TechReport 2020: Know-how Coaching
Since 2001, the ABA Legal Technology Survey Report has polled lawyers for their opinions about the legal technology options available to them. The focus is on issues relating to technology use rather than issues relating to specific products. One of the areas the ABA Legal Technology Survey Report investigates is access to and attitudes toward training for the technology lawyers are using in their practice.
The “Technology Basics & Security” volume of the 2020 Survey questioned attorneys across the spectrum of law firm sizes, as follows:
- 26% are attorneys at solo firms
- 30% at firms of 2-9 attorneys
- 17% at firms of 10-49 attorneys
- 5% at firms of 50-99 attorneys
- 10% at firms of 100-499 attorneys
- 12% at firms of 500+ attorneys.
The average respondent had been a member of the bar 30 or more years and was 58 years old.
The COVID-19 pandemic’s self-isolation in 2020 shone a light on the importance of lawyer’s adopting, understanding, comfort, and training on the hardware and software technology they utilize in their practice. Anecdotally, we heard many stories of attorneys scrambling to cobble together the technology they needed to work from someplace other than their office. Attorneys were surveyed from March through May 2020, so later responses may have included the influence of the seismic shift to a work-from-home culture necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Overall, the results tell us that the state of adoption, comfort, and facility with technology tools in the legal industry is good, but the responses also offer some insight into areas where improvement can still be made.
Current Attitudes Toward Technology
It is heartening to see that a solid majority of participants (82%) responded that it was “very important” or “somewhat important” to “receive training on [their] firm’s technology.” (We will, however, dig deeper into these numbers later in this analysis.)
Similarly, 89% reported being “very comfortable” or “somewhat comfortable” with their firm’s technology. This represents a small increase from 2019 (86%) and 2018 levels (88%).
Solo and small firm attorneys were most likely to report being “very comfortable” with their firm’s technology (60% and 64% respectively). The results show a smaller gap in comfort between these smaller-firm attorneys and their counterparts at larger firms than in years past. For example, this year’s respondents at firms of 100-499, were only 54% likely to indicate that they were “very comfortable” with their firm’s technology. This is a big improvement over 2019, when 29% of respondents answered the same way. Attorneys at firms of 500+were 58% likely to respond that they were “very comfortable.” This is also an improvement over 2019, when 47% answered this way.
Counter-intuitively, it is the respondents who report the most access to training at their firms who also report being the least comfortable with that technology.
Are Lawyers Receiving Training on the Technology They Use?
Overall, there was a slight decrease in the overall percentage of respondents indicating technology training is available at their firm, but still represents a thin majority who report having such access (59% in 2020 vs. 60% in 2019 and 57% in 2018). These responses show a marked decline from the 74% of respondents who responded affirmatively in 2017, 70% in 2016, and 67% in 2015.
The closing of the “comfort gap” with technology between larger and smaller firm respondents does not appear to be explained by increased access to training by those smaller firm respondents. Digging deeper into the responses, it’s no surprise that the largest firms are most likely to offer training on the technology they employ. 100% of respondents from firms of 500+ (vs. 97% in 2019) and 90% of respondents from firms of 100-499 (vs. 95% in 2019) indicated that they had technology training available at their firms.
Similarly, it’s no surprise that solos and smaller firms reported significantly less availability of training at their firms. Only 27% of solos and 50% of respondents from firms of 2-9 attorneys responded that technology training was available at their firms.
It is unclear whether respondents’ relative lack of comfort with technology is due to lawyers just not availing themselves of the available training, receiving ineffective training, or whether lawyers at larger firms who have access to training might recognize how much more they need to learn to be proficient (and therefore comfortable) with their technology. Attorneys at larger firms might also feel more comfortable because they know they have IT staff in-house who they can call if they have difficulties.
Just How Adequate is the Training Lawyers Are Receiving?
Few lawyers responded that they “strongly agree” that they have “received adequate training on [their] firm’s technology” (22% overall). Nearly half (49%) responded that they “agree” that they “received adequate training.”
The resources of a larger firm do not necessarily appear to guarantee a feeling among attorneys that they are adequately trained. Only 29% of respondents from firms of 500+ responded that they “strongly agreed” that they have “received adequate training on [their] firm’s technology”. It should be noted that this is not significantly higher than the average of all respondents (22%), or similar responses from other, smaller firms. In fact, respondents from firms of 50-99 attorneys were much more likely (35%) to respond that they have “received adequate training on [their] firm’s technology”.
Should Lawyers Even Bother?
