What We Learned From the 2019 ILTA Technology Survey

Every year the Technology Survey published by ILTA (the International Legal Technology Association) offers an incisive look at what’s going on with technology at law firms. Here we examine some of the overarching themes that emerged in the 2019 ILTA Technology Survey.

The survey includes data from the past four years. Its topics are comprehensive, including questions that range from specific hardware and software to plans, trends, and concerns among IT departments. This year, the survey comes in at almost 400 pages. According to ILTA, 537 firms participated. Roughly a third each of participants represent smaller firms with fewer than 50 attorneys, medium-sized firms with 50 to 149 attorneys, and larger firms with 150 or more attorneys.

A Year of Upgrades Ahead

In some areas, the data points to significant transformation. In others, the survey shows little change from past years. One thing the report makes obvious is that a large number of firms are going to be performing major upgrades in the next months.

Windows 7 is still the primary OS for about a third of firms surveyed. About a tenth of firms are running Server 2008 R2 as their primary server OS, and a quarter of firms are on Office 2010, which will hit end-of-extended-support on October 13, 2020.

Hopefully this means that upgrades are underway.

January 14, 2020, will be the last day of official support for Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2. After that date, fixes for security holes and bugs will no longer be released for these systems. What’s most worrying is that Microsoft will continue to release patches for subsequent versions, essentially giving hackers a key to the vulnerabilities in these soon-to-be-expired systems (we talk more about the “hacker roadmap” concept here).

What explains the lag? Constraints on resources, both human and financial, certainly play a part. Not least is the reluctance to foist change on users: “Users’ acceptance of change” was cited as the top answer in response to the question, “What are the top three technology issues or annoyances within your firm?” Perhaps on a related note, “Keeping up with new versions of software” has become a more common answer to the same question. It seems that many IT departments find themselves torn between keeping up with the technological times and sheltering users from disruptive change.

(If you’re still on Windows 7 and would like to schedule a discussion about upgrading, get in touch with us. We’ve worked with hundreds of firms to help them get on track with minimal disruption to users.)

Changing Attitudes and Remaining Barriers to the Cloud

To no one’s surprise, cloud adoption has gone up as firms have implemented Office 365 and Exchange Online, as well as moving systems such as payroll and email archiving into the cloud. A quarter of firms that participated in the 2019 ILTA Technology Survey are using a cloud DMS and almost a third plan to move to a cloud-based DMS in the next year. It also seems that firms have caught on en masse to the benefits of backing up to the cloud.

What is more surprising are the concerns cited as the biggest barriers to making the move to the cloud. This year half of participants cited cost, up from 37% in 2016. Meanwhile, security fears have abated; only a third of respondents this year said that cloud security concerns them, while in 2016 that figure was 44%. Concerns about data ownership, reliability, and regulatory compliance have decreased in tandem.

What conclusion can we draw from these figures? While the legal industry has become comfortable with the idea of storing data off-premises, the subscription pricing model of -as-a-service platforms, which typically charge per user per month, is taking more getting used to.

Security, Audits, and Compliance

Security measures like endpoint port security, advanced threat protection, and application whitelisting have become more popular (and are among the safeguards that our Security Services team implements for clients–get in touch to learn more). More firms have removed desktop administrative privileges, a move we recommend to all our clients. Two- and multi-factor authentication usage has gone way up, from 49% to 72% in four years, and so has phishing testing, from 38% to 68%.

Interestingly enough, “security compliance” was a less popular answer this year for the question about top annoyances. Could this mean that security is getting smoother, requiring less of a sacrifice in convenience for users?

Still, “user behavior”—followed by the closely related “phishing”—was cited as the leading security concern for respondents. “Client security requirements” has also shot up as an answer since 2016, almost certainly correlated with the quarter of firms who have been subject to client security audits in the past year, up from 14% in 2016.

Meanwhile, viruses and zero-day threats were less of a concern this year, in which we saw fewer highly publicized exploits in the news, such as WannaCry in 2017.

Automation and AI

More firms are using automated workflow processes for things like new business intake. IntApp is popular as well as custom, in-house developed workflows.

The survey points to tentative early exploration of AI and machine learning among law firms. A quarter of firms, the same figure as last year when the question first appeared, say they are looking into the potential of AI and machine learning.

Jim McCure, Director of Information Systems at Rodey Law Firm, writes in the introduction to the survey, “it seems that the conversation around AI has moved from tasks that replace people to tasks that supplement people.”

Browsing For Something New

One of the most remarkable, if not exactly earth-shattering, changes was in the area of internet browsers. In 2016 Internet Explorer was the primary internet browser for 78% of law firms who participated in the survey. This year it fell to 40%. Google Chrome seems to have gained the most from IE’s decline, with a third of firms now using it as their primary browser, compared to 9% four years ago.

The above is barely a glimpse of what the full survey contains. For full details on what is going with technology at law firms, you’ll have to download the full 2019 ILTA Technology Survey.