Lawyers grasp the Internet

LAWYERS have defied their stereotype by showing an impressive knowledge of the Internet and its potential, according to a major survey conducted by The Lawyer.

The results of the nationwide survey revealed an enthusiasm in the profession for Internet technology that has surprised experts.

Almost 80 per cent of the 500 lawyers questioned described the future role of the World Wide Web as “valuable” or “very valuable”.

More than two thirds of solicitors have access to the Internet at work, while already almost a quarter of those surveyed can use it from their desks. The firms of half the solicitors surveyed had either launched or were about to launch their own Web site.

This suggests that lawyers are “on track” technologically according to Internet lawyer and Olswang partner, Andrew Inglis, who has predicted that all law firms will be using the Internet within the next 12 months.

“It is a cheap and immediate source of information and lots of clients use it, so if any law firm still does not have access to it in a year's time one would be wondering why,” he said.

Half of the lawyers who took part said e-mail was useful for their job, and almost two thirds wanted a more secure external e-mail system.

The attitude of lawyers to new technology can be shown by the fact that 40 per cent also reported using Intranet facilities at work.

Just under half the respondents were from City firms, with the remaining in practices throughout the country.

Author of The Future of Law, Richard Susskind, said that even given the fact that many respondents worked in City firms, a surprisingly high number used the Intranet.

Susskind pointed out that when his book was published last year, the phrase “Intranet” was only just becoming known.

“For years people have been struggling to bring technology to the desktops of lawyers, but this survey shows an encouraging level of enthusiasm and uptake of technology,” he added.

But the research did show that a core element of Internet sceptics still exists among the profession, with a total of 7 per cent of lawyers not believing the Net would play a “valuable role” in the profession's future, while a third did not yet find the Net useful for their business.

Predictably, younger solicitors rated higher in the technically-literate stakes than those in the older age brackets, but 45 to 54-year-olds also scored highly.

As consultant and technology editor of the Society for Computers & Law Andrew Levison pointed out, this can be attributed to the fact that this age group tends to have computer-literate children who keep them up to date.

See pages 7 and 11

Elizabeth Davidson