Attorneys are generally more likely (than in previous years) to answer in the affirmative when asked whether they were “required to stay abreast of the benefits and risks of technology as part of their basic competency requirement under your jurisdiction’s enactment of the rules of professional conduct?” In the 2020 Survey, 67% of respondents indicated that they were (vs. 64% in 2019).
This closely mirrors the ABA’s 2012 adoption of Comment 8 to Rule 1.1 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct that states:
“To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, engage in continuing study and education and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject.”
Over the course of the ensuing eight years, 38 states (76%) have adopted some form of this rule as part of their Rules of Professional Conduct. No state-by-state breakdown of responses is available to explain whether the disparity in affirmative responses (vs. percentage of states that have such a requirement) is a true reflection of the responding attorneys’ ethical duty or shows an ignorance of rules that govern them.
Not Everyone Agrees on the Importance of Technology Training
While not everyone agrees on the importance of technology training, more lawyers are seeing the importance. Overall, 82% of respondents indicated it was “very important” or “somewhat important” to receive training on their firm’s technology. This is very similar to the 82% of respondents who replied that same way in 2019. However, that similarity hides the fact that fewer 2020 respondents felt it was “very important” (42% in 2020 vs. 47% in 2019).
It is somewhat troubling to see that respondents to the 2020 Survey from smaller firms (either solos or firms of 2-9 attorneys) were less likely than average to respond that it was “very important” to receive training on their firm’s technology (32% and 35%, respectively vs. 42% overall). These are also marked declines from the 2019 results of 45% and 42%, respectively vs. 47% overall.
While it is troubling that solos reported a more negative attitude than the average toward the necessity of training (7% of solo respondents found this training to be “not at all important” vs. 3% of all respondents), these opinions at least mark an improvement in solo attorneys’ attitudes toward technology training. In 2019, 8% of solo respondents found this training to be “not at all important.” In 2018, 7% of solo respondents found this training to be “not at all important,” while in 2017 only 6% of solo respondents reported feeling that way.
Interestingly, no respondents in the larger firm sizes (100-499 attorneys) or the largest firms (500+) indicated that this training was “not at all important.”
But Are Lawyers Interested in Learning About Technology in General?
Attorneys are open to learning about technology—and it’s not just limited to the technology they use in their practices day-to-day. Emerging technologies like blockchain and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are also catching lawyers’ attention, even if slightly less so than in previous years.
Overall, 67% of respondents expressed a favorable view of the importance of receiving training on these technologies, responding that they felt it was “very important” or “somewhat important”. This is actually up from 64% of respondents who expressed similar views in 2019. However, fewer responded “very important” in 2020 (20% vs. 23% in 2019) and more responded “somewhat important” (47% in 2020 vs. 41% in 2019).
The overall favorable view is still down from 72% of respondents who responded similarly in 2018. It should be noted that solo attorneys were more than twice as likely as the overall average to view this training as “not at all important” (5% vs. 2% overall). This is an improvement over 2019 (9% for solos vs. the overall average response of 5%).
Who Is Getting Training
Overall, the 2020 Survey results indicate that more than half of respondents (59%) have some kind of technology training available. This number is deceptively positive, but it is a slight decrease from 2019 (60%). It also marks a significant drop from earlier years (74% in 2017 and 71% in 2016).
Larger firms, with their greater availability of training, are skewing the overall average to appear better than it actually is.
As low as that overall response may seem, the news is even worse for solo attorneys. Solos are less than half as likely to report having training available (27%) than the overall average (59%). This is down from 28% of solos who responded similarly in 2019.
Despite their responses, training is probably actually already available to those solo and small firm respondents who want it; we’ll discuss some of those sources that are likely already available to them later in this analysis.
It should come as no surprise that the likelihood of training increases with firm size. Respondents from the largest firms (500+ attorneys) reported the highest percentage of technology training availability (100%)—up from 97% in 2019.
How Effective is the Technology Training Lawyers are Getting?
When asked whether they had “received adequate training on [their] firm’s technology,” most respondents answered in the affirmative with 22% “strongly agree[ing]” and 49% “agree[ing]”.
Solos and attorneys from firms of 2-9 lawyers were less likely than the overall average to respond positively. Respondents from all other sizes firms were more likely than the average to respond positively.
This disparity is most likely caused by the presence of in-house IT and/or training staff at larger firms.
Does Increased Technology Training Lead to Fewer Technology Headaches?
