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When It Comes to Tech, Are Small Firms Being Left Behind?

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on

Technology is rapidly changing how people communicate, work, interact, even vote. And yes, how lawyers practice the law. In the face of such changes, more and more state bars are imposing technology competency requirements on lawyers, echoing the ABA's determination that lawyers must keep abreast of the 'benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.'

But when it comes to staying current on technology, some lawyers are lagging behind -- and they tend to be in smaller firms or solo practices. According to an analysis of the "2016 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report," there are wide discrepancies in tech training opportunities between small law and solo practitioners and their big firm counterparts.

The Divide in Technology Training

Mark Rosch, VP of Internet for Lawyers, analyzed the survey for the ABA's 2016 Techreport (a collection of expert analyses of the survey data) and found a surprising divide when it came to attorneys and technology training.

Almost all attorney respondents agreed that technology training was important, with 81.4 percent saying such training was very or somewhat important. Only 18.9 percent of attorneys took the Luddite's view, saying that training was not very or not at all important. (Presumably they responded on parchment, using a well-inked quill pen, before donning their powdered wigs and taking a horse-drawn carriage to meet up with their toiling scriveners.)

Even attorneys who are invested in keeping up to date with technology may have trouble accessing that training, however -- especially if they're not at the biggest firms.

A large percentage, 70.5 percent, of respondents reported having technology training available to them. But when Rosch dug deeper in to those numbers, he noticed that they didn't show the whole picture.

A full 100 percent of attorneys at firms with 500 or more lawyers reported having "one or more" training options available. Just over 96 percent of lawyers at firms with 100-499 attorneys said the same. But for firms with just two to nine attorneys, the numbers dropped to 64.7 percent. For solo practitioners, only 54.3 percent of attorneys reported having training options available.

What's worse is that solo practitioners have the least access to the most effective types of training. Only 1.3 percent of solos reported having "live classes offered by in-house staff" as a training option -- for obvious reasons. They were also the least likely to include "web-based classes" as an available training possibility. Just 32.3 percent said they could take such training online, compared to 42.9 to 44.8 percent for all other cohorts.

Yet in-house programs were cited by lawyers as the most effective form of training. Web-based classes tied for second.

Are Lawyers Really Not Getting Training?

It's not all doom and gloom, of course. Some lawyers simply may not be aware of the options available to them. Others simply may have been confused by the questions. As Rosch writes:

Generally, the "web-based classes offered by vendors/manufacturers" and "tutorials included with software programs" are available to attorneys at no cost or low-cost. For whatever reason, the 45.7% of solos and 35.3% from firms of 2-9 who responded that there is "no training" available to them are not taking advantage of these resources.

Rosch posits that while some "no training" lawyers simply "might not be using technology in their practices, it's more likely that if they are seeking training they are doing so ineffectively." (If you're googling for training opportunities, make sure you're googling well.) Some, too, could have taken the question to imply a formal firm-sponsored training program and thus checked "no" even if they could find training on their own.

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