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JILT 2004 (3) - Gill Hague

Factors Affecting the Use of Information and Communications Technology by In-House Legal Practices in North West England

 

Gill Hague
Practice Manager, Group Legal, British Nuclear Fuels plc

gillhague@lycos.co.uk
 
 

This research formed the basis of the author’s MSc dissertation in Business Information Technology and she would like to acknowledge with thanks, the support and guidance of her supervisor, Mary Meldrum of Manchester Metropolitan University Business School.

Abstract

This research reports the results of a survey of the use of Information and Communications Technologies in In-House Legal Practices in North West England. It identifies the software, hardware and systems used in In-House practices and considers what is influencing the adoption of ICT by In-House lawyers, comparing the survey findings with reported influences and adoption levels in Private Practice. Many In-House legal practices are small, but form part of larger organisations. Practices are found to benefit from this, being generally better equipped with hardware, software and systems than Private Practices of a similar size. Larger In-House practices are found to have invested in similar management and support systems to those found in Private Practice. Some practices have access to funding and expertise beyond that normally found in Private Practices of a similar size, but others cite costs and a lack of resources as inhibitors to adoption. The growing importance of the Internet as a research tool for In-House lawyers who do not have access to a Law Library is highlighted.

Key influences identified by the survey are improvements to standard IT provision within their organisation, ease of access to information on the Internet, and Client demands. Analysis of the survey data highlights differences between practices in Commerce & Industry and those in Local Government.

Keywords:In-house legal practices, IT adoption, Internet use for legal research.


This is a refereed article published on: 15 December 2004.

Citation: Hague, ' Factors Affecting the Use of Information and Communications Technology by In-House Legal Practices in North West England’, 2004 (3) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT).
<http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/2004_3/hague/>


1. Introduction: Background to the Research

Solicitors provide legal advice to clients within two distinct organisational frameworks. The most common is as a Partner or Solicitor in Private Practice, working for a variety of clients and in a broad or narrow specialisation of a field of law, depending on the type and organisation of the practice. Alternatively, Solicitors may be employed as an In-House Solicitor, working solely for their employer on the employers legal business. According to the Law Society’s Report ‘Trends in the Solicitor’s Profession Annual Statistical Report 2002[1], there were 89,045 Solicitors holding Practicing Certificates in 2002. 70,571 (79.3 per cent) were Solicitors in Private Practice and 18,474 (20.7 per cent) worked outside Private Practice, with 12,889 (14.5 per cent) of these working as Employed Solicitors. Amongst employed Solicitors, the two largest Groups were 6,081 (6.8 per cent) who worked in Commerce & Industry and 3,097 (3.5 per cent) who worked in Local Government.

Although not driven organisationally by the same profit motives of private practice, In-House lawyers are increasingly being challenged by their employing organisations - their clients - to demonstrate their added value, both quantitatively and qualitatively, a view supported by Susskind (1998). [2] This challenge is equally true in the public sector with market testing of Local Authority legal services through Compulsory Competitive Tending (CCT) in the mid 1990’s and more recently the Best Value and e Government initiatives.

Hoult (2002, 2003), reporting on a survey of 100 Heads of Legal Departments in UK businesses, finds that they rated the introduction of technology bottom in a list of priorities in the management, organisation and structure of the legal services they provide to their business.[3]-[4] On a scale of one (not at all important) to ten (extremely important) quality and efficiency scored 9.1 (2002: 8.77), accurate budgeting 7.2 (2002: 6.77) and reduction of costs 6.8 (2002: 6.75), whereas the introduction of technology scored only 5.2 (2002: 5.02). This suggests that the Heads of Department do not see a link between the effective use of technology and achieving their other aims. The same survey showed that in 50 per cent of those surveyed, the Head of the Legal Department made the main decisions about how technology is used in the legal function, suggesting they will have a major influence on the adoption – or lack of adoption - of technology in a specifically legal service context.