When asked “How often do technology-related problems negatively impact your productivity?”, 52% of all respondents responded either “often” (7.3%) or “sometimes” (45%). Surprisingly, solo respondents were less likely than average (only 5% “often” and 34% “sometimes”) to suffer negative impacts from technology problems. These responses also show a mixed bag of progress for solo respondents compared to the most recent surveys: In 2019, solos only responded “often” 3% of the time and “sometimes” 36%, in 2018 6% responded “often” and 43% “sometimes.”
Respondents from larger firms (in all categories from 10-49 attorneys to 100-499 attorneys) were more likely than to report that they suffered negative impacts from technology problems “sometimes.” Respondents from the largest firms (500+ attorneys) were slightly less likely than the overall average to “sometimes” have their productivity negatively impacted by technology-related problems, but more likely than average to respond that their productivity was “often” negatively impacted.
Does this mean that larger firm attorneys are running into more problems? Or does it mean that their problems “negatively affect [their] productivity” more than their smaller-firm counterparts? The structure of the 2020 Survey does not give us a way to discern that.
Is it possible that the larger firm attorneys are more frustrated because they know (or think they know) that they should be able to solve the problem based on some long-ago training? Remember, larger firm attorneys generally report that their training is more effective than smaller firm attorneys.
Or, by the converse, are the solo and small firm respondents not as frustrated, because, never having received training, they do not even attempt to use some advanced feature or function to deliver some other result?
Who Is Solving These Technology Problems?
Overall, respondents indicated that they were most likely to turn to “internal technical support staff” (40%), “consultants” (27%), or “Google or other non-legal specific online resource” (12%) when they have a problem with their firm’s technology.
Not surprisingly, the likelihood of reliance on “internal technical support staff” is related to firm size—with larger firms generally reporting a higher likelihood of this being their first option. Similarly, the more likely a group of respondents was to report that “internal technical support staff” was their first option, the less likely they were to report a “consultant” as their first option.
It is also notable that solo respondents were more than twice as likely to select “Google or other non-legal specific online resource” as their first choice to solve these problems as the overall average (29% for solos vs. 12% for all respondents). It is surprising that none of the respondents indicated that they turned to YouTube to solve their problem with technology.
Why Might Those Reporting the Access to the Least Training Also Report the Most Comfort?
The 2020 Survey does not offer a way to know where the increased level of “comfort” in smaller firm respondents comes from. It could be that they are genuinely just more adept at using the technology in their firms and therefore are more comfortable. However, the fact that they also report significantly lower rates of access to training for their technology would not support that reason.
A more likely reason could be that those solo and small firm attorneys—like the general population—tend to inflate their abilities (in any area) when asked to assess themselves. In socio-psychological circles, this over-estimation of one’s own abilities is known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
In their research, social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University identified people’s general tendency to, “fail to adequately assess their level of competence—or specifically, their incompetence—at a task and thus consider themselves much more competent than everyone else.” Generally, their research found:
- “the least competent performers inflate their abilities the most
- that the reason for the over-inflation seems to be ignorance, not arrogance;
- that chronic self-beliefs, however inaccurate, underlie both people’s over and under-estimations of how well they’re doing.”
More succinctly: people don’t know what they don’t know, and therefore think they know more than they do.
Could it be that the comfort gap exhibited by solo and small firm attorneys comes from their overestimation of their abilities using technology at work—because they do not have access to training and therefore “don’t know what they don’t know”? Conversely, could it also be that larger firm attorneys, who do have access to training, realize how much more there would be to learn to become proficient with their technology and therefore have a lower perception of their “comfort” using their technology?
The 2020 Survey structure does not give us a way to know the answer to those comfort gap questions, but extrapolating from the general population, it is highly likely.
Where Are Attorneys Learning About New Technology in the First Place?
As a follow-up to respondents who indicated that training was available at their firms, the 2020 Survey also asked, “Where do you turn first when you need or want to learn about technology?”. Overall, the highest percentage of respondents (26%) indicated their IT departments were the first place they would turn.
Next, respondents indicated that they were most likely to turn to “Google or other non-legal specific online resource” (24%), “peers” (17.0%), “legal technology consultant” (11%), or a “bar association” (%) when they “need or want to learn about legal/work-related technology.”
This shows a marked decline in reliance on IT staff (32%) and online resources like Google (30%), but a marked increase in reliance on consultants (3%), “bar associations” (5%), and “peers” (10.8%), compared to 2019.
It’s no surprise to see firms relying less on in-house IT staff and more on consultants as many of them may be looking to trim expenses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, it’s heartening to see attorneys, particularly solos, taking advantage of the resources provided by the bar associations. Those resources may include practice management consulting, CLE presentations, publications, and more to help lawyers learn about, evaluate, and use technology tools in their practice.
