Study Offers Insights into Law Practice Technology
The 2010 Case, Matter, and Practice Management System Software Study provides interesting insights into law practice technologies. The 312 page report widely addresses technology use in law practice. However, three areas particularly intrigue: cloud computing use, OpenOffice word processor use, and overall technology evaluation. [FN1]
Cloud Computing Use
An entire section of the survey addresses “cloud computing” issues—see Section VI starting on page 207. [FN2] Perhaps not surprisingly, survey respondents generally indicated significant concern about issues such as viruses, security, email security, confidentiality, and authentication related to cloud computing. [See 208-220]
Respondents expressed compelling opinions on whether cloud computing should or will be used in law practice. Strikingly, 8.3% felt hosting client privileged data online (i.e., in the cloud) itself was malpractice. An additional 46.8% felt hosting such information in a web-based format was not malpractice, but they would not do it.  Only 14.8% indicated they and clients were “comfortable with online client data.”  Large firms seemed the most likely to use and the most comfortable with cloud computing.  Overall, the survey indicates a significant reluctance to use cloud computing.
Consistent with the above, almost 42% of all respondents indicated they were “not likely [to use]/not interested” in cloud computing—less than 14% had implemented any cloud computing solution.  Interestingly, small and large firms, not medium, were most likely to have implemented a cloud computing solution.  This makes sense since large firms would have significant multi-site access issues (a prime cloud computing issue) and small firms may be seeking low-management/low-cost solutions (promoted as benefits of cloud computing) as alternatives to on-site implementations.
The simple “take-away” appears to be significant concern about hosting client data online but with a few early adopters.
OpenOffice Word Processor Use
Analyzing the results, approximately 5% of attorneys in small, private practices use OpenOffice for word processing. [see 74-78]. The features in the OpenOffice Suite largely parallel those in the MS Office Suite. OpenOffice includes full-featured word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, and database programs—but is free of license fees. According to the survey, 3.8% of all law offices use the OpenOffice word processor.  While usage is far below that of MS Word or Corel WordPerfect, the inclusion may show that OpenOffice is a viable alternative to commercial packages—especially for small practices. [See 75] (In fact, the survey shows OpenOffice usage is equal to Lotus Notes, by IBM, usage.) My own experience with OpenOffice confirms that OpenOffice is a viable option for lawyers. [FN3]
Approximately 88% of firms evaluate new technologies at least once every three years and almost 65% perform evaluations on a yearly basis—figures largely consistent regardless of firm size.  The results appear to indicate a disparity in access between small and medium/large firms. For small firms, the survey results indicate significant reliance on local bar associations and colleagues for recommendations on software  apparently because many of these small firms have no IT staff.  Small firms were markedly different because none of the medium or large firms responding had less than one IT staff member.  For large and medium firms, a notable number shift software evaluation to the IT department. [See 248] Overall, the results indicate a healthy, dynamic evaluation of technologies but also indicate apparent uncertainty regarding compelling sources of information about new technologies.
The survey was originally released in early 2010, and the data may be somewhat dated. Technology is fast moving. Nevertheless, the survey provides general guidance on law technology issues and identifies some potentially significant, emerging issues such as cloud computing.
The Legal Technology Institute at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law performed the study and analyzed the data. The depth of the report is commendable. TechnoLawyer makes the study available at 2010 Case, Matter, and Practice Management System Software Study.
FN1—In this synopsis, numbers in brackets, , indicate page numbers.
FN2—The survey imprecisely defines cloud computing as software as a service (SaaS). SaaS is one form of cloud computing but other models abound such as Platform as a Service (PaaS), infrastructure as a service (IaaS), etc. Thus, the study is unclear whether the responses may apply to cloud computing models other than SaaS.
FN3—OpenOffice is the generic name for the office suite. Oracle currently oversees OpenOffice. As open source software, however, others can re-package or extend OpenOffice. An alternative to the Oracle OpenOffice release is LibreOffice by The Document Foundation. Both provide similar functionality. (The reason for two versions is complex and an artifact of the open source community. See an example article addressing the “fork.”)
Original Publication: 26 March 2011
Revised: 06 July 2011