Leader

It was all go at the Business Design Centre in Islington last week for the Legal IT 2004 show.

IT suppliers, eager to flog the latest “productivity-enhancing software” (to quote one stand’s blurb), showcased their products as the lawyers buzzed around, checking out the Blackberrys and getting snowed under with marketing bumph.

Most of those lawyers were from private practice. If you work as an in-house lawyer – and there are nearly 8,000 of you reading this – the chances are that your organisation views you as a cost centre, not a revenue generator. That means it won’t stump up the cash for any “productivity-enhancing software”. As one stallholder told me: “Don’t bother looking for any in-house lawyers here. There aren’t any.”

That gulf between in-house and private practice lawyers’ consumption of legal-specific technology is the theme of The Lawyer Infotech Guide 2004, published today. This is The Lawyer’s first-ever in-depth survey of UK in-house lawyers and is based on responses from 134 different organisations of all sizes.

Private practice lawyers should study the findings closely.

We quizzed in-house lawyers on all aspects of their use of technology and the findings back the stallholder’s comments pretty much to the hilt. In many cases, in-house lawyers are using no specific software at all. And there’s not much money flowing around. Almost a quarter (22 per cent) said they had no budget whatsoever for the purchase of IT or software specific to the legal department. The highest number of respondents (44 per cent) said that their budget was less than £25,000.

Law firms should also know this – UK in-house lawyers are rarely using the technology services offered by external firms. Dealrooms, for example, had only been accessed by 12 per cent of respondents in the past year. Just 8 per cent had accessed online work-in-progress information.

Still, this gulf may be about to close. In the US, in-house lawyers have a far higher utilisation rate of software to help them do their job. And what happens over there eventually finds its way over here. The Lawyer Infotech Guide 2004 analyses the US position and provides the first snapshot of the UK in-house market for legal IT.

Considering that 32 per cent of in-house lawyers would consider changing their primary legal external adviser if another firm sorted out the IT better, it’s required reading – whichever side of the divide you sit on.