Not surprisingly, the likelihood of reliance on IT staff is related to firm size—with larger firms generally reporting a higher likelihood of this being their first option. Similarly, the more likely a group of respondents was to report that IT staff was their first option, the less likely they were, generally, to report a “legal technology consultant” as their first option. (One exception is firms of 50-99 attorneys where “legal technology consultant” was never reported as their first option.)
It is important to note that solo and small firm respondents were significantly more likely than the average to indicate “Google or other non-legal specific online resource” as the first place they turn to learn about technology (36% of solo respondents and 26% of respondents from firms of 2-9 attorneys responded this way). This is important for two reasons:
- It is important to note that solo and small firm attorneys rely on “Google and other non-legal specific online resource” results for initial information more than any other source.
- It is also important to note that these 2020 responses indicate a slight decrease in that reliance since the 2019 Survey when 37% of solo respondents and 32% of respondents from firms of 2-9 attorneys responded this way, but represent an increase over the 2018 Survey when 33% of solo respondents, but a decrease for respondents from firms of 2-9 attorneys who responded this way 30% of the time in 2018.
Training Is Out There if Lawyers Know Where to Look For It
A large majority of solo respondents (72%) and a high percentage of respondents from firms of 2-9 attorneys (46%) indicated that they have no “technology training of any kind” at their firms. This represents a slight increase in the percentage of solos (71% in 2019) and a slight decrease for respondents from firms of 2-9 attorneys (49% in 2019).
This is to be expected since solo attorneys and smaller firms do not generally have the systematic training or professional development department of a larger firm. However, taking a broader view of what it means to have “technology training of any kind available at your firm” might affect those responses. For example, many software vendors offer tutorials and other training videos for their products online.
Additionally, many trustworthy third-parties (like consultants) post informative “how-to” videos freely available online. All of these would be available to lawyers in any size firm (even solos) if they looked for them more effectively, if at all.
One clue to where attorneys are looking for information about technology may be found in a series of questions asking “How influential are the following resources upon your technology purchasing decisions?” Obviously, using a resource or service to make “technology purchasing decisions” and using them to locate sources for training are two very different decisions, but the influence of these various channels can be instructive to determine how much respondents rely on them generally and how they might use them to locate training opportunities.
The resources and services discussed below include training sessions/presentations. The fact that so many solos and small firm attorneys report using them to make “technology purchasing decisions” but still report not having training available leads us to believe that the attorneys are using these resources effectively.
When asked about influence on their technology purchasing decisions, only 71% of solos and 70% of respondents from firms of 2-9 attorneys called “webinars/online demos” “very influential” or “somewhat influential.”
The numbers are even higher when asked about the influence of “educational conferences/CLE” on their technology purchasing decisions. 81% of solos and 76% of respondents from firms of 2-9 attorneys responded that these events were “very influential” or “somewhat influential” on their decisions.
Consultants are slightly more influential on the technology purchasing decisions of solos and small firm lawyers. 69% of solos and 84% of respondents from firms of 2-9 attorneys responded that “consultants” were “very influential” or “somewhat influential” on their decisions.
What Does “No Training Available” Mean?
It is possible that some of those respondents who reported “no training” available at their firms may have taken a very literal view of the question in responding to “what is available at their firm” because they do not have a systematic training program offered “at their firm.” However, others may just not be aware of or may not be finding these outside training opportunities, because:
- They might not be using technology in their practices at all and are not looking for training
- They may have overestimated their skills using the technology (Dunning-Kruger effect) and are not looking for training
- They may be searching for training videos (or other resources) online but not finding them
The 2020 Survey structure does not give us a way to know which (if any) of these conditions apply to respondents.
However, remember that solo respondents, 72% of whom indicated that they did have training available at their firms, also indicated that “Google or other non-legal specific online resource” was the first place they turn for information about technology (36% said it was their first choice for this information, first by far among the options). As to not having training available, assuming that a similar percentage (36%) applies to all solo respondents who might turn to Google or other search (to look at just one category of firm size), it is confounding to see that 72% of solo attorneys responded that they did not have training available. It is therefore more likely that those attorneys are seeking training online, but are doing so ineffectively (by using “Google or other non-legal specific online resource”).
So then, if even 24% of these lawyers are looking for training via “Google or other non-legal specific online resource,” shouldn’t more lawyers be finding these sources? It could be that their overestimation of their own search skills leads them to conduct ineffective search engine searches that do not produce useful results.
