ABA Survey: Legal Software Use In Law Firms In 2021

By Nicole Black

Now that lawyers have been working remotely over the past year – and may continue to do so in the future – the legal software choices made by law firm leaders take on a whole new level of importance. This is because when your firm’s workforce is displaced, the only way to ensure that everyone is able to get their work done efficiently and effectively is to use reliable cloud-based legal software.

When working remotely, there are key functions that everyone needs to be able to accomplish in order to ensure that your law firm runs smoothly. Secure communication and collaboration are essential, whether it’s occurring to create documents, hold meetings, share relevant information, or get paid. That’s where the different functions of legal software come in.

Which functions are the most essential? Which types of software do law firms use most often? Do larger firms have different software needs than smaller firms?

All of these questions were answered in the most recent ABA Legal Technology Survey Report. The third section in this Report consists of a deep dive into the latest statistics on the use of legal software by law firms. What follows are some of the most interesting facts gleaned from the Report.

Client and calendar management software

Of vital importance, especially when working remotely, are software features that make it possible to access your current and potential clients’ information and manage your firm’s calendar no matter where you’re working. With these functionalities in the cloud, you’re able to ensure that everyone in your firm is on the same page when it comes to managing your current client’s cases and your firm’s relationships with its clients and potential clients.

Customer relationship management (CRM) software helps with the latter task, and is an incredibly useful tool during the pandemic since it allows you to track leads and convert them to clients. 41% of lawyers report that their firm had CRM software available and 22% of lawyers surveyed reported that they personally using CRM software (as opposed to their administrative staff). Lawyers from firms with 2-9 lawyer were the most likely to personally use this software (26%), followed by 22% of solo lawyers, 20% of lawyers from firms with 100+  or more attorneys, and 18% of lawyers surveyed who were with firms of 10-49 attorneys.

Contact and calendar management are also important functions for law firms to have in place, especially when working remotely. So it’s no surprise that a high percentage of lawyers reported that their firms had this software available. Contact management software was available for use at 92% of firms with 10-49 lawyers, 91% of firms with 100+ attorneys, 88% of firms with 2-9 attorneys, and 80% of solo firms.

Similarly, the vast majority of firms also had calendaring software available (93%), with larger firms with 100+ lawyers in the lead at 97%.  Next up were firms with 2-9 lawyers and 10-49 lawyers, both at 95% each. Last was solo firm attorneys at 86%.

Legal document software

For lawyers, documents are a vital part of their day-to-day practice. That’s why the vast majority of law firms invest in many types of software that help them create and manage documents.

For example, nearly all lawyers surveyed reported that their firms have word processing software available (99%), with 91% sharing that they personally using this software. The brands most often used are Microsoft Word (98%), Corel WordPerfect (15%), and Google Docs (8%).

Another popular tool for working with documents is PDF creation software which was used by 87% of lawyers surveyed. The brand names most often used are Adobe (87%), Nuance PDF Creator (13%), and Corel WordPerfect (11%).

Many law firms also utilize document management software features to help them categorize and track their firm’s documents (59%). Lawyers from firms of 100+ were most likely to do so (76%), followed by 54% for lawyers from firms with 10-49 attorneys, 40% of lawyers from firms with 209, and solos coming in last at 26%.

Document assembly software, which helps lawyers quickly create often-used documents is also popular, with 51% of lawyers reporting that their firms use it.  Overall, 36% of respondents report personally using document assembly software for law-related tasks. We’re proud to report that MyCase is one of the top 3 document assembly tools used by the lawyers surveyed for this year’s Report!

Legal billing and case management software

During the pandemic, law firms have come to rely on cloud-based legal billing software in order keep their firms afloat despite the challenging times. With this software, lawyers and their administrative staff are able to track and bill time, and then invoice clients electronically. Once clients receive the invoice – whether via client portal, text, or email – they can then pay online immediately.

As you can imagine, this type of software is quite popular with lawyers, with 85% reporting that their firms have electronic time and billing software available. Large firms with 100+ lawyers led the way with 95% of lawyers surveyed reporting that their firms had this software available. Next up were law firms with 50 – 99 lawyers at 90%, followed by 84% of lawyers from firms with 10-49 lawyers.

Also of note is that over the last few years, more than half of law firms have begun to increasingly rely on robust law practice management software. In the Report, 52% of lawyers surveyed shared that their firms had case/practice management software available at their firms, up from 50% in 2017.

Communications software

Finally, there’s another critical type of software functionality that law firms rely on when working remotely: communications. Reliable, cloud-based communications software functions are a must-have during the pandemic and beyond. This type of software comes in many forms.

For example, there’s electronic fax software. For many courts and lawyers, faxing document continues to be necessary, which is reflected by the fact that 76% of lawyers surveyed report that their firms have this type of software available at their firms. The brands most often used are eFax (60%), RightFax (11%), and MyFax (9%).

Instant messaging, or internal chat software, is also increasing in popularity. The majority of lawyers surveyed indicate that it’s available at their firms (61%).

Finally, there’s one of the most secure ways to communicate with clients that more law firms than ever now use: secure client portals. 26% of lawyers shared that their firms offer clients access to a secure client portal, which is defined as a “client- specific, password-protected portal/extranet where lawyer and client can interact and transact business online.” This is up from 22% in 2017. In 2021, the percentage of firms relying on this secure way to communicate with clients will most certainly continue to increase in light of recent ethics opinions from 2020 wherein the ethics committees have adopted the more secure communication standard set forth by the ABA in 2017.

And last, but not least, lawyers were asked which client portal software they used, and we’re thrilled to report that MyCase was one of the top 3 legal solutions!