Since 2001, the ABA Legal Technology Survey Report has polled lawyers for their opinions about the legal technology options available to them. The Survey focuses on issues relating to technology use, not issues using specific products. One of the areas the Survey investigates is access to and attitudes toward training for the technology lawyers are using in their practice.
The 2022 Survey questioned attorneys across the spectrum of law firm sizes, as follows:
- 8% are attorneys at solo firms
- 33% at firms of 2-9 attorneys
- 27% at firms of 10-49 attorneys
- 6% at firms of 50-99 attorneys
- 12% at firms of 100-499 attorneys
- 14% at firms of 500 or more attorneys.
The average respondent had been a member of the bar 29 years and was 57 years old.
The COVID-19 pandemic marked a dramatic shift in the necessity for lawyers to utilize technology in their practices. While some solo attorneys, already working from home or solo offices, were well-positioned to work during the self-isolation period(s), some attorneys in small, mid-size, and large firms found themselves scrambling to cobble together the technology they needed to work from someplace other than their office. Some had the assistance of in-house IT staff or consultants, but some did not.
Overall, the survey results tell us that attorneys are generally willing to use technology in their practices and are actively planning on using more. The survey responses also offer some insight into areas where improvement can still be made in attorneys’ use of and access to training on that technology.
Current Attitudes Toward Technology
It is reassuring to see that attorneys not only recognize the importance of using technology in their practices, but are also committed to expanding their use of technology.
More than half of respondents (50.6%) indicated that their technology budget had increased over the previous year. It is especially encouraging to see that 71.4% of Solo Attorneys indicated that they had increased their technology budgets – by far the highest percentage.
Ninety percent of respondents indicated that they were “Very Comfortable” or “Somewhat Comfortable” with their firm’s technology.
Solo attorneys were most likely to report being “Very Comfortable” with their firm’s technology (68.2%). These responses also showed a wide gap in comfort compared their respondents from firms of 100-499 lawyers (33.3%).
Ironically, it is the respondents who report the most access to training at their firms who also report being the least comfortable with that technology.
Are Lawyers Receiving Training on the Technology They Use?
Nearly three-quarters of respondents (74.9%) indicated that technology training is available at their firm.
The overall responses can be a bit misleading though. Less than a third of Solo Attorneys (31.8%) reported having training available at their firm. All of the respondents at firms of 100-499 attorneys and nearly all (93.6%) at firms of 500 or more attorneys reported having training available.
Access to training, however, does not directly result in feeling comfortable with the technology a lawyer is using. Sixty-eight point two percent of Solo Attorneys indicated that they were comfortable with the firm’s technology. Only 33.3% of respondents at firms of 100-499 attorneys responded that they were comfortable.
Just How Adequate is the Training Lawyers are Receiving?
Few lawyers responded that they “Strongly Agree” that they have “received adequate training on [their] firm’s technology” (18.5% overall). Just over half (57.8%) responded that they “Agree” that they “received adequate training”.
The resources of a larger firm do not appear to guarantee a feeling among attorneys that they are adequately trained. Only 12.5% of respondents from firms of 100-499 attorneys responded that they “Strongly Agreed” that they have “received adequate training on [their] firm’s technology”. It should be noted that this is significantly less than the average of all respondents (18.5%) and even lower than the response of Solo Attorneys (18.2%). Respondents from firms of 500 or more attorneys were most likely (30.0%) to respond that they “Strongly Agree” that they have “received adequate training on [their] firm’s technology”.
Should Lawyers Even Bother?
The majority of attorneys (68.4%) understand that they are “required to stay abreast of the benefits and risks of technology as part of their basic competency requirement under your jurisdiction’s enactment of the rules of professional conduct?”
This requirement is tied 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 10 years, 40 states (80%) have adopted some form of this rule as part of their Rules of Professional Conduct. No state-by-state breakdown of responses is available to explain whether the disparity in affirmative responses (vs. percentage of states that have such a requirement) is a true reflection of the responding attorneys’ ethical duty or shows an ignorance of rules that govern them.