In private practice, Solicitors traditionally used ICT to support ‘back office’ functions, primarily concerned with automating the administrative functions of the practice, and focused on the management of administrative and financial records to meet legal and regulatory requirements. However, the last five to ten years has seen a considerable growth in the use of ICT to support case management, knowledge management, marketing, client contact and service delivery (Susskind, 1996; Brennels, 1997; Duncan, 1997; Wall and Johnstone, 1997, Singh 2002). [5] Many of these developments have used systems developed from, or allied to, the existing practice management administrative systems already in place. Dudman (2002)[6] reports that this development is seen most strongly in larger practices carrying out major national and international work, where a range of technology, primarily case and practice management systems and the use of on line systems such as electronic conveyancing, has been adopted to improve efficiency and reduce overheads, thus making fee earners more profitable. Smaller firms are seen as conservative and slow to adopt new technology. Little existing research was found relating specifically to the use of ICT by In-House practices.

2. Research Questions

This research set out to answer three questions:

· What ICT is in use in In-House Practices?

· What is influencing the adoption and use of ICT by In House lawyers?

· How does this compare with the reported adoption and use of ICT in Private Practice?

3. Methodology

The primary data source was a questionnaire distributed to 520 people in two groups of potential respondents. 367 questionnaires were sent members of the Law Society’s North West Commerce & Industry (C&I) Group – a special interest group for Solicitors working In-House in the Region, using their membership mailing list. Those approached were working in 180 different organisations. The Law Society Statistical Survey for 2002[7] reports that the 6,081 Solicitors working in this sector were employed in 2,350 different organisations, an average of fewer than three Solicitors per practice. A regional breakdown of the total is not available, but it is reported that in Private Practice 11.8 per cent of firms were located in the North West region. If this percentage is taken as being indicative of the number of Commerce & Industry practices, an estimate of C&I practices in the region would be 277 firms, suggesting that this survey was potentially distributed to 65 per cent of those working in this category.

The other main group of In-House practitioners are those employed by Local Government. 153 questionnaires were sent to those working in the legal departments of 9 Local Authorities. Two Local Authority legal departments were approached through personal contacts and agreed to distribute survey questionnaires to all relevant staff. Legal departments of other Local Authorities were approached through a central contact point in each Authority, and the nature and purpose of the survey was explained. The willingness to participate was very mixed, with some failing to respond to the initial enquiry and others unwilling for the survey to be circulated generally. As many authorities were known to have large legal departments, the number approached was restricted to nine to ensure that a manageable numbers of potential replies would be received. Within this, the sample included City, Metropolitan and Borough Councils.

Previous surveys of Private Practice law firms, have concentrated on responses from Solicitors and Barristers. It was known that within Local Government legal practices, a large number of qualified or part qualified members of the Institute of Legal Executives are employed to undertake work that, in private practice, may be undertaken by Solicitors. If the survey were to exclude Legal Executives, some areas of practice, particularly work connected with Litigation and Property, would potentially be under represented. As a result, the Local Authority sample is more difficult to compare with national statistics, as it did not consist wholly of Solicitors.

The questionnaire was structured into seven areas:

 

Question No.

Area Of Study

Information Gathered

1

Background information about respondents

a) Sex

b) Professional Qualification

c) Number of years qualified

d) Main areas of practice

2

Information about their Employing organisation

a) Sector of employing organisation

b) Number of employees in the organisation in the UK

c) Number of employees in the Legal department

d) Number of legally qualified employees in the Legal Department

3

IT Hardware

· Hardware provided by employer

4

IT software/systems

· Availability and use of software and systems

5

Personal Use of IT

· Change of level of use of IT in past three years

6

Influences on IT use

a) Influences cited from list of twelve options

b) Three factors ranked as most influential

7

Personal attitudes to use of IT and influencing factors

· Attitudinal responses to ten statements

 

Use of the survey met the needs of the first research question ‘What ICT is in use in In-House Practices.’ and provided some answers to the second research question ‘What is influencing the use and adoption of ICT ‘ by basic statistical analysis of the data, and allowing indications of correlation between answers to be drawn. However, the design of the questionnaire did not allow for narrative responses and therefore the ability to make sense of the data in the social context was limited. A second research method, holding semi structured interviews with a limited number of the respondents, was used to add richness to the data, by improving understanding of the responses and patterns which emerged from the statistical analysis.

