The annual ILTA Technology Survey is one of the more comprehensive tech surveys out there – in a way. It targets law firm CIOs and helps them answer the most common question a CIO gets from firm management: What are other firms doing? What's the trend in adopting specific types of technologies and products?
Law firm leaders are notoriously concerned about what peers and competitors are doing before making any moves themselves. This survey, with its 362 pages of questions and answers about eleven product categories, answers those questions.
What the survey doesn't deliver, for the most part, is insight into the factors driving changes in those purchasing patterns; the external market forces that are changing law firms' business and service delivery models; how staffing is changing; how pricing and budgeting are evolving; and how well lawyers are adjusting to new technologies.
How CIOs use this survey
The team that produces the annual ILTA Technology Survey gave a sneak preview of this year's report at the ILTACON event in August. Members of the volunteer Technology Survey Team took part in a special preview session before releasing the full report.
The survey team preceded its presentation of the data by discussing how each of them had previously leveraged the report data within their firms. They confirmed the value of influencing a decision to firm management by showing what other firms were doing or by pointing to trends in purchasing a specific type of technology to show consistency with industry practices.
The survey team also advised readers to not just look at the top-line results in each category but compare this year's responses about a given technology with the previous year to spot trends. They also advised looking at the survey's helpful breakdowns by firm size to get more of an apples-to-apples comparison.
On everyone's mind: the Cloud
The biggest takeaway from the survey might be its data on cloud adoption of business applications. In all twenty-one categories of applications except one, cloud adoption is up since 2021. Some categories were up sharply, including Document Management (+10%), Email Security (+7%), and Docketing (+7%).
Small firms are leading the charge to the Cloud in many categories, including Accounting/Finance and Email applications. One of the great promises of cloud technology - it can level the playing field between smaller and larger organizations - seems to be coming true.
Respondents were also asked to describe their firms' "cloud philosophy." 45% call it "Cloud with every upgrade" (up from 41% last year). Thirty-one percent say, "Mostly in the cloud" (up from 24% last year). Just 5% say their firms are "Not yet comfortable with the cloud" (down from 7% last year). Clearly, the train has left the station on cloud adoption. Even the most security-minded firms are on board, and the question is mainly about which applications are moving to the Cloud fastest.
Collaboration tools and practices
The use of collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, or Skype for Business is up, and they are taking a larger share of firms' overall communications. Respondents say that 21% of communications are conducted on these tools rather than email, up from 18% last year. Fifty percent of respondents report that the share is 20% or more, a big jump from 2021 and 2020 (42% and 32%, respectively).
Collaboration is one area where firms are trying to influence vendors on interoperability. In the G100 and G200 meetings at ILTA (an invitation-only meeting of the largest firms' CIOs), representatives of the collaboration platforms were invited in to hear how important it was that their platforms integrate well with all the participants in the legal system – firms, clients, courts. (See our blog post, Themes from ILTACON 2022 Part 4 - Security and the Cloud: Keeping the Lights On, for a lengthier discussion of the G100 and G200 keynote panel at ILTACON).
AI and machine learning
ILTA asked its members, "What is your firm's current Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning strategy?" 60% say they are "not presently pursuing AI/ML options." 19% say they are "researching" options. Only 11% say they have one or more AI/ML tools in production."
With each passing year, this question seems increasingly obsolete. The responses make it sound like AI is making few inroads in legal, but AI is used in many corners of the legal industry today. It is just that it's not always recognized as AI. Firms using modern eDiscovery tools are likely using AI. Firms using Westlaw or other online systems for legal research are using AI. Firms using Litera's Kira or other software for automating the analysis of contracts in due diligence are using AI. And firms using Litera's Clocktimizer or other tools to analyze timecard narratives to classify legal work are using natural language processing.
It's often said that we only call something AI until we understand how it works; after that, it's just software. The legal industry has certainly turned that corner now.
Information governance: a growing concern
One discipline that is increasingly hard to ignore in the legal tech world is information governance. All the tools surveyed in this research involve data – data that is shared between lawyers and clients and data that is created in the ordinary course of law firm operations. Much of that data resides in data silos, is of varying quality, and is not accessible or shareable between applications. Information governance is the set of processes and practices organizations use to ensure that their data is accurate and available for data-driven decisions.
Information governance is touched on in several portions of the study. Only 45% of firms say they have a formal information governance policy or strategy. Many have other governance-related policies like records retention, email management, and litigation hold policies. 17% of respondents identified information governance as one of their firms' top three technology issues or annoyances.
In a series of questions about Microsoft Teams, respondents ranked their top governance policies, including limiting who can create Teams, retention policies, restrictions on adding guests, naming conventions, etc.
Expect future editions of this survey to focus on information governance as law firms become increasingly dependent on accurate and interoperable data sources for their decision-making processes.
Top three technology issues or annoyances
As in past years, people issues are the most significant barriers to technology adoption. When asked to name the top tech issues or annoyances in their firm, the two most common responses were all about change management: "Change: Users' acceptance of change" (41%) and "Change: Managing expectations (users and management" (31%). Many ILTACON sessions touched on change management, and it's clear that the human side of implementing technology needs to be seen as part of the "total cost of ownership" of legal technology tools.
Other barriers to change include security compliance and risk management, keeping up with new versions of the technology, and generally high technology costs.
An executive summary of the survey is available at no cost from ILTA (registration for an ILTA password is required). The full report is free to ILTA members who participated in the survey, Corporate ILTA Members, and sponsors at the ILTA365 and above levels. It's also available for purchase.