Not All Lawyers Appear to be Sold on Technology
While a majority of respondents see the importance “to receive training on [their] firm’s technology” (46.9% “very important”; 39.9% “somewhat important”), almost 1/6 of respondents reported a neutral or negative opinion as to whether it was important “to receive training on [their] firm’s technology” (7.4% “neither important nor unimportant”; 4.4% “not very important”; 1.8% “not at all important”).
It is most troubling to see that 9.1% of Solo Attorneys believe that it is “not at all important” to “receive training on [their] firm’s technology”.
What About Other Technology?
Respondents were less enthusiastic about learning about other/new technology not directly related to their practice. Only 18.6% of respondents felt it was “very important” and 47.3% felt it was “somewhat important” to “to receive training/education on emerging technology (e.g., blockchain, AI)”.
Interestingly, Solo Attorneys were more enthusiastic about learning about these emerging technologies than they were to learn about the technology they use in their practice. None of the Solo Attorney respondents relied that it was “not important” to learn about these new technologies.
Who Is Getting Training
Overall, the 2022 survey results indicate that nearly three-quarters of respondents (74.9%) have some kind of technology training available.
Not surprisingly, larger firms, with their greater resources, are making this overall result seem significantly higher than it is for some attorneys. Nearly all respondents from firms of 50 up to 500 or more reported having training available (50-99 attorneys 93.3%; 100-499 attorneys 100.0%; 500 or more attorneys 93.6%), less than one-third of solos reported having training available (31.8%).
Is the Technology Training Lawyers are Receiving Effective?
When asked whether they had “received adequate training on [their] firm’s technology,” most respondents answered in the affirmative with 18.5% “Strongly Agree[ing]” and 57.8% “Agree[ing]”.
Solos and attorneys from firms of 2-9 lawyers were as likely (or slightly more likely) than the overall average to respond positively (Solos 18.2% “Strongly Agree[ing]” and 54.5% “Agree[ing]”; respondents from firms of 2-9 attorneys 22.1% “Strongly Agree[ing]” and 54.5% “Agree[ing]”).
Respondents from the largest firms were most likely to “Strongly Agree” with the statement (30.0% of respondents from firms of 500 or more responded this way).
Are Lawyers Able to Put Their Technology Training into Practice?
When asked “How often do technology-related problems negatively impact your productivity?”, 54.6% of all respondents responded either “Often” (8.9%) or “Sometimes” (45.7%). Surprisingly, solo respondents were less likely than average (only 4.5% “Often” and 27.3% “Sometimes”) to suffer negative impacts from technology problems. Respondents from the largest firms reported the most negative impact of technology (6.7% “Sometimes”; 66.6% “Sometimes”).
Are larger firm attorneys running into more problems than their smaller firm counterparts because they are handling more complex matters? Or, could it be that the larger firm attorneys are more frustrated because they know (or think they know) that they should be able to solve the problem because they are more likely to have had some training on their technology?
(Note that in the previous section, larger firm attorneys were generally more likely to report that their training was effective than smaller firm attorneys were.
Where do Lawyers Turn for Help Solving Their Technology Problems?
Overall, respondents indicated that they were most likely to turn to “Internal technical support staff” (52.0%), “Consultants” (23.3%), “Non-IT staff” (9.6%) when they have a problem with their firm’s technology.
Not surprisingly, the likelihood of reliance on “Internal technical support staff” is related to firm size – with larger firms generally reporting a higher likelihood of this being their first option. Similarly, the more likely a group of respondents was to report that “Internal technical support staff” was their first option, the less likely they were to report a “Consultant” as their first option.
It is also notable that Solo respondents were more than three times as likely to select “Google or other non-legal specific online resource” as their first choice to solve these problems as the overall average (9.1% for Solos vs. 3.0% for all respondents). Solo respondents were also more than six times as likely to select “YouTube” as their first choice as the overall average (4.5% for Solos vs. 0.7% for all respondents).