In many cases, results of a search engine search for “training” and “[software name]” might return numerous links to paid third-party training options that crowd out the free or low-cost, vendor-supplied resources that are available. A search for “training,” “webinar,” or “tutorial” limited to the website of the technology’s manufacturer might prove more effective.
For more general (non-law-specific) software, attorneys might want to try the tutorials available from Lynda.com. The site offers thousands of video tutorials and practice exercises for various software, including Microsoft’s Word, Excel, and Powerpoint; Wordperfect; Quickbooks;, and others. Subscriptions begin at $19.99 per month. However, many public libraries offer their patrons free remote access to the entire library of Lynda.com’s educational materials, so lawyers should check their local library’s website to see if they already have access to this resource.
Similarly, 81% of solo respondents indicated that “educational conferences/CLE” were “very influential” or “somewhat influential” in their technology purchasing decisions. Certainly some of those attorneys should be considering educational conferences or stand-alone CLE presentations as viable training options.
Technology training for lawyers is important. The good news is that, overall, a majority of lawyers (82%) agree, responding that getting trained on the technology they are using in their firms is “very important” or “somewhat important.”
The bad news is that slightly fewer attorneys (than in past years) are reporting having access to technology training at their firms. The 2020 Survey makes it clear that the larger a firm, the more likely respondents are to indicate that technology training is available to them. In fact, the respondents from the largest firms (500+ attorneys) showed a slight increase in availability to 100%. Slight increases were also seen in firms of 2-9 attorneys (50% vs. 49.3%) and 100-499 attorneys (96% vs. 95%). Despite those increases, the trend for solos (27% vs 28%) and firms of 10-49 attorneys (74% vs. 82%) continues downward.
We are long past the time when it can be reasonably argued that a lawyer can provide efficient representation to their clients without utilizing technology tools. This should be painfully obvious after so many attorneys at firms of all sizes were forced to work from home on short or no notice—scrambling to cobble together the necessary technology they needed to replicate their work environment from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
That is not to say that using technology in the practice of law does not come with its own difficulties that can affect a lawyer’s productivity. However, many of those difficulties can be minimized through adequate training.
Technology is not just useful in providing effective representation to clients, in more and more states familiarity with “the risks and benefits associated with technology” is one of the measures of lawyer competence (based on the recent[ish] adoption of a new Comment 8 to the ABA’s Model Rule 1.1). In the 38 states that have adopted some form of this new Comment to the Rule, claiming ignorance of a particular technology for not implementing it—or implementing it incorrectly—is not a defense and will not protect lawyers from a potential ethics violation. These considerations are especially important when dealing with client-confidential information in a newly-configured home office setting.
Overall, however, barely more than half of the attorney respondents to the 2020 Survey report having technology training available at their firms (59%). Those who could probably benefit the most from using technology more effectively in their practices—solo and small firm attorneys (those in firms of 2-9)—are even less likely than the average to report having training available (27% and 50%, respectively).
This lower than average availability of technology training at these smaller-sized firms is confounding when you consider that 69% of solos and 83% of respondents from firms of 2-9 indicated that it was “very important” or “somewhat important” to receive technology training.
The 2020 Survey’s structure does not allow us to discern if these solo lawyers who report no technology training at their firms are not seeking out training or are just not finding training if they are seeking it out.
The fact that 91% of solo respondents indicate that they are “very comfortable” or “somewhat comfortable” “using [their] firm’s available technology” may give us an indicator that these respondents are overestimating their abilities with the technology and underestimating their need for training.
Is it possible that some or all of those respondents indicating that they do not have technology training at their firms (39% of all respondents; 72% of solos) are not using technology at all or using very little? The 2020 Survey’s structure does not give us a way to know this.
For those attorneys who may not be using technology in their practice, we recommend they go outside their comfort zone and seek out technology conferences—especially now that many have gone virtual—to learn what technology is out there that might help them practice more efficiently. These non-technology using attorneys will hopefully gain insight from those conferences and will explore what technology they need to practice more efficiently (and competently) and then obtain the necessary training.
Lawyers must also learn to overcome the Dunning-Kruger effect that is likely coloring their own (mis-)perceptions about their technology competence to understand that training would benefit them. Once they do, they will hopefully seek out educational resources that are already available to them. Many of these resources can be located by conducting more effective Internet searches.
Solos and small firm lawyers shouldn’t feel shut out of training despite their lack of an IT department and a big training budget. There’s so much free and low-cost technology training available from vendors and manufacturers, bar associations, CLE organizations, and other sources online. However, the 2020 Survey results tell us that many solos and small firm lawyers appear to not be taking advantage of these free and low-cost training options—even though much of it is just a simple web search away.