Forty two people (29 Commerce & Industry (C&I) respondents and 13 Local Authority (LA) respondents) had indicated on their questionnaires that they would be prepared to take part in a follow up interview. This sample is self-selecting, and no work has been done to test whether it is representative of the general response. It was decided to approach 25 per cent of this group to take part in a follow up interview, and seven C&I and four LA respondents were contacted by email and asked if they would be prepared to take part in a telephone interview lasting approximately twenty minutes. There was no particular method of selection from within the potential groups, but a broad attempt was made to cover different industries within the C&I sample, and different types of authority within the LA sample. Three of those contacted (two from the C&I sample and one from the LA sample) did not respond to the E mail, and one of the LA respondents who agreed to be interviewed was unable to find time to do so.

Six areas of interest were identified from the responses to Questions 6 and 7 of the questionnaire. A short pro forma was drawn up to allow the recording of responses.

The six questions asked were:

Question A How does IT help you to meet the needs of your clients?

Question B What organisational changes have influenced your use of IT

Question C When would you be most likely to use the Internet in your work?

Question D What would you say has been most influential in developing the use of IT in your practice?

Question E What, if anything, holds you back in developing the use of IT

Question F When dealing with external advisers and clients, do you use other forms of electronic communication – e.g. deal rooms, extranets, intranets, video conferencing?

The interviews were carried out over a period of two weeks. Responses during the telephone conversation were noted on the pro forma, and typed up immediately after the conclusion of each interview.

4. Response Rate

Of the 520 questionnaires issued, 142 were returned, representing an overall response rate of 27.3 per cent. Of the 367 sent to members of the Law Society’s North West Commerce & Industry Group, 97 were returned, giving a response rate of 26.4 per cent and representing 61 organisations or 34 per cent of organisations potentially represented in the sample. Of the 153 questionnaires sent to those working in nine Local Authority Legal Departments, 45 questionnaires were returned, giving a response rate of 29.4 per cent and representing seven out of the nine Local Authorities approached.

5. Primary Findings from the Questionnaire and Follow Up Interviews

5.1 Type of Employing Organisation

Of 97 responses from Commerce & Industry members, 89 were employed in Commercial or Industrial companies, 5 were employed in the Public Sector (a Government Agency and a Housing Organisation) and 3 in other situations (a Union, a Housing Association and an Ecclesiastical Diocese). The respondents were employed by 61 different organisations.

Of the 45 responses from Local Authority employees, 4 worked for two Borough Councils, 26 worked for three Metropolitan Councils and 25 worked for two City Councils.

5.2 Size of Employing Organisation

Table 1 shows an analysis of Employing Organisations of those responding. These ranged in size from SME’s with less than 250 employees, to large organisations with more than 10,000 employees in the UK.


Table 1 - Analysis of Respondents By the Size of Their Employing Organisation

Size of Organisation

Number of Employees

Commerce & Industry

Local Authority

All Respondents

 

Number of respondents

Number of respondents

Number of respondents

250 or less

13

0

13

251-1000

15

3

18

1001-5000

19

0

19

5001-10000

15

1

16

More than 10000

34

41

75

No response

1

 

1

Total

97

45

142


5.3 Size of In-House Legal Practice

5.3.1 Practice Size - Commerce and Industry Respondents

62 per cent of those responding worked in departments of less than ten people (including both legally qualified staff and support staff) and a further 32 per cent worked in departments of less than forty people. Only 6 per cent worked in larger departments and these represented two practices in the Insurance and Pharmaceutical industries. In size, these practices can be compared to small - medium Private Practices

5.3.2 Practice Size – Local Authority Respondents

Most respondents worked in departments of over 40 people, of whom approximately half held some form of legal qualification. These figures appear to reflect the greater amount of work handled In-House by these practices, particularly in respect of Claims and Property.

5.4 Availability of Hardware, Software and Systems

In-House practices appear to be well equipped with core ICT provision. All respondents had a computer for their sole use, and almost half of the respondents in Commerce and Industry practices had a laptop that would allow working away from the office. Laptops are rare in Local Authority practices.

