued to report that they rely on confidentiality statements for email security (75% overall), the number reporting that they use encryption jumped substantially, from 23% in 2011 to 33% in 2012.
- Connecting to clients via secure portals. The 2012 results saw a growing number of respondents report that they offer clients access to a secure client portal: 25% versus 20% in 2011. Solo and small firm practitioners (two to nine lawyers) drove much of that growth, jumping from 1% and 3%, respectively, in 2011 to 11% for both groups in 2012.
Note: A version of this article originally appeared in the September 2012 issue of YourABA, a monthly e-newsletter for ABA Members.