ABA Survey:
How Lawyers Communicate And Collaborate With Clients In 2017

Before the internet age, lawyers communicated with their clients in three ways: in person, over the phone, and by mail. In due time, the fax machine was added to the mix, and then in the mid-1990s, email became commonplace and lawyers quickly adapted to this new form of electronic communication.

For more than a decade, communication methods in law firms remained at a standstill and then, with the proliferation of cloud computing and online communication everything changed. Suddenly, the methods available for communicating and collaborating with clients multiplied. Documents could be shared online and accessed via any internet-enabled device. Legal software made it possible for collaboration to occur in a secure online environment, removing the need for multiple, and often unnecessary, face-to-face meetings. Legal clients experienced the convenience of 24/7 access to information stored online when working with other types of professionals and began to expect it of their lawyers, too.

Of course, not all lawyers are first in line to embrace new technologies. Some resist technology altogether, others slowly begin to use it, and still others are nimble and quickly adopt new online communication and collaboration tools into their law practices.

This begs the question: just how many lawyers are actually communicating and collaborating with their clients online in 2017? What types of information are they sharing with their clients? What steps are they taking to ensure that their online communications are secure?

These questions, and more, were answered in the latest American Bar Association Legal Technology Survey Report. By way of background, every year, the ABA surveys lawyers from firms of all sizes to determine how they are using technology in their law practices and how they go about making decisions about technology. Here are some of the most interesting results from the 2016 report about the online tools lawyers are using for online communication and collaboration with clients.

One of the most interesting statistics from the survey was the marked increase in the number of lawyers using web-based computing in their practices. Prior to the 2016, the percentage had held steady at around 30% for quite a few years in a row. But in 2016, the number jumped to 38%. And when it came to cloud-based software that lawyers reported they’d incorporated into their law firms, MyCase was in the top 10!  Of all cloud-based software used by lawyers, including legal and non-legal platforms. Dropbox, Google Docs and iCloud were the top 3, with MyCase coming in at #7 right behind Box.

Another interesting trend was the increase in the number of lawyers using web-based tools to store, access, and share documents.  Respondents were asked how often they accessed “non-e-mail work assets (e.g., applications, files) while away from their primary workplace.” Nearly half of all lawyers reported doing so, with 46% of those surveyed indicating that they regularly accessed non-e-mail work-related information (compared with 42% in 2015, 45% in 2014, and 50% in 2013). Lawyers from the following practice areas were the most likely to use the cloud to store and share documents with clients, co-counsel, experts, and more: intellectual property (60%), family law (51%), and litigation (45%).

Lawyers under 40 were the most likely to access and share documents and case-related information stored online, with 57% reporting that they did so (compared with 42% in 2015, 45% in 2014, and 55% in 2013), followed by 55% of respondents who are between the ages of 40-49, and 47% of those lawyers who were between the ages of 50-59.

Not surprisingly, the survey results showed that remote access tools are falling by the wayside, with only 37% of lawyers using that method to access documents online compared to 45% in 2013. 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 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.

Client portal use for communication and collaboration is on the rise as well (which isn’t surprising in light of the ABA’s recent ethics opinion that encourages lawyers to avoid unsecure email when sending certain types of confidential client information and suggests lawyers consider using encrypted methods of communication, including secure, web-based client portals). According to the survey results, 22% of lawyers surveyed offer clients access to a secure client portal to interact with clients and transact business online. And one of the most popular client portal tools used by lawyers? MyCase! It was one of the top 5 client portal tools used by responding attorneys from firms of all sizes.

Lawyers are also increasingly communicating and collaborating with their clients online. According to the 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 respondents 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 communicating and collaborating online with their clients. How does your law practice compare? Is your firm meeting 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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