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The Incremental Adoption of Legal Technology in the Law Office

While the advent of technology has proved to spark a variety of innovations across multiple disciplines, the legal profession has been an industry rather slow to adopt these emerging technological advances. Since the law office is generally viewed as a rather conservative venue of employment, technology and its seemingly modern association has been categorized as a substantial and often threatening change to traditional ways of work. More specifically, legal technology has become an emerging market for law offices looking to gain a competitive edge. Conversely, law offices are stigmatized as places filled with “risk averse” longtime partners or associates that have maintained a preference towards legacy providers as a way to work more comfortably while supposedly mitigating security concerns. Not only does this attitude demonstrate hesitation towards a more modern way of working but also a cautious investigation into more efficient ways of work without abandoning traditional methods.

Offices looking to incorporate emerging legal technology are often skeptical of adopting such information at a rapid rate of change for various reasons. The risk of information breaches, traditional use of the billable hour, and the partnership model have hindered such adoption. Since lawyers often fall into the “risk averse” stereotype, it is also common to assume that includes a fear of technological advances. In many law offices skepticism arises when new technology is introduced. Cloud-based rapid testing and organizing prototype environments is either frowned upon or seen as too risky in the law office to protect sensitive information. Thus, it is not surprising that many law offices do not have cloud-based storage capabilities or re unaware of their availability. In my experience, studying information technology as an undergrad and working with tech-friendly companies offers a stark contrast to when I worked at a law office. IT-friendly companies were generally excited to implement and test new technologies in the office and it often provided a sense of relief for newer employees unfamiliar with legacy technology. Conversely, while working at a law office, most information was stored in large filing cabinets, most senior employees utilized legacy technology and wished to continue doing so, and often employees were untrained in using newer technologies because they were never asked to use them. Most senior individuals in the law office were concerned that heightened use of technology would pose security concerns for client information and that the time spent investing and learning newer technology would not be as beneficial. While this surely is not representative of every law office in the nation, it does present a great challenge to offices that are slow to adopt these technologies and may result in falling behind the competition.

In addition, the billable hour has been widely utilized throughout law offices, however the high costs most clients incur paves the way for more efficient research. Historically the majority of law offices operated on the premise of collecting hours in order to increase profits which has remained a prominent aspect of a law office. This mentality often leaves little time for investing in the most efficient methods of research and taking the time to learn the skills needed to utilize new models of billing. Thus, firms adherence to the billable hour creates an inherent disincentive to enhance legal technology. This is because an increase in technology and productivity leads to a decrease in billable hours necessary to perform a specific task.

The phenomenon of the partnership model contributes to difficulty in adopting new technology since it is often difficult for partners to come to a consensus about investing money into newer technology without risk of overstepping another partner’s authority. Since partners are usually more senior members, they are often reluctant to adopt technology more than younger associates, who though influential, generally have less authority in the decision-making process. Therefore a generational gap can contribute to a discourse regarding the use of technology in the office, however the most senior associates generally have the final say in those decisions. Despite these challenges, there is a possibility to allay these fears concerning emerging technology and cross-discipline interaction may be a vital component to this effort. Promoting the use of legal technology as a means of stimulating project efficiency, heightening security protections, and offering critical employee training should be seen as a way to improve the law office as a whole. Whether it is a small law clinic or a large firm, legal technology can be helpful in all avenues of the legal profession and providing these offices with a greater understanding of its necessity in the growing market may be a key factor in stimulating incremental adoption of new technologies.


-Kristen Schulz