IT use levels off but 95 per cent of users are upgrading

Computer use has reached saturation point among US lawyers, but nearly all small law firms that use IT are upgrading the hardware they have, according to a survey by the American Bar Association.

The association's annual survey of automation among law firms with fewer than 20 lawyers found that computer use has levelled off at 84 per cent of firms. But 95 per cent of them said they had invested in new hardware this year and 28 per cent of respondents are now using systems based on Pentium processors, the newest generation of computer chip.

Other findings include:

65 per cent of firms use email;

32 per cent are using laptop and portable computers as part of their practice;

of the 68 per cent of lawyers using computers away from the office, 41 per cent have remote access, up from 33 per cent in 1994;

58 per cent of firms have access to the Internet;

35 per cent of firms are using case management software, up from 14 per cent in 1995.

David Hamourger, the director of the ABA's Legal Technology Resource Centre, which produced the survey, said that computer technology was helping level the playing field between small firms, sole-practitioners and large firms.

The surge in legal software was evident at the ABA's conference in Orlando, with roughly a third of the 600 exhibitors displaying new software or on-line services.

Danc Latkins, marketing executive for CapSoft, which produces the popular HotDocs software said the company was targeting smaller firms. "We sell libraries of templates , built up by other firms, for between $90 and $300. The small firms are buying them and, because they enable a legal secretary to create a document that would have taken an attorney an hour to draw up, they can undercut bigger firms.