As we are taking our first steps into 2019, it may be useful to evaluate what 2018 brought us on the Legal Technology front. Robert Ambrogi, from lawsitesblog.com, published an article on the 20 most important Legal Technology developments in 2018. And, as usual, the American Bar Association (ABA) also published its annual Legal Technology Survey Report in December 2018, which offers great insights as well. Let us start with the latter.
The Full ABA Legal Techology Survey Report consists of six volumes:
- Technology Basics and Security
- Law Office Technology
- Online Research
- Marketing and Communication Technology
- Litigation Technology and E-Discovery
- Mobile Lawyers
These six volumes can be bought either separately, or combined, here. A summary of the survey in five separate reports can be read online for free here. These reports deal with:
- Budgeting and planning
- Solo and small firm
- Practice management
- Technology Training
- Litigation and TAR (Technology Assisted Review)
Here are the highlights.
One of the most surprising findings of the report is that the percentage of firms that budget for technology has undergone a slight decrease compared to last year. Where in 2017, 60 percent of law firms had a legal tech budget, that number is down to 57% in 2018. As was the case in the past, the percentage of law firms that have a technology budget increases with the firm’s size. The report found that 34 percent of solo respondents, 53 percent of firms of two to nine attorneys, 77 percent of firms of 10 to 49 attorneys, 83 percent of firms with 100 to 499 attorneys, and 87 percent of firms of 500 or more attorneys had technology budgets.
Another surprising finding is that while telecommuting or remote working overall is on the rise (as expected), it has decreased in larger firms. Among solo practitioners and law firms with 2-9 attorneys, the percentage of people who telecommute has gone up from 38% in 2015 to 46% in 2018, and from 58% in 2015 to 68% in 2018, respectively. In larger firms, however, the percentage has dropped from a high of 87% in 2015 to a low of 79% in 2018 in firms with 10-49 attorneys, and from a high of 94% in 2016 to a low of 88% in 2018 for the bigger ones.
Attorneys continue to use practice management software at a steady rate at firms of all sizes. The functionality of the software that is available to them hasn’t really changed in that managing clients and conflicts still is at the core of all of them. The amount of law firms using practice management software has remained steady over the last years (with the exception of some spikes in 2016).
Most attorneys are satisfied with the practice management software they use, as 32% reported “very satisfied” with the features and functions therein and 61% reporting “somewhat satisfied,” for a total of 93% that were somewhat or more satisfied.
Not much has changed with regard to the software law firms are using, and there is still plenty of room for improvement, especially when it comes to integration with other applications.
The GDPR has had an important impact which resulted in the removal of quite a lot of metadata. The usage of software that focuses on the removal of metadata is rising, which benefits privacy and confidentiality.
Another finding of the report is that the line between tablets and laptops is blurring. In solo and small law firms, the percentage of tablet users dropped from 57% in 2016 to 47% in 2018. In larger firms, however, the number of tablet users has increased: in firms with 100-499 attorneys, the percentage has increased from 32% in 2015 to 53% in 2018. In firms with more than 500 attorneys, 39% of attorneys use tablets.
There is virtually no change in how lawyers charged in 2018, compared to 2017. Hourly fees remain the most popular (at 69%), followed by fixed fees (15%), contingency fees (11%, which depend on the result achieved), retainer fees (4%, where the client pays an advance on a regular basis, typically monthly), and other (1%).
In his article on The 20 Most Important Legal Technology Developments Of 2018, Robert Ambrogi mentions several developments that are relevant worldwide:
- Analytics become essential: in 2018 more and more law firms started analysing the data they collect.
- Legal tech goes global: until recently legal tech largely consisted of national playing fields, but now we are seeing more and more legal technology services that are being offered internationally.
- Because of AI, Legal research gets smarter and more comprehensive.
- Investment are increasing. In the US alone, $1 billion USD was invested in legal technology.
- The cloud no longer looms ominous. More and more law firms have dropped their reservations and are now effectively using cloud services.
- Tech competence gets real.
- AI gets an MBA.
- Startups continue to proliferate.
In conclusion: the legal technology market keeps evolving, but the use of legal technology in law firms has not taken any large steps in recent years.