The September issue of the ABA Journal ran an article entitled Web 2.0 Still a No-Go: Lawyers Slow to Adopt Cutting-Edge Technology. I’ve been wanting to blog about this article for a couple weeks now because I think any virtual attorney should find it interesting. The article consisted of three pages of charts showing that attorneys are starting to use more technology in their daily law practices, but they are not jumping to it at the rate that the general public has been over the past five years.
Only 2% of attorneys maintain a law blog and only 15% of lawyers have joined a social network. Attorneys use technology to receive information, but its primarily through news websites (79%) or by email newsletters (59%) and discussion lists (40%). Only 10% use RSS feeds and 6% use podcasts. Even more disturbing, only 30% use their firm’s intranet, extranet or website to communicate and receive information.
What are you folks using? A phone, a fax machine and snail mail?
Did these statics surprise me? A little, but they shouldn’t have. Attorneys are by training a skeptical bunch. Nevertheless, the statistics in this ABA Journal survey make our profession seem like a close-minded and archaic bunch compared to the general public. And this is at a time when we should be working to improve the image of attorneys as progressive professionals who are ready to serve the public and stand for justice in the legal system.
Yes, my perspective is a bit skewed considering how I operate my own solo law practice. I run a virtual law office from my home and work with other attorneys and clients who make the most of the technology that is available to us. So it is difficult for me to understand why an attorney would not make use of the evolving Web 2.0 applications that are now available to them. Check out the list of useful websites from my last post and the CLE presentation last week. Many of these sites are for useful Web 2.0 apps that can have an impact on your practice.
It doesn’t make practical sense to hold back on Web 2.0. Why?
1) The general public is not holding back. These are your clients. Attorneys serve their clients. In the end, it is all about customer service. Your clients use these technologies to communicate with co-workers, family and friends across the nation. They enjoy the convenience and affordability that the technology provides for them. Ignoring these trends in the general public will keep your law practice in the dark ages. You may retain a clientele that enjoys receiving snail mail and can’t use email to save their life, but don’t expect that clientele to hang around forever.
Can you be efficient, convenient and affordable? Will you work with me using the technology that I use on a daily basis and not talk down at me just because you are a professional?
This is what your clients want. Instead of buying a lovely new set of chairs for your reception area, invest in the technology that will make your practice run smoother. Start simple. Learn to use your email, buy a scanner and start storing your docs online, learn basic backup techniques for your systems. Learn about encryption and security. Try setting up a virtual law office, using web conferencing, hiring a virtual paralegal, connecting with others on Twitter, Skype, LinkedIn, Facebook, Legal OnRamp, etc. Find ways to connect with other attorneys through the technology. It will benefit your clients and your law practice.
2) In this dark economic climate, why wouldn’t you want to lower your law office overhead? Not only can some of these Web 2.0 applications make your practice more efficiently, many of them are free or the cost is low enough to receive a fast return on investment. Lower your overhead and pass the savings along to your clients.
3) Take a second look at the life of a typical attorney. Do you have a life outside of your practice? One positive statistic in the article was the indication that more attorneys are using mobile devices. In two years the number of firms providing attorneys with BlackBerrys or iPhones has increased from 49% to 76% in two years. 72% of attorneys under the age of 40 are using mobile devices.
That’s perhaps positive progress. It’s either being used to bill more hours while on the go or to make more time for a personal life by using the flexibility of not having to be tied down to a physical office. That work/life balance detail wasn’t in the survey, but at least the option of more flexibility is there to those attorneys through the use of mobile devices and Web 2.0 apps.
That said, I recognize that change is never easy, and for a solo practitioner it can be a scary leap. But in my opinion, not understanding Web 2.0 and keeping up with current technology is a much bigger risk. Here’s looking forward to an ABA Journal Article that shows other attorneys agree with me.