For roughly the past two decades, the ABA Legal Technology Survey Report has polled lawyers for their opinions about the legal technology options available to them. One of the areas investigated is access to and attitudes toward training for the technology that lawyers are using in their practice.
While a solid majority of respondents to the 2018 Survey (88.2%) reported being comfortable with their firm’s technology, they also appear to have lost ground regarding the availability of training in their firms. Only a slim majority of respondents (56.9%) indicated that there was technology training of any kind available at their firm. This is a marked decline from the 74.3% of respondents who responded affirmatively in 2017, 70.5% in 2016, and 67% in 2015.
Respondents have also backslid in their general view of the importance of receiving training on their firms’ technology tools. Overall, 81.9% of respondents indicated it was “very important” or “somewhat important” to receive training on their firms’ technology. However, this is a slight decrease from the previous year’s responses, when 83.4% responded this way and nearly identical to the responses to the 2016 Survey when 81.4% of respondents felt the same (43.4% responding “very important” and 38% responding “somewhat important”).
Overall, those responding that it was “not very important” or “not at all important,” to receive training on their firm’s technology were only 18.1% in the 2018 Survey, but this is 1.5% higher than the previous year’s responses.
While this slight decrease in the perceived importance of training might seem inconsequential, it should not be dismissed. Even at 18.1%, the percentage of lawyers who do not see the importance of getting training on the technology tools available to them is too high.
Whether these decreases in perceived importance are related to the reduced availability of training reported by respondents is not known.
Overall, the 2018 responses to the importance of receiving training on their firm’s technology break down like this:
- 44.1% — “Very important”
- 37.8% — “Somewhat important”
- 14.6% — “Not very important”
- 3.5% — “Not at all important”
Digging deeper into the numbers uncovers other troubling (but some encouraging) trends regarding certain groups’ attitudes and access to technology training.
On the positive side, a majority of respondents report that having to stay abreast of the benefits and risks of technology is part of their basic competency requirement (61.6%).
This closely mirrors the ABA’s 2012 adoption of Comment 8 to Rule 1.1 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct that states:
“To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, engage in continuing study and education and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject.”
Over the course of the ensuing six years, 31 states (62%) have adopted some form of this rule as part of their Rules of Professional Conduct.
Of all the lawyers surveyed about whether staying abreast of the benefits and risks of technology is part of their basic competency requirement, solo respondents are most likely to answer in the affirmative (64.5%, compared with 64% in 2017 and 60% in 2016). Respondents from firms of 2-9 attorneys were close behind (63.6%), while 60.4% of respondents from firms of 100+ (compared with 62% in 2017 and 44% in 2016), and 50% of respondents of 10-49 attorneys also indicated that this was a basic competency.
On the negative side, respondents to the 2018 Survey who were solo practitioners were more likely than average to respond that it was “not very important” to receive training on their firm’s technology (21.7% for solos vs. 14.6% of all respondents), and less likely to respond that it was “very important” or “somewhat important” than respondents overall.
Solo respondents were also more likely to respond that receiving such training is not important.
It’s not only troubling that solos reported a more negative attitude than the average toward the necessity of training (7.1% of solo respondents found this training to be “not at all important,” and 21.7% of solo respondents found it to be “not very important”), but that these opinions also mark a deterioration of attitudes from the 2017 Survey (when 5.7% of solo respondents found this training to be “not at all important,” and 19.0% of solo respondents found it to be “not very important”).
Interestingly, no respondents in the middle range of firm sizes (10-49 attorneys, 50-99 attorneys, or 100-499 attorneys) indicated that this training was “not at all important.”
On the contrary, respondents from all size firms (other than solos) were more likely to report that such training was “very important” or “somewhat important” than average.
