The survey's purpose is to help the Law Society to formulate a strategy to assist firms of this size in the uptake and optimal use of information and communications technologies (ICT). It finds that solicitors' personal reluctance to use computers is holding back universal desktop PC access at small and mid-sized law firms, and that the potential of e-mail is not yet being exploited.
Of the 602 firms surveyed, 93% with PCs have Internet access. Of those, 40% use e-mail for internal communication and 92% for external. E-mail is used by a large majority of firms in communicating with private clients and other lawyers, but half or less of the lawyers use it to contact organisations such as banks, estate agents, the Land Registry and Inland Revenue.
The survey concluded that the potential of e-mail is not being fully utilised.
The survey found that uptake and use of PCs and Internet technologies is lowest for sole practitioners and highest for firms with five to ten partners. The main reason why an individual does not use a PC is quite simply that he does not want to, followed by a perceived lack of need. Partners are the most likely not to have PCs. Generally PCs are used by fee-earners for word processing and databases. Use of practice management, financial management, case management and case management software is minor.
Forty-two per cent of firms with Internet access have a web site, while 20% plan to have one in the next year. These are mainly brochure sites, with only a fifth of firms offering some form of interactive function. Lack of interest is the main barrier to firms having a web site.
Most firms adopt ITC for the following reasons:
- improvement of working practices and business management,
- increasing the speed of service, and
- improving the quality of service.
Law Society chief executive Janet Paraskeva says: "Many small and medium-sized law firms are moving with the times and have realised the benefits of using IT. Consumers of legal services now expect firms to have instant and modern communication technology and this demand will increase with the advance of e-conveyancing."
She adds that the Society is now conducting further research to decide how best to target support for the profession.
Link to the survey