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Law firms using technology for competitive edge according to Lexis survey.

Law Firms Using Technology for Competitive Edge According to Lexis Survey

More than 85 percent of the nation's largest law firms have hired an MIS Director and 86.2 percent of firms believe that technology will significantly change the way law is practiced in the future, according to a Lexis survey released by Mead Data Central, Inc.

Of the 94 U.S. law firms responding to the survey, 80 have hired a director of Management Information Systems at a median salary of $70,300. An average of 16 people report to the MIS Director, and about 44 percent of firms said they had plans to expand the MIS department.

"We surveyed law firms on their technological capabilities because there was a lack of statistical information in this area," said L. Hunter Grant, Mead Data Central's vice president of sales for Legal Information Services. "As a result, we learned that the legal profession places tremendous value in computers to be making this kind of investment especially during a recession."

Indeed, for a profession that traditionally has tracked down precedent by spending long hours in the law library, more and more law firms are using computers for their legal research.

The top reasons for using new technology, according to the survey, were to provide the firm with greater flexibility (83 percent), improve responsiveness to clients *72.3 percent), establish a greater competitive edge (63.8 percent) and to do better planning and analysis (54.3 percent).

Computers were used by 98.9 percent of the firms for legal research, word processing and billing/administration. Law firms also used computers for document management (90.4 percent), cite checking (87.2 percent), marketing and developing new business (75.5 percent), tracking issues (59.6 percent) and expert witness searching (55.3 percent).

The Lexis service conducted this survey to quantify an emerging trend within the practice of law; the hiring of management information systems professionals by large law firms.

This survey measures MIS hiring trends within the law firms, and seeks to define the management responsibilities and background of MIS professionals who are employed in the legal field. It also measures the extent to which law firms and their attorneys are using technology in their daily practice.

The survey, consisting of 30 questions, was mailed to Mead Data Central customer contacts at 258 of the nation's largest law firms. The contacts included MIS professionals, law librarians, administrators and others who make information purchasing decisions within their firms.

The list of law firms receiving the questionnaire was compiled from data gathered from The National Law Journal and other sources.

The MIS Management Structure

The survey also indicates where the MIS director fits in the law firm hierarchy. Most (71 percent) report to an executive or administrative director, but a significant number (14 percent) report directly to a partner in the firm. Still, the MIS director is not always invited into the boardroom, with the majority (36 percent) saying they only "sometimes" work with senior partners to shape their firms' long-term business direction and technology strategy.

The law firm MIS director oversees an average of 17 professionals who are responsible for a variety of information management and computer functions. The five leading areas of responsibility reporting to the MIS director include computer training and support (79 percent), computerized legal support (67.5 percent), document management (62.5 percent), online databases (55 percent) and desktop publishing and word processing (51 percent each).

Despite the growing use of technology in law firms, those responding to the survey are fairly split over whether they plan to expand their MIS departments within the next year. Most (44 percent) say they plan such an expansion, but a significant number (32.5 percent) will stand pat in 1991. Another 21 percent have not yet decided on expanding the MIS department.

The survey also shows that the hiring of MIS professionals by law firms is a fairly recent trend. More than 72 percent have had MIS directors for at least two years, with 32.5 percent reporting having an MIS director on staff for more than five years.

The Use of Technology

A sign that technology is becoming more important in the day-to-day practice of law is indicated by the percentage of attorneys who use technology in the firms. A majority (53 percent) indicated that at least half of their attorneys are using technology in their daily practice, with a significant number of firms (12 percent) reporting that all of their attorneys are using technology.

Likewise a significant percentage of attorneys (40 percent) have access to their own personal computers.

The most popular technology applications in law firms are legal research, word processing, and administration/-billing, each being performed by 99 percent of the law firms. Other applications include document management (90 percent), cite checking (87 percent), marketing and new business (75.5 percent), issues tracking (60 percent), and searching for expert witnesses (55 percent).

An overwhelming majority of law firms (86 percent) believe that technology will significantly change the way they practice law in the future. Indeed, the firms are planning to introduce a number of new technologies during the next year, the most popular being local area networks (47 percent), electronic mail (37 percent), private databases (29 percent), expert systems (23 percent) and optical scanners (20 percent).

Who Answered This Survey

Most of the law firms who participated in the Lexis Law Firm MIS Survey are medium to large firms. The majority (75.5 percent) employ between 100 and 300 attorneys, and the greatest percentage (31 percent) are based in the Northeast, followed by 22 percent in the Midwest.

As far as the actual respondents are concerned, the greatest number who filled out the furvey questionnaire were MIS directors (47 percent). In 19 percent of the cases, an administrative director was the respondent, followed by partners, who made up 14 percent of the respondents.
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Publication:Information Today
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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