Firms of 2-9 attorneys
- 40.9% — “Very important”
- 44.5% — “Somewhat important”
Firms of 10-49 attorneys
- 52.5% — “Very important”
- 34.4% — “Somewhat important”
Firms of 50-99 attorneys
- 59.4% — “Very important”
- 28.1% — “Somewhat important”
Firms of 100-499 attorneys
- 50.7% — “Very important”
- 43.7% — “Somewhat important”
Firms of 500+ attorneys
- 45.9% — “Very important”
- 41.0% — “Somewhat important”
Emerging technologies like blockchain and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are also catching lawyers’ attention. 72% of respondents expressed a favorable view of the importance of receiving training on these technologies. However, solo attorneys were most likely to view this training as “not at all important (6.8% versus the overall average response of 4.6%).
Generally, Attorneys Feel “Comfortable” Using Their Technology
When asked, “In general, how comfortable do you feel using your firm’s available technology?” 88.2% of all surveyed attorneys responded that they were comfortable. This breaks down to a slim majority (53.3%) of all respondents indicating that they were “very comfortable,” while an additional 34.9% indicated that they were “somewhat comfortable.”
As with other questions, digging a little deeper into the numbers gives us an interesting perspective. These percentages are slightly skewed (to the high side) by the prevalence of favorable responses from solo and small firm attorneys regarding their comfort level using their firm’s available technology. They were more likely than their larger firm counterparts to respond favorably.
Fifty-six percent of solo attorneys and 56.3% of attorneys from firms of 2-9 responded that they were “very comfortable” using their firm’s technology. That comfort level declines, however, the larger a firm gets:
Firms of 10-49 attorneys: 53.2%
Firms of 50-99 attorneys: 51.5%
Firms of 100-499 attorneys: 45.1%
Firms of 500+ attorneys: 42.6%
The 2018 Survey does not offer a way to know where the increased level of “comfort” in smaller firm respondents comes from. It could be that they are genuinely just more facile with the technology that they are using and therefore more comfortable with it, but the fact that they report significantly lower rates of access to training for their technology would not support that fact.
A more likely reason could be that those solo and small firm attorneys—like the general population as a whole—tend to inflate their abilities (in any area) when asked to assess themselves. In socio-psychological circles, this over-estimation of one’s own abilities is known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
In their research, social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University identified people’s general tendency to, “fail to adequately assess their level of competence—or specifically, their incompetence—at a task and thus consider themselves much more competent than everyone else.” Generally, their research found:
- The least competent performers inflate their abilities the most.
- That the reason for the over-inflation seems to be ignorance, not arrogance.
- That chronic self-beliefs, however inaccurate, underlie both people’s over and under-estimations of how well they’re doing.
More succinctly, people don’t know what they don’t know, and therefore think they know more than they do.
Could it be that solo and small firm attorneys are overestimating their “comfort” using technology at work because they do not have access to training and therefore “don’t know what they don’t know?” Conversely, could it also be that larger firm attorneys, who do have access to training, realize how much more there would be to learn to become proficient with their technology and therefore have a lower perception of their “comfort” using their technology?
The 2018 Survey structure does not give us a way to know the answer to those questions—but it is highly likely.
Who Is Getting Training
Overall, the 2018 Survey results indicate that just over half of respondents (56.9%) have any kind of technology training available.
This is a significant drop from previous years (74.3% in 2017 and 70.5% in 2016). The prevalence of training in larger firms skews the numbers—making them appear better than they are.
So, as low as that aggregate percentage may seem, the news is even worse for solo attorneys. Solos are less than half as likely to report having training available (25.6%) than the overall average (56.9%).
Generally, the larger the firm, the more likely technology training is to be available. It should come as no surprise that respondents from the largest firms (500+ attorneys) reported the highest percentage technology training availability (98.4%). Responses to the availability of technology training broke out as follows:
Solo attorneys: 25.6%
Firms of 2-9 attorneys: 53.4%
Firms of 10-49 attorneys: 83.1%
Firms of 50-99 attorneys: 97.0%
Firms of 100-499 attorneys: 94.4%
Firms of 500+ attorneys: 98.4%
Compared with previous years’ responses, solo practitioners appear to have lost significant ground in the availability of training. The 2018 Survey showed significantly higher percentages of those respondents indicating that they had no technology training available. In 2018, 71.5% of solos indicated they had no technology training available. In the 2017 Survey, 49.0% of solos indicated they had no technology training available and in the 2016 Survey, only 9.3% of solo practitioners responded that way.
