Solicitors in small firms are now spending twice as much on IT as they were three years ago, according to a leading legal IT firm.

Avenue Legal Systems said an analysis of its sales figures has revealed that firms with between two and five partners are now prepared to spend £60,000 on overhauling their IT systems, compared to the £30,000 they were willing to part with three years ago.

The figure breaks down to between £3,000 and £5,000 per fee earner and the company says that most of the money is being spent on case and document management systems.

Avenue Legal Systems' marketing director Michael Belas said the company's clients saw investment in IT as vital for survival in a commercially competitive environment.

He said they were using it to increase fee-earner productivity while cutting down on the number of clerical staff.

Paul Wyatt, sales manager at Avenue Legal Systems' competitor Linetime, agreed there was an upsurge in IT spending.

He said a three-partner firm, Smith and Tetley in Ashton-under-Lyme, had recently paid Linetime £85,000 for an integrated office system. This sum included terminals for 12 other associated fee earners.

Wyatt said one reason for the increase in IT spending was the improvement in software tailored for lawyers.

Small firms of solicitors are also using IT to impress and win clients, according to Wyatt. He added that large firms had appreciated the marketing value of IT for several years.

Mark Woodward, sales and marketing director at Solicitec, another major legal IT supplier, said his firm had doubled in size during the past three years because of the increase in the size of orders from solicitors' practices.

"In 1994, most law offices bought software for accounts departments or secretaries. The reason for the boom in sales is that fee earners are now using computers as well," he said.