Lawyers and technology in 2017: change is good

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Nicole Black, The Daily Record Newswire

According to a recent study conducted by Altman Weil, “Law Firms in Transition 2017” (online: http://www.altmanweil.com/LFiT2017/), 72% of responding firms believe that change in the legal industry will continue to take place at a rapid rate, compared to 2012 when only 61% of respondents believed the pace of change would increase. This statistic represents a positive trend, since it shows that not all law firms are stagnant when it comes to innovation and implementing new ideas.

So what exactly are lawyers doing to adapt to changing times? Many are using emerging  technologies in their firms to increase efficiency and reduce costs. For example, according to the American Bar Association’s latest Legal Technology Survey Report, one way lawyers are embracing change is by using web-based tools to store, access and share documents.

Solo and small firm lawyers were the most likely to use cloud computing tools in their firm compared to their larger counterparts. According to the ABA Report, 35% of solos used cloud computing software in their practices in 2016, as did 35% of firms with 2-9 attorneys, 29% of firms with 10-49 attorneys, and 19% of firms of 100 or more lawyers.

Interestingly, those same solo and small firm lawyers were the least likely to experience a breach in the past year, with only 8% of solo and small firm lawyers reporting a breach, followed by 11% of firms with 2-9 lawyers. Larger firms, on the other hand, were much more likely to experience a breach, with 26% of firms with 500 or more lawyers reporting security breaches in 2016, up 15% compared to 2012.

Not surprisingly, with the rise of cloud computing comes the decline of the use of remote access tools. According to the ABA Report, in 2016 only 37% of lawyers used remote access methods to view case information and documents stored on law firm servers compared to 45% in 2013, representing a decline of 8%. In comparison, web-based access, which is much more reliable and convenient, increased by 7% from 24% in 2013 to 31% in 2016.

Solo attorneys were the most likely to access documents online using web-based tools like legal practice management software (49%), followed by lawyers from firms of 2-9 (36%), and 23% of respondents from firms of 10-49 attorneys.

Lawyers are also increasingly communicating and collaborating with their clients online, a step that is all the more important in light of the ABA’s recent ethics opinion, Formal Op. 477. (online: https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/images/abanews/FormalOpinion477.pdf), which  encourages lawyers to avoid unsecure email when sending certain types of confidential client information and suggests that lawyers consider using encrypted methods of communication, such as secure, web-based client portals.

According to the ABA Report, 33% of lawyers now share documents with their clients online. And, 26% report using online messaging and communication tools with their clients. Solo lawyers led with way with 29% reporting that their firms offered online messaging and communication access to clients (compared with 25% in 2015, and 23% each in 2014 and 2013). Next up were lawyers from firms of 2-9 lawyers at 24% (compared with 18% in 2015, 16% in 2014, and 20% in 2013).

So that’s how lawyers are adapting to technology and embracing technology in 2017. How does your law practice compare? Is your firm using technology to meet the needs of 21st century legal consumers? If not, what steps can you take today to provide your clients with the secure and convenient online communication and collaboration tools they’ve come to expect from their lawyers in 2017?

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Nicole Black is a director at MyCase.com, a cloud-based law practice management platform. She is also of counsel to Fiandach & Fiandach in Rochester and is a GigaOM Pro analyst. She is the author of the ABA book “Cloud Computing for Lawyers,” coauthors the ABA book “Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier,” and co-authors “Criminal Law in New York,” a West-Thomson treatise. She speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes three legal blogs and can be reached at niki@mycase.com.