Core Office applications and connection to the Internet are almost universally available and have high adoption rates (Table 2), suggesting that these applications have become routinized within the practices. More sophisticated legal specific systems such as Case Management and Litigation Support are generally limited to larger practices.


Table 2 – Reported Availability and Use of Core Office Applications 

 

Core Office Applications

% reporting Available

% reporting Used

Word Processing

99.3%

88.7%

Presentation Software

76.8%

45.8%

Internal E Mail

100%

92.3%

Electronic Diary

93%

69.7%

 

 

 

 

 


 


The small size of most practices appeared to be a limiting factor to the adoption of legal specific systems as the cost of the investment required cannot be justified even when potential benefits have been identified. This supports the view of Venkatraman (1994)[8], that for revolutionary levels of IT Enabled Business Reconfiguration, the effort involved must not outweigh the benefits gained. Larger practices adopt these systems for efficiency gains and to meet requirements for management information. Where they have been implemented, Practice Management systems were singled out in supporting this need. Several examples were found of the evolutionary levels of business reconfiguration identified by Venkatraman.The automation of manual processes, and internal integration and collaborative working through the use of communication technologies such as video conferencing, e rooms and extranets were all reported.

5.5 Use of the Internet and Communications Technology

E Mail has been universally adopted as a routine method for both internal and external communication, and the speed with which information can be exchanged and improved levels of client contact were highlighted as key benefits that had been gained as a result.

There was a general consensus amongst those interviewed that speed was the key factor.

‘It gives you speed of response. Clients expect a reply in very short timescales and email helps this enormously. In fact e mail has almost entirely replaced paper correspondence internally. It’s the access to information at your finger tips and the time saving that gives you.’ (Senior Litigator, Industry Practice)

‘E mail gives you instant communication – that’s a boon to clients and to us.’ (Senior Solicitor, Local Authority)

‘Speed of response is the key thing. As Head of a small Department I’m often away from the office, IT enables me to keep in touch – people haven’t the excuse that they didn’t ask for advice because they couldn’t get hold of me. ’(Head of Legal, Manufacturing Company)

‘Speed is top of the list. Access to information is a lot quicker now than five years ago, so you can put information in front of the client more quickly.’ (Commercial Lawyer, Service Industry)

There is a movement towards using the Internet for access to legal information, with 74 per cent of respondents citing ease of availability of information on the Internet as an influence on their use of ICT. In contrast, when asked whether they used the Internet or electronic versions of legal reference books in preference to hard copies, (Figure 1) a majority (56 per cent) responded negatively.


 


 

Figure 1 – Attitude to Use of the Internet for Legal Research



Those in the smallest practices who do not have access to a Law Library appear to have adopted this use of the Internet more readily than those for whom books are an easily accessible alternative.


Table 3 – Reported Availability of Internal and External Knowledge Systems

By Size of Respondents Employing Organisation

Organisation Size

Number of Employees

Number of Respondents in Survey

Internet Connection

Information databases developed

In House

Commercially developed Information databases

Electronic versions of legal reference works

 

 

Number of respondents reporting availability

250 or less

13

13

8

7

8

251-1000

18

18

10

7

11

1001-5000

19

19

9

8

8

5001-10000

16

16

8

5

12

10000

75

72

45

26

60

No response

1

1

1

0

1

Total

142

139

81

53

100

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Interviewees were asked ‘When would you be most likely to use the Internet in your work?’ and responses mirrored the survey results. The key use identified was for Research. Those without access to Library facilities used the Internet as their main source of reference information, and appeared to have mastered the searching techniques required.

‘I use it a lot to access the Land Registry as most of my work relates to property, and for research with the Inland Revenue, Government Organisations and the Charity Commission who have a good site with lots of related links.For Acts of Parliament and Case Law – it’s now my main source of information. As a Department of one I’m too small to maintain a library and keep it up to date I only keep one hard copy Encyclopaedia – on Employment Law.’(Solicitor, Ecclesiastical Diocese)

‘I use it daily. It’s a key tool for research and to gain access to case reports, statutes, regulations and the latest advice on things like Health and Safety. I get this information from the Web not a Library. We have no Law Library, so the Web is where I go. It’s made me much more aware of what can be found now I have to do my own research.’ (Head of Legal, Manufacturing Company)

Those with Library facilities still used the Internet for some types of information, and there was evidence of a gradual movement away from hard copies once the same information was available via the Internet, however lack of familiarity with search techniques can be an inhibitor.

