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2015: The Year Lawyers Freaked Out About Legal IT Security

Nicole BlackThe results of the 2015 ILTA/InsideLegal Technology Purchasing Survey (“the Survey”) have confirmed what I’ve been saying all year about lawyers’ attitude toward technology in 2015: they’re frozen in their tracks by fear. In part this is because it seems that every week there’s news of some new, massive data breach. 

The causes of the breaches are many and varied: hacked passwords, sophisticated attacks by foreign government agents, company employees stealing data, and security flaws in online programs. That many of the reasons for the breaches are something that are unlikely to happen or are inapplicable to most law firms is often irrelevant to lawyers; they hear news of the latest breach and automatically assume that all new technology is dangerous and should be avoided. 

This means that for many lawyers in decision-making positions who may have been thinking of transitioning their law firms to new technologies often reverse course and decide to hunker down stick with the status quo since it’s seems safer than trying something new. Most lawyers figure better safe than sorry and instead of moving forward they stand still.

The results of this year’s ILTA/InsideLegal Technology Purchasing Survey support my hypothesis. But before I delve into the findings, it’s important to note that although the survey purports to include “small firms” in its results, with 40% of the responses coming from that contingent, it defines a small firm as one with between 1-49 lawyers. That definition flies in the face of what most would consider to be a small firm, which is typically considered to be 1-10 lawyers. Once you have more then 10 lawyers in a firm, decisions are typically made by committee, thus limiting the ability to make quick, responsive technology choices. That’s a completely different type of law firm with a very different decision-making process in place than a small law firm.

That being said, the results of the survey in some respects comport with the results of other recent surveys that address the technology needs of solo/small firms in the past year. For example, the results of the ABA’s 2014 Legal Technology Survey Report about small firm lawyers’ use of technology mirror the findings of the Survey, as can be seen in this infographic. Similarly, many of my conclusions below regarding lawyers’ suspicion of technology in the face of multiple security breaches also applies to solo and small firms lawyers.

So let’s turn to some of the more interesting results from the Survey. For starters, there was a marked shift in the results of the survey question related to the biggest challenge faced by legal IT departments. For the first time in 8 years, email management was no longer the biggest challenge faced by respondents and was instead replaced by security management.

Even more telling: security software purchases jumped significantly over the past 12 months. Last year, security/network security/security assessment tools ranked 12th when it came to law firm purchases over the past year, whereas in 2015, it came in 6th. Likewise, last year 27% of firms purchased security tools and/or software during the previous 12 months whereas in 2015 38% of firms had made this type of purchase in the past year. 

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Also relevant are the responses relating to cloud computing. The statistics regarding cloud storage adoption actually declined from 2014 to 2015, with 35% reporting that they planned to purchase cloud computing storage software during the upcoming year in 2014 and only 33% planning to purchase it in 2015. The top reason provided for avoiding cloud computing? Security concerns, with 63% of respondents providing that as the response, in keeping with the theme that security fears dominated technology purchasing decisions in 2015. However, interestingly, 29% of respondents cited security as a compelling reason to adopt cloud computing technology. So I suppose that counterbalances the security fears related to cloud computing somewhat.

That being said, in this year’s report, for the first time ever, there was an entire section dedicated to understanding how law firms plan to use cloud computing tools in the future, thus emphasizing the growing impact of this technology on the legal profession. According to the survey, when it came to plans to adopt cloud computing tools in the future, the results were mixed. 60% of survey respondents indicated that less than 25% of firm software and service solutions could be cloud-based within the next 1-3 years, followed by 24%/25-50%, 10%/51-75%, and 6%/75%. In other words, the forecast for full cloud computing adoption in mid-sized to large firms in the next 5 years—or even the next decade—is cloudy at best. 

So what’s my point? Certainly cloud computing isn’t the center of the technology world and security fears—both about cloud computing and technology adoption in general—are arguably reasonable for any number of reasons, the recent breaches not withstanding. While that’s true, because cloud computing is a fairly new technology and provides incredible efficiencies at a great price point, adoption rates and attitudes about it are a great barometer of the legal profession’s approach to technology in general. And right now, all signs point to a profession that is stuck in a holding pattern for the time being, for better or for worse. 

Nicole Black is the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase, a law practice management platform. She is an attorney in Rochester, New York, and is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise. She speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .
 

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