TechReport 2022: Solo & Small Firm

The ABA TechReport combines data from the annual ABA Legal Technology Survey Report with expert analysis, observations, and predictions from leaders in the legal technology field. Every Wednesday, we’ll be posting a new report from one of our experts, so stay tuned!

As the world emerges from a pandemic that forced the world to change, many lawyers are questioning whether the technological changes we have made in our practices will be permanent or revert to past habits. The 2022 ABA Legal Technology Survey Reports provide insights into these questions so that firms can best position themselves for the future.

The research, conducted by the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center is contained in five volumes of organized responses, and the resulting data is helpful to many firms of differing sizes. The published results represent one of the most comprehensive technology surveys of law firms available. The insights contained in the reports are particularly helpful to the solo and small firm demographic, the largest segment of the legal marketplace.

The insights are not just about the use of different technologies but what impact those technologies have on law firms. Are firms continuing to adopt cloud-based software for their remote workers? What new software products are growing in use? Is social media retaining its recent importance as a marketing tool? As we emerge from the COVID pandemic with more work being done remotely than before the pandemic, what are other firms doing to address these changes? The depth of information contained in the five volumes is impressive, but here are some of the topline issues that will be of interest to solo and small firms.

Cloud-based Software

The use of cloud-based (aka web-based) software among all respondents jumped to 70% over the past three years. In 2019 the overall usage was 58%. Among solos and small firms, usage is much higher. Eighty-four percent of solos report using cloud-based software for work-related tasks, followed by 74% of respondents from firms of 10-49 lawyers, and 73% of respondents from firms of 2-9 lawyers.

Among the cloud-based products and services most frequently cited are Dropbox, Office 365, GSuite, Box, Clio, Evernote, NetDocuments, and MyCase.

Remote Access Software

Having the ability to work from home while accessing software and files in the office was a clear advantage during the pandemic. Use of this software rose substantially except among solo lawyers. According to the report, “84% of respondents report personally using remote access software for law-related tasks (compared with 76% in 2021, 75% in 2020, and 73% in 2019). More than eighty percent of respondents from firms of 100 or more attorneys (88%), 2-9 attorneys (87%), and 10-49 attorneys (82%) personally use remote access software, in contrast with 58% of solo attorneys. Microsoft Remote Desktop (40%) and Citrix (32%) were the brand names listed most often by respondents as available at their firms, followed by LogMeIn (10%), and GoToMyPC (8%).”

 

Instant Messaging

Instant or text messaging continues to grow across the profession, with solos using this technology more than any other lawyer category. Forty-six percent of solo respondents report personally using instant messaging software for law-related tasks (same as 2021, compared with 28% in 2020, and 35% in 2019), followed by 43% of those in firms of 100+ lawyers, 38% of firms 2-9 lawyers, and 37% of firms with 10-49 lawyers. Respondents who gave brand names of instant messaging software most often listed Microsoft Teams (58%), Apple iMessage (21%), Cisco Jabber (15%), and Skype (14%) as available at their firms. One of the biggest complaints when using this software is the inability to track and save client interactions. However, many legal practice management software products are adding text messaging with features to address these concerns, so we may see a jump in adoption in the next several years.

Customer Relationship Management

The growth of CRM software within firms continues to lag behind other tools, despite the promise these products can offer law firms. CRM software can help businesses foster strong customer relationships and improve sales and retention by facilitating and tracking communications with prospects and clients. Lawyers from small firms (2-9) are the biggest users, with 39% using some form of CRM. CRM as defined in this survey includes Microsoft Outlook, Clio Grow, and InterAction. Only 22% of lawyers in firms of 10-49 lawyers use CRM with solo attorneys using it the least of any group at 17% of respondents.

Online Appointment Scheduling

Another software tool growing in importance is the capability for clients to schedule their appointments conveniently and securely with their lawyers over the internet. Popular products include Schedulicity and Calendly. Respondents from firms of 2-9 attorneys are most likely to report that their firm’s website allows potential clients to schedule a consultation (20%, compared with 28% in 2021 and 12% in 2020), followed by 17% from firms of 10-49 attorneys (compared with 19% in 2021 and 11% in 2020), 9% of solo attorneys (compared with 26% in 2021 and 29% in 2020), and 5% from firms of 100 or more attorneys.

