What technology tools rank most important to lawyers in driving efficiency? Given all the hype these days around artificial intelligence, it must be at or near the top of the list, right?

Actually no. In a survey being released today, AI and another much-ballyhooed technology, blockchain, rank at the bottom of the list.

Out today is the 2019 Aderant Business of Law and Legal Technology Survey, published by Aderant, a global provider of business management software for law firms.

As with last year’s survey, which I wrote about here, the 2019 survey covers a range of business and technology topics, including the business health of firms, their challenges and competition, billing processes, and change management.

But I, predictably, went right to the section on technology tools and cloud adoption, where the survey asked lawyers about the technology tools that have the greatest impact on their ability to work efficiently and manage their work effectively.

And here is what stood out there: Out of 18 categories of tools, the two lowest ranked were AI and blockchain.

So which tools did lawyers rank as having the greatest impact on their efficiency? Turns out they are the tools lawyers use day in and day out, the bread-and-butter tools of a modern law practice:

  1. Document management.
  2. Time and billing.
  3. Case management.
  4. Financial management.
  5. E-discovery.
  6. Docketing.
  7. Knowledge management.
  8. Mobility and mobile applications.
  9. Business intelligence.
  10. Matter pricing and planning.

The survey also asked law firms about their adoption of cloud technologies. Three-quarters say their firm is “somewhat” or “slightly” in the cloud. But only 2% say their firm is completely cloud based and just 12% are mostly cloud based. Another 12% do not use the cloud at all. These numbers were generally consistent across firms of all sizes, the survey reported.

When asked the follow-up question about their plans to move to the cloud in the future:

  • 7% said 6-12 months.
  • 4% said 12-18 months.
  • 14% said 18-24 months.
  • 37% said not in the foreseeable future.
  • 1% said never.
  • 28% said they were unsure.

On the topic of ebilling, the survey found that 29% of law firms process half or more of their invoices through client spend-management or ebilling systems. That is up 9 percent from the prior year.

Another area of inquiry in the survey involved the challenges and benefits of change management. One question asked whether it is a challenge to obtain leadership support or partner buy-in for new business initiatives or technology projects. Here is how they answer:

  • Yes, 32%.
  • No, 18%.
  • Sometimes, 43%.
  • Unsure, 7%.

Interestingly, the firms that answered no to that question were also 24% more likely to say that their business this year was better than last.

Other topics covered in the survey included:

  • Business compared to last year. More than 90% of respondents said this year is at least as good
    as last year.
  • Top challenges facing firms. Operational efficiency (31%) and pricing (29%) are the top challenges facing law firms in 2019. Cybersecurity dropped to seventh place with 18%. Other top challenges were technology adoption (26%), change management (22%), and growing business from existing client accounts (19%).
  • Where firms see competition. Law firms see other firms as the top source of competition (53%), followed by clients taking work in-house (22%) and alternative service providers (15%).
  • Time to publish an invoice. Including prebills, about 38% of law firms say they publish client invoices within a week or less.

The survey questioned 147 business-of-law and legal professionals from law firms all over the world, with 87% of responses from North America. Most respondents (87%) were from larger firms in the U.S.

Photo of Bob Ambrogi Bob Ambrogi

Bob is a lawyer, veteran legal journalist, and award-winning blogger and podcaster. In 2011, he was named to the inaugural Fastcase 50, honoring “the law’s smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries and leaders.” Earlier in his career, he was editor-in-chief of several legal publications, including The National Law Journal, and editorial director of ALM’s Litigation Services Division.