‘I use it every day, for legal research and in my role as Company Secretary. I track announcements about the company and it’s share price. The Internet is my first port of call for legal research, we keep hard copies of reference books where these are not yet available on the web, but we migrate to the web versions as they become available.’ (Commercial Lawyer, Retail)

‘Research, and for keeping up to date. Guidance and Policy from the Department of Health and the Home Office. I also go to the Lord Chancellor’s site a lot. For legislation I tend to go to books, but we’ve just been given access to a new service for legislation on line and I can see me moving to this increasingly.’ (Senior Solicitor, Local Authority)

‘I don’t use it as much as I thought I would – there’s so much information that searching can be difficult. I use it for specific areas of documentation, the Law Society for names of Solicitors Firms and Barristers, Government sites for Statutory Instruments and Legislation. They’re easy to access on my desk. Case Law can be harder to find quickly so I’m more likely to use our Library for that. I’d like access to a site specifically for Litigation and Regulatory law – like we have for the Commercial lawyers, but our Library is a good resource so it’s not a pressing need.’ (Senior Litigator, Industry Practice)

Legal reference works are increasingly being published via the Internet and many books may eventually cease publication in hard copy. Cultural barriers will need to be overcome to enable lawyers who are less familiar with on-line research to become proficient. Investment of time and resources in training will also be required.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the size of many organisations represented in the survey, Intranet use appears to be mainly limited to brochure sites, but the use of Extranets and other forms of collaborative working is developing. Video conferencing is used, but face-to-face contact is preferred where possible.

‘We have an Extranet network linking lawyers in several locations to share information on major pieces of Litigation – that’s much more efficient than multiple paper copies. We do have video conferencing facilities but if you’re going to meet someone for the first time or talk about complex issues it’s better done face to face.’ (Senior Litigator, Commercial Practice)

‘We have an Extranet and we use it to provide claims reports which clients can access. It helps reduce paper and is a good solution provided the client is happy to access information that way. We use video conferencing for multi site communication – perhaps not as much as we should, personal contact is still the key.’ (Commercial Lawyer, Service Industry)

Most organisations had an Intranet, but only used it as a brochure site for contact information.

‘We have a corporate intranet but we don’t use it for communication. Our part of the site is a list of contacts nothing more.’ (Senior Solicitor, Local Authority)

‘We use video conferencing. We have an Intranet but it’s not interactive, but a list of contacts.’ (Commercial Lawyer, Retailing)

There was some evidence of innovative developments in collaborative working using Internet technology

‘I use the Internet to communicate and spread best practice. We’re just setting up a web site for all the legal departments within the Greater Manchester Authority and some partner authorities. We all do similar work and there's no point in each of us reinventing the wheel, so we try to share information with each other and this should help. The site will have chat room facilities.’ (Senior Litigator, Local Authority)

‘We’re finding there is more cross functional working developing, and we’re encouraged to use - I suppose the equivalent of a deal room – where all the documents are held in one place and we all access them there. That’s something I can see becoming a common way to work.’ (Commercial Lawyer, Service Industry)

6. Influences on the Use and Adoption of ICT

Twelve potential influences, both internal and external to the employing organisation, were listed on the questionnaire, and respondents were invited to tick all that had influenced their use of ICT at work (Table 4). Commonly, respondents cited multiple influences with an average of 4.5 per respondent



Table 4 – Number of Citations for Influences on Respondents Use of Information Technology

