Data and cybersecurity, cloud computing, and data analytics are three areas that this year’s recently released International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) Technology Survey has identified as “hot spots” for legal technologists.
ILTA is a membership organization that provides peer-to-peer support for technologists and technology leaders in law firms and corporate legal departments. Through conferences and publications, it provides education and networking for legal tech practitioners; and one of ILTA’s cornerstone publications is an annual technology survey.
The survey focuses primarily on the back-office systems that drive many legal organizations, such as operating systems, practice management systems, email and messaging, mobile devices, remote access, and data security. In addition to detailed data on who is using what technology, however, each year the technology survey provides insights on the challenges faced by legal tech professionals, as well as a glimpse into which technologies are hot spots in the current environment.
The current ILTA Technology Survey includes responses from 481 firms, representing more than 92,000 attorneys and 188,000 total technology users. The full report is available for purchase; the Executive Summary can be downloaded for free.
From previous survey responses, ILTA has identified three technology areas as particularly urgent for its membership: security, cloud computing, and analytics.
The survey asked about full-time equivalent (FTE) staffing levels for various areas, and one interesting finding is that analytics staffing by size of firm largely parallels security staffing levels. This is a key indicator of the growing importance of data analytics and other data-intensive technologies in the industry, as the business-of-law analytics function is deemed just as important (as measured by FTEs) as something as essential as security.
Indeed, part of that staffing increase is certainly due to the growth of analytics all across organizations, not just IT — Finance, Governance and Risk, Business Development, Pricing, Litigation Support, and Legal Project Management are all cited as areas that are starting to leverage analytics. This is a sign that IT should no longer be seen as a wholly separate back-office function; the tools IT provides extend into the very heart of law firm operations and service delivery.
This year’s survey also shows strong evidence that many firms are experimenting in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, or an “AI-augmented workforce.” Only 27% of medium-sized law firms are not currently pursuing AI or machine-learning options, and only 13% of large firms are not. However, there is a long tail of smaller firms not pursuing an AI strategy; in fact, overall 57% of all firms say they are not pursing any AI strategy. Certainly, there are ways that these smaller firms will come to leverage AI through off-the-shelf products that are already on the market, but for now it’s the larger firms that have the resources to build custom applications and to experiment with the new technology.
A new question this year included in the survey asked about the top three technology issues or annoyances within the firm. Across the board, in all law firm sizes, the largest numbers of responses have to do with change management. Two of the highest responses were related to the human side of technological change: “Managing expectations (users and management),” and “User’s acceptance of change.”
This is emerging as one of the biggest challenges for legal organizations — the pace of technological development has not been matched by a proportionate increase in the capacity of organizations to manage all that change and deliver on the promise of all this technology. These are difficult, “soft skills” issues that are often overlooked when organizations consider the total cost of technology deployment.
In its analysis, ILTA notes that there is a regulatory aspect to the ability of the industry to adapt to change. Currently, 32 states have adopted a new amended rule of professional responsibility that puts lawyers on notice that they have an “ethical duty to keep abreast of changes in the law and in practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.” ILTA recognizes the danger of a potential skills gap:
“…this year’s ILTA Technology survey, more than any prior year, lays bare the changes in technology that are rapidly moving us toward new skill requirements, and also reflect (or maybe underpin,) the changes we’re seeing in the legal market. The “critical mass” we’re perceiving in Legal Technology is being driven by huge changes in the greater technology arena.”
An Evolution Underway
Overall, ILTA’s 2018 Technology Survey paints a picture of an evolving role for IT in the legal profession; a change that has been underway for some time now and will be likely to continue into the future.
The big change, however, is in the perception of technology, from a set of back-office operations to a strategic asset that plays a central role in the value delivered to clients. Strategic assets require strategic direction, and the winning legal organizations will be those who make strategy and strategic planning a central part of their IT operations.