In November 2020, the American Bar Association published its annual Legal Technology Survey Report, which gives an overview of trends in legal technology. Now, for 2020, it is important to keep in mind that while the report was published in November, most of the actual survey was conducted in early 2020, i.e., before the pandemic started. We know from other reports that have been published that the pandemic had a dramatic effect on the usage of legal technology. These effects are not yet reflected in the 2020 Legal Technology Survey Report. Below, we discuss some of the highlights of the report. A more in-depth thematic discussion of the report can be found on the Law Technology Today website. (URLs included below).

Demographics: In 2020, the responding attorneys consisted of 26% solo practitioners, 30% lawyers at firms of 2-9 attorneys, 17% at firms of 10-49 attorneys, 5% at firms of 50-99 attorneys, 10% at firms of 100-499 attorneys, and 12% at firms of 500+. The average age of the respondents was 58. Approximately 69% of them were male, while 31% were female, and on average they had been admitted to the bar for 30 years. Based on the income generated, the largest practice areas were litigation (27%), followed by estate planning (20%), and real estate transactions (16%).

Cybersecurity: The 2019 report warned that law firms score badly when it comes to cybersecurity. Unfortunately, while there are minor improvements in 2020, not that much has changed. And that is problematic as during the pandemic that number of cyberattacks, especially on lawyers who work from home, will have increased. The number of firms that have experienced a security breach increased from 26 to 29%, and the number of firms having experienced a virus, spyware or malware infection rose to 36%. Also notable is that the larger the law firm is, the larger the number of lawyers is who do not know whether they had security incidents.

Still less than half of the lawyers surveyed were using security tools: “43% of respondents use file encryption, 39% use email encryption, 26% use whole/full disk encryption. Other security tools used by less than 50% of respondents are two-factor authentication (39%), intrusion prevention (29%), intrusion detection (29%), remote device management and wiping (28%), device recovery (27%), web filtering (26%), employee monitoring (23%), and biometric login (12%).”

It also seems that, rather than addressing the actual problems, lawyers prefer to take cyber liability insurance policies. “36% percent of respondents, compared to 33% in 2019, 34% percent in 2018, and 26% in 2017.” And there also is improvement when it comes to incident response plans: in 2020, 34% of respondents indicated their firms maintained such a plan, up from 31% in 2019 and 25% in 2018.

Cloud computing: the area of the report that is most outdated probably is the one on cloud computing. The pandemic resulted in a massive increase in the usage of cloud solutions, but that is not yet reflected in the report. The report found the legal profession still dramatically lagging behind in cloud usage, at 59%, compared to 58% in 2019. Notable and surprising is that lawyers continue to use popular business cloud services like Dropbox (67%), Microsoft 365 (49%), iCloud (19%), Microsoft Teams (18%), Box (13%), and Evernote (12%) at higher rates than dedicated legal cloud services.

As was the case in 2019, the report is alarmed by the lack of security measures law firms have in place when using cloud services. “The 2020 (pre-COVID-19) survey results showed further slippage in the already lax compliance of lawyers with even the most basic cybersecurity practices. Although lawyers say that confidentiality, security, data control and ownership, ethics, vendor reputation and longevity, and other concerns weigh heavily on their minds, the employment of precautionary security measures is quite low. No more than 31% (down from 35%) of respondents were taking any one of the specific standard cautionary cybersecurity measures listed in the 2020 Survey question on this topic. Eleven percent of respondents (up from 7% in 2019) reported taking none of the security precautions of the types listed. Only 45% of respondents report that the adoption of cloud computing resulted in changes to internal technology or security policies. These are disturbing numbers.” (Law Technology Today).

Practice Management: surprisingly, the report found that overall, the usage and availability of practice management software has declined. The only exception is for small law firms with 2 to 9 lawyers. Conflict management tools do a bit better than practice management software, but their usage and availability has stalled as well. Again, the small firms with 2 to 9 lawyers are the exceptions.

With a worldwide increase in privacy protection legislation came an increase in the usage and availability of metadata removal tools. And even though the survey was largely conducted before the pandemic hit, the report sees an increase in remote access tools. Related to this, is that the primary workstation for most lawyers no longer is a desktop computer, but a laptop computer.

Only 45% of respondents said they were using legal analytics tools, down from 49% in 2019.

Technology Training: Lawyers understand that technology training is important: 82% of respondents agreed that it was important to receive training on the technologies their law firm is using. Yet, in spite of that, fewer lawyers – only 59% – had access to technology training at their firm than in 2019. The decrease in availability was largely in the segments of solo lawyers (27%, down from 28%) and medium sized firms from 10-49 lawyers (74%, down from 82%). Small firms of 2-9 lawyers, as well as large firms (100-499 lawyers), on the other hand did see small increases, with respectively 50% instead of 49.3%, and 96% instead of 95%.

The report also noted that 91% of solo respondents indicated that they were “very comfortable” or “somewhat comfortable” using their law firms available technology. It explicitly warns that these lawyers may be overestimating their abilities with regard to the technologies they’re using and underestimating their need for training. It explicitly refers to the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Websites and Marketing: Overall, most law firms (54%) still do not have a marketing budget. More specifically, for most solo and small firms having a marketing budget seems to be the exception rather than the rule: only 32% of small firms (2-9 lawyers), and 14 % of solo practitioners have one. For those that have a marketing budget, 26% responded it had increased in 2020; for 11% it had decreased; for 27% it remained the same, and 36% of respondents did not know. The marketing budget is mainly spent on sponsorship (48%), followed by LinkedIn (42%), email (41%), Facebook (33%), and print (21%).

When it comes to websites and blogs, 87% of law firms responded that they had a website. Among solos, the percentage is however far lower, at only 59%. Lawyers still seem to view the primary role of their website as an online brochure, where the website has information about the partners (98%) and associates (73%). Approximately half of the websites also focus on the cases the firm handles. And 56% of lawyers now also use their website for content marketing, where they publish their own legal articles, but only 27% uses a blog for it. Among solos, the percentage that publishes its own content drops to only 17%. Most of the websites these days are mobile friendly, with only 6% saying their websites are not.

When it comes to individual promotion, 77% of lawyers say they promote themselves on social media. Only 9% however uses other channels as well.

The 2020 Survey Report reveals there still is a big gap between solos and small firms on the one hand, and the larger firms on the other, when it comes to their marketing efforts.

Budgeting & Planning: by now, most lawyers understand that a technology budget is essential. Overall, 62% have a technology budget (up from 60% in 2019), but an alarming 59% of solos and 41% of small firms (2-9) still do not. A whopping 71% of solo firms also doesn’t have a training budget. When it comes to the size of the budget, it remained the same or slightly increased. Interestingly, it remained the same in mainly solo law firms, while it slightly increased in the larger ones. The report advises to spend time planning a budget, which includes technology training, and to measure usage and track what is working. This will allow them to prioritize accordingly and spend more wisely.