Survey Results: Lawyers and Legal Technology in 2020

The practice of law is always changing. Courts hand down new decisions, laws are revised or re-written entirely, new regulations are enacted, and technological advancements occur that necessarily impact the way that lawyers work and law firms operate.

But when it comes to far reaching change, 2020 is unique. We’re living and working in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, and its impact has been unprecedented. All aspects of our lives have been affected, from personal and social to professional. And no one  – and no industry – has been immune from the rapid pace of change, least of all the legal profession.

The rate of change isn’t always easy to measure, but one way to track it is through annual surveys, which is why I always make it a point to review and analyze the results of various legal industry  surveys. One particular survey that I always read with great interest is The ABA Profile of the Profession. The 2020 edition of this annual survey was released over the summer and is full of lots of interesting statistics and findings about the ways that our profession is changing over time. You can download it here.

In today’s post, I’m going to focus on statistics from the survey relating to the use of technology by lawyers. In later posts I’ll focus on other topics, including demographics and diversity in the profession and lawyers’ finances. But for now, let’s look at how lawyers are using technology and online tools in 2020.

Online legal research

Let’s start with some interesting data regarding legal research, since lawyers spend so much time on this particular task. How much time, you ask? According to the Report, the average lawyer spends 17% of their time conducting legal research.

65% of the lawyers surveyed shared that say they regularly use free online resources to conduct legal research, and 57% regularly use fee-based online tools to conduct  research. Also of note is that 38% of lawyers report that they begin their research by running a search online using a free search engine like Google, while 30% tend to start their research using a paid online resource. Another 10% begin with a free legal research service that is available via a bar association partnership.

The most popular paid online legal research service in 2020 was Westlaw, with  49% of lawyers surveyed using it. Next up was Lexis Advance (28%). The top free websites used  for legal research were FindLaw (20%), Fastcase (18%), Cornell’s Legal Information Institute (18%), government websites (15%), and Google Scholar (13%).

Social media and legal marketing

Next, let’s take a look  at social media  use by lawyers. According to the Report, 80% of lawyers reported that their firms had  a presence on social media, with Facebook being the most popular social network used by law firms at 30%.

The majority of lawyers also reported that they personally used social media for professional purposes (80%). The most popular networks used by lawyers for personal online promotion included LinkedIn (90%), Facebook (39%), Twitter (28%), Avvo (18%), and Martindale (15%). Of note was that the lawyers reported that social media participation can sometimes pay off. In fact, 31% of lawyers surveyed shared that they’d had a client retain their legal services as a result of their social media presence.

When it came to law firm marketing, the lawyers surveyed shared that their firms used many different online tools for marketing purposes, with email being the most popular at 40%. Other online marketing tools used included sites like Avvo (14%), Lawyers. com (13%), and FindLaw (13%). Not surprisingly, many lawyers surveyed reported that their firms also continued to rely on more traditional marketing formats as well, including print (30%), direct mail (19%), and the Yellow Pages (12%).

Finally, the survey results indicated that blogging has not gained as much traction with lawyers and their firms. According to the Report, only 30% of law firms maintained a legal blog and only 6% of lawyers personally blogged for business purposes. Large firms were more likely to maintain a legal blog with 74% of firms with 500 or more lawyers doing so. Solo lawyers were at the other end of the spectrum, with only 9% reporting that they blogged.

Notably, however, blogging pays off for those willing to invest the time and energy into it. The survey results showed that nearly half of all bloggers (49%) had been retained by a client as a result of blogging.

Remote Working

At the turn of the century, the concept of working remotely was a foreign one for most lawyers. But, as technology improved, lawyers increasingly began to appreciate the many benefits of using cloud-based technology to enable remote working. Prior the the pandemic, the numbers of lawyers who telecommuted was increasing year-over-year. In fact, according to the survey, prior to the pandemic more than half of all lawyers telecommuted on occasion (55%), and about 6% did so on a full-time basis.

Notably, and not surprisingly, the pandemic has had a significant effect on remote working. As I reported earlier this year, the results of a survey that MyCase conducted in April indicated that the vast majority of law firms surveyed –  87% – were operating remotely in some capacity. The number of lawyers who are still working remotely continues to be well above pre-pandemic levels, and many larger firms have instituted work-from-home mandates through the end of the year and beyond.

In other words, remote work is here to stay in the short term, and will most likely become commonplace in the long term. Because of the pandemic, many firms now have the necessary technology to enable remote working, and many law firms leaders are also actively considering the benefits of reducing their firm’s footprint by relocating to smaller offices, thus reducing law firm overhead while simultaneously creating a more lean, efficient business.

So although the times are always changing, as the survey results show, 2020 has been quite noteworthy in this regard. The way – and where – lawyers practice law is evolving at rates never before seen, and lawyers are adapting to the unexpected changes out of necessity. What the practice of law looks like on the other side of the pandemic remains to be seen, but I, for one, welcome the changes.

Speaking of change, as I’ll be discussing next week, the demographics of the legal profession are evolving as well. So make sure to check back next week for lots of interesting data on diversity in the legal profession and much more.