Law Firms Embrace Computer Technology

June 30, 1998

Computers are now used extensively by legal staff in most areas of the practice, according to a new IT survey of legal practices. In particular over the last three years, Internet access has become more important, with 63% of practices having an e-mail address and 33% a web site.

The survey was carried out by LawNet, a national group of quality assured law firms, and Thames Valley chartered accountants, James & Cowper. It covered a sample of legal practices across the country, representing over 1,500 partners and fee-earners, and compares results with their first survey conducted in 1995.

All practices use computerised accounting and reporting systems and are now adopting computerised case management systesm. Conveyancing is the most common legal service to be computerised – by 38% of practices. General litigation is computerised by 25% of practices, commercial by 13% and debt collection by 2%.

The survey reveals that many practices are beginning to exploit their own information to produce detailed databases for marketing purposes: client marketing at 40%, local contacts at 27%, experts at 13% and wills and deeds at 15%. The low wills and deeds response indicated that computers are only just beginning to be exploited to analyse cross-selling opportunities for legal services.

The practices surveyed predominantly used networked PCs with a Novell operating system, although a significant number of new NT solutions are being installed. The Millennium issue has been addressed by 85% of practices.

‘The two surveys show how important computers have become within the legal practice,’ comments David Higdon, computer consultancy partner at James & Cowper. In the next three years we expect to see increasing client pressures to communicate electronically, including gateways that provide limited access into in-house information systems, more widespread use of voice-activated systems and, above all, the need to ensure valuable knowledge and information is shared. The introduction of Intranets to allow the delivery of legal services from any location will assist this sharing of knowledge and increase the use of client information to cross-sell legal services.