Where Are Attorneys Learning About New Technology In The First Place?
As a follow-up to respondents who indicated that training was available at their firms, the Survey also asked, “Where do you turn first when you need or want to learn about legal/work-related technology?”. Overall, the highest percentage of respondents (37.8%) indicated their IT departments were the first place they would turn.
Next, respondents indicated that they were most likely to turn to “Google or other non-legal specific online resource” (18.6%), “Peers” (13.4%), “Legal Technology Consultant” and “Vendor/Manufacturer” (both at 9.3%), or a “Bar Association” (7.1%) when they “need or want to learn about legal/work-related technology.”
It’s no surprise that the likelihood of reliance on IT staff to learn about legal/work-related technology increases with the size of the firm – ranging from 9.1% for solo respondents to 76.8% for respondents from firms of 500 or more. Because of their inherent lack of in-house IT staff, solos are much more reliant than the overall average on information from a “Legal Technology Consultant” (approximately 1.5 times), and a “Vendor/Manufacturer” or a “Bar Association” (both nearly 2.5 times).
We are long past the time when it can be reasonably argued that a lawyer can provide efficient representation to their clients without utilizing technology tools. This should be painfully obvious after so many attorneys at firms of all sizes were forced to work from home on short or no notice – scrambling to cobble together the necessary technology (with or without assistance) they needed to replicate their work environment from home during the COVID-19 self-isolation period(s).
That is not to say that using technology in the practice of law does not come with its own difficulties that can affect a lawyer’s productivity. However, many of those difficulties can be minimized through adequate training.
The largest firm attorneys generally are more likely to report training is available at their firm, and less likely to reply that problems with technology “Often” effect their productivity.
However, Solo attorney respondents are the least likely to report training is available at their firm (31.8%) and least likely to “Strongly Agree” that they received “adequate” training (18.2%), but are most likely to report that they are “Very Comfortable” with their firm’s technology (68.2%).
The survey’s structure does not give us a way to determine why this is. While it may be a case of “not knowing what one does not know,” there could also be other factors at play.
Technology is not just useful in providing effective representation to clients, in more and more states familiarity with “the risks and benefits associated with technology” is one of the measures of lawyer competence (based on the spreading adoption of an added Comment 8 to the ABA’s Model Rule 1.1). In the 40 states that have adopted some form of this no-longer-so-new Comment to the Rule, claiming ignorance of a particular technology for not implementing it – or implementing it incorrectly – is not a defense and will not protect lawyers from a potential ethics violation. These considerations are especially important when dealing with client-confidential information in a newly-configured home office setting. Clearly, lawyers must learn to use the technology that is readily available to them.
Solos and small firm lawyers shouldn’t feel shut out of training despite their lack of an IT department and a big training budget. There’s so much free and low-cost technology training available from vendors and manufacturers, Bar Associations, CLE organizations, and other sources online. The structure of the survey doesn’t let us know, however, whether these lawyers are taking advantage of these resources – but are just not labeling them as “technology training of any kind available at [their] firm” for the purposes of responding to the survey.
It is encouraging to see attorneys, particularly Solos, taking advantage of the resources provided by the Bar associations with regards to learning about new legal/work-related technology. Those resources may include, practice management consulting, CLE presentations, publications, and more to help lawyers learn about, evaluate, and use technology tools in their practice. Hopefully, those attorneys will also seek out training from their Bars.
About the Author
Mark Rosch (email@example.com) is Vice President of Marketing for Internet For Lawyers (IFL), and is the developer and manager of the Internet For Lawyers web site and directs the company’s online Continuing Legal Education (CLE) initiatives. He was instrumental in launching the company’s CLEseminars.com webinar platform in 2016 to deliver high quality law practice management, ethics, and technology-related webinars.