The good news for these solo and small firm respondents who want training is that training may actually already be available to many of them—we’ll discuss where and how they should look for it later in this article.
Technology Issues: Who’s Affected May Surprise You
When asked “how often do technology-related problems negatively impact your productivity?”, 50.1% of all respondents responded “often” (6.6%) or “sometimes” (44.4%). Surprisingly, solo respondents were less likely than average (only 5.7% “often” and 42.9% “sometimes”) to suffer negative impacts from technical problems.
Respondents from the largest firms (500+ attorneys) were most likely to report suffering negative impacts from technology problems (13.1% of them responding “often”). Respondents from the largest firms were also the most likely to respond “seldom” to the same question (60.7%).
Once again, it may be that a lack of training leads solo and small firm attorneys to “not know what they don’t know” or not investigate more advanced features of the technology they are using. Not attempting to use those advanced features might lead to fewer “technology issues.” The structure of the 2018 Survey does not provide a way to discern that.
Where Do Attorneys Turn When They Need or Want to Learn About Technology?
For respondents who indicated that training was available at their firms, the 2018 Survey also asked, “Where do you turn first when you need or want to learn about technology?” Overall, the highest percentage of respondents (43.2%) indicated their IT departments were the first place they would turn. Since most solo attorneys and smaller firms are unlikely to have in-house IT departments, a closer look at the breakdown of responses in instructive.
Solo respondents and those practicing in firms of 2-9 attorneys indicated that the first place they turn to learn about technology are their IT departments. This is much less than the average (19.4% and 27.0% respectively). Respondents from larger firms were much more likely than average to indicate such (with 62.5% of respondents from firms of 50-99 attorneys, 73.1% of respondents from firms of 100-499 attorneys, and 68.3% of respondents from firms of 500+ attorneys responding this way).
The second most popular source respondents used to learn about technology was “Google or other search” (24.3%). However, solo and small firm respondents were significantly more likely than the average to indicate this as the first source they turn to (33.3% of solo respondents, 29.7% of respondents from firms of 2-9 attorneys, and 27.2% of respondents from firms of 10-49 attorneys responding in this way).
Only a small percentage of respondents indicated that a “vendor/manufacturer” (8.5%) or “peers” (9.1%) was the first place they turn to learn about technology.
“Bar associations” were cited less than half as often (4.1%) as being the first place that respondents turn to learn about technology.
Finding Available Training
A large majority of solo respondents (71.5%) and a high percentage of respondents from firms of 2-9 attorneys (42.6%) indicated that they have no technology training at their firms.
However, many software vendors offer tutorials and other training videos for their products online. Additionally, many trustworthy third-parties (like consultants) post informative “how-to” videos freely available online.
It is possible that some of those respondents who reported “no training” available at their firms may just not be finding training opportunities, because:
- They might not be using technology in their practices at all and are not looking for training
- They may have overestimated their skills using the technology (Dunning-Kruger They may be searching for training videos (or other resources) online but not finding them
The 2018 Survey structure does not give us a way to know which (if any) of these conditions apply to respondents.
However, remember that 33.3% of solo respondents who indicated that they did have training available at their firms also indicated that “Google or other search” was the first place they turn for information about technology. As for not having training available, assuming that a similar percentage (of 33.3%) applies to all solo respondents who might turn to Google or other search (to look at just one category), it is confounding to see that the 71.5% of solos attorneys responded that they did not have training available. It is, therefore, more likely that those attorneys are seeking training online, but are doing so ineffectively (by using “Google or other search”).
So then, if these lawyers are looking for training via “Google or other search,” why aren’t they finding these sources? It could be that their self-assessment of their own search skills leads them to conduct ineffective search engine searches that do not produce useful results.