Client Portals to Share Information

A very troubling statistic revealed in the report is the lack of secure client portals being offered by solos and small firms to their clients. While respondents from firms of 100+ attorneys are the most likely to report offering clients access to a secure client portal (54%), this contrasts to only 17% from solo firms, 24% from firms of 2-9 attorneys, and 25% from firms of 10-49 attorneys.  Client portals are more efficient for firms to use and much more secure than emailing documents. Further, client portals are available to firms in many ways including as part of some case/practice management software tools (MyCase, Clio, etc.), document management software (NetDocuments, etc.), cloud storage platforms (Box, DropBox, ShareFile, etc.), and legal-specific tools such as Client Status. Further, as client portals are becoming more widespread for doctors, CPAs, and financial planners, consumers are becoming more adept at using them. Isn’t it time lawyers joined them?

General Office Software Usage

Software Solo Usage Micro Firm (2-9) Small Firm (10-49)
Project Management 5% 17% 11%
Accounting 57% 35% 33%
Presentation 52% 56% 50%
Time & Billing 52% 66% 66%
Spreadsheets 48% 63% 65%
Calendaring 62% 84% 84%
Word processing 82% 92% 92%

For many years the most important software for solos and small firms continues to be word processing, calendaring, and time & billing. Those numbers continue to be reflected. Project management software is a relatively new entrant on this list. Despite the growing recognition within the profession that many cases can benefit from the use of project management software, actual use is strikingly low, especially among solos.

Legal Specific Software Usage

Software Solo Usage Micro Firm (2-9) Use Small Firm (10-49)
Case/Practice Mgmt 45% 46% 40%
Conflicts-checking 40% 32% 46%
Rules-based Docketing/Calendar 30% 20% 23%
Specialized practice (bankruptcy, real estate, etc.) 30% 35% 32%

It remains surprising how few lawyers are using the full scope of software tools that are available and affordable on the market. The benefits of technology in the delivery of legal services are well-documented, so why are fewer than half of lawyers in small firms using even the most common tools? Why do solos continue to lag even their small firm colleagues? One bright spot is that the use of case/practice management software by solos jumped from 28% in 2019 to 45% in 2022, most likely fueled by the need for remote access to client files during the pandemic.

Software Satisfaction

What adds to the mystery of low-software usage rates, is the high satisfaction ratings from lawyers who currently use the products. Overall user satisfaction rates for most legal-specific software approaches 90%. That’s hard to achieve with any software product. So with such high satisfaction, why aren’t more solo and small firm lawyers adopting more technology?

Quick Nuggets

  • It’s not surprising that 95% of firms report having a website for business, but what is surprising is that grew from 86% just three years ago. What took them so long? The Marketing & Communications portion of the Report reveals substantial additional data on the content and content creation of law firm websites.
  • Sixteen percent of solo respondents plan to replace any traditional software/service with a cloud-based alternative in the next 12 months, compared with 5% in 2021.
  • Solo attorneys (44%) are most likely to offer unbundled legal services to clients, followed by 42% from firms of 10-49 attorneys, 40% from firms of 2-9 attorneys, and 36% from firms of 100 or more attorneys.
  • Three-quarters of solos who use social networking sites for professional purposes report they have never received a direct referral as a result of their use. That compares to only about 40% for lawyers in small firms.
  • Overall, only 25% of respondents report they have claimed their Avvo profile.
  • LinkedIn is the most popular social media channel used by lawyers to promote themselves and their firms. The larger the firm, the more likely they are to use this channel. Although only 21% of solos use LinkedIn to promote their firms, 51% of firms with 10-49 lawyers, and 73% of firms with 50-99 lawyers use this channel.

We’ve barely scratched the surface. The 2022 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report contains myriad insights of value to firms of all sizes that are seeking to improve their ability to deliver quality legal services, retain employees, and evolve their firms out of the COVID pandemic into a new future. The insights across five volumes can seem overwhelming, but firms can also just zero in on those aspects of their firms that need improvements such as marketing, e-discovery, legal research, or office technology upgrades.  Data helps shorten the time between observation and insight. Apply the data in the ABA technology surveys to your firm observations to make better decisions about your future.

About the Author

Reid F. Trautz (RTrautz@aila.org) is Senior Director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s Practice & Professionalism Center, and is a board member of the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center. He was chair of ABA TECHSHOW 2012 and was named to the Fastcase 50 that same year. He also co-authors the Future Proofing column in ABA Law Practice magazine.

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