In many cases, results of a search engine search for “training” and “software name” might return numerous links to paid or advertised third-party training options that crowd out the free or low-cost, vendor-supplied resources that are available. A search for “training,” “webinar,” or “tutorial” limited to the website of the technology’s manufacturer might prove more effective.
For more general (non-law-specific) software, attorneys might want to try the tutorials available from Lynda.com. The site offers thousands of video tutorials and practice exercises for various software, including Microsoft’s Word, Excel, and Powerpoint; Wordperfect; Quickbooks, and others. Subscriptions begin at $19.99/month. However, many public libraries offer their patrons free remote access to the entire library of Lynda.com’s educational materials, so lawyers should check their local library’s website to see if they already have access to this resource.
The purpose of this article is not to use the 2018 Survey results to argue that technology is a panacea to solve every problem a lawyer might encounter in their practice. Nor is it to make the claim that using technology in the practice of law does not come with its own difficulties that can affect a lawyer’s productivity. Despite those difficulties though, we are long past the time when it can be reasonably argued that a lawyer can provide effective representation to their clients without it.
The purpose of this article is to remind lawyers that the usefulness of any technology tool generally increases as their training in its proper use increases and that if they’re using technology in their practices (and they should be), then they should be getting training to use that technology to maximize their productivity and minimize the negative effects caused when struggling with their technology. Based on the 2018 Survey results, fewer attorneys are getting this message.
Technology training is also important because claiming ignorance of a particular technology as a defense for not implementing it—or implementing it incorrectly—will not protect lawyers from a potential ethics violation. This is especially true in the 36 jurisdictions that now require familiarity with “the risks and benefits associated with technology” as one of the measures of lawyer competence (based on the recent[ish] adoption of a new Comment 8 to the ABA’s Model Rule 1.1).
The good news is that, overall, a majority of lawyers believe that getting trained on the technology they are using in their firms is important.
The 2018 Survey makes it clear that the larger a firm, the more likely respondents are to indicate that technology training is available to them. This is a trend seen in previous years.
It is discouraging, however, to see this year’s precipitous drop in respondents reporting “technology training of any kind available at [their] firm,” as well as the low percentage of solo attorneys reporting having training available at all, in the 2018 Survey. This second drop is confounding because 71.2% of solo respondents indicated that it is “very important” or “somewhat important” to receive training on their firm’s technology, yet only slightly more than one-third of solo respondents (25.6%) indicate that technology training is available at their firm.
The 2018 Survey’s structure does not allow us to discern if these solo lawyers who report no technology training at their firms are not seeking out training or are just not finding training if they are seeking it out.
The fact that 87.6% of solo respondents indicate that they are “very comfortable” or “somewhat comfortable” “using [their] firm’s available technology” may give us an indicator that these respondents are overestimating their facility with the technology and underestimating their need for training.
Is it possible that those respondents indicated that they do not have technology training at their firms (40.0% of all respondents; 71.5% of solos) are not using technology at all or using very little? The structure of the survey does not give us a way to know this.
For those attorneys who may not be using technology in their practice, we recommend they go outside their comfort zone and attend technology conferences to learn what’s out there that would help them practice more efficiently. These non-technology using attorneys will hopefully gain insight at the technology conferences and will explore what technology they need to practice more efficiently (and competently) and then obtain the necessary training.
Lawyers must also learn to overcome the Dunning-Kruger effect that is likely coloring their own perceptions about their technology competence and understand that training would benefit them. Then, they would hopefully seek out educational resources that are already available to them (by conducting more effective Internet searches).
There’s so much free and low-cost technology training available from vendors and manufacturers, bar associations, CLE organizations, and other sources online that solos and small firms lawyers shouldn’t feel shut out of training despite their lack of an IT department and a big training budget. Yet, the 2018 Survey results tell us that many solos and small firm lawyers appear to not be taking advantage of this free and low-cost training—even though they are just a simple web search away.