Ref

Influence

No of times cited

% of respondents citing

% of all citations

Type

A

Improvements to standard IT provision in my organisation

110

77.5

17.0

Internal Enabler

I

Ease of availability of information on the Internet

105

74.9

16.2

External Enabler

C

Demands from my Clients

73

51.4

11.3

Internal Driver

B

Introduction of legal specific software to my department

64

45.1

9.9

Internal Enabler

L

Training to enable me to make better use of the IT available

61

43.0

9.4

Internal Enabler

K

Frequency of changes in the law

47

33.1

7.3

External Driver

F

Need to provide management information to Clients

44

31.0

6.8

Internal Driver

H

Reduction in support staffing level

s

40

28.2

6.2

Internal Driver

J

Changes to legal process

34

23.9

5.3

External Driver

D

Introduction of quality standards

28

19.7

4.3

Internal/External driver

G

Reduction in legal staffing levels

21

14.8

3.2

Internal Driver

E

Need to provide management information to external bodies

20

14.1

3.1

External Driver

 

Total Number of Citations

647

 

100

 
 

Influences can be considered as being Internal (coming from within the organisation) or External (coming from outside the organisation), and as being Drivers (encouraging or forcing the use of ICT) or Enablers (assisting or allowing the use of ICT). Figure 2 shows an analysis of responses by type of influence. The introduction of Quality Standards has been shown as Internal/External as it is not possible to tell from the responses who is imposing the standards.

Overall, Internal Influences (63.8 per cent) were much stronger than External Influences (31.9 per cent). The key to this is that Client related factors account for 18.1 per cent of influences cited, and these are internal drivers in In-House Practice. Drivers for adoption – factors forcing or encouraging the use of ICT - (47.5 per cent of citations) were slightly less influential than Enabling factors – assisting or allowing the use of ICT - (52.5 per cent of citations).

The high level of Internal Enabling factors cited supports the view that many In-House lawyers benefit from being part of a larger organisation, with the resultant access to funding, resources and expertise. Access to information through the Internet is the key External Enabler identified in the survey.


 

External Enablers (16.2 per cent)

· Ease of availability of information on the Internet (16.2 per cent)

External Drivers (15.7 per cent)

· Need to provide management information to External Bodies (3.1 per cent)

· Changes to legal process (5.3 per cent)

· Frequency of changes in the law (7.3 per cent)

 

Internal/External Driver (4.3 per cent)

· Introduction of Quality Standards (4.3 per cent)

Internal Enablers (36.3 per cent)

· Improvements to standard IT provision (17.0 per cent)

· Introduction of legal specific software (9.9 per cent)

· Training to make better use of IT available (9.4 per cent)

Internal Drivers (27.5 per cent)

· Client demands (11.3 per cent)

· Need to provide management information to Clients (6.8 per cent)

· Reduction in legal staffing levels (3.2 per cent)

· Reduction in support staffing levels (6.2 per cent)

 
Figure 2 - Analysis of All Citations of Influences on the Use of Information Technology


When asked to rank their three most important influences, both Commerce & Industry and Local Authority respondents gave improved IT provision as the most important factor by a clear margin. Ease of availability of information on the Internet, client demands and the introduction of legal specific software were the next most highly ranked influences, with a higher emphasis on client demands given by Commerce & Industry respondents.

Local Authority respondents also cited training as an important factor, ranking this equally with access to information on the Internet. Frequency of changes in the law was a much more important influence on this group than on those from Commerce & Industry, whereas reductions in support staffing levels were a greater influence on Commerce & Industry respondents than those in Local Authorities.

Two respondents specifically identified speed of response as their most important influence even though this was not specifically listed, and this was highlighted as a key factor in the follow up interviews.

6.1 Inhibitors to Adoption

6.1.1 Lack of Training

61 respondents (43 per cent) cited ‘Training to enable me to make the best use of the IT available to me ‘ as an influence on their use of IT and it was ranked as the 6th most important influence overall (6th by C&I respondents and joint 4th by LA respondents). However, the survey also showed that 26 per cent of respondents did not feel they had had enough training on the IT available to them. This is an improvement on the findings of the Wall and Johnstone (1997)[9] survey where 73 per cent of respondents expressed a desire to develop or further enhance their existing IT skills, but suggests that continuing investment in training is required if the full potential of IT investment is to be realised.

6.1.2 Lack of Resources

Whilst many practices had benefited from appropriate internal IT expertise and the funding to implement legal specific software and systems, a lack of appropriate Internal IT expertise and difficulties in securing funding in some practices were highlighted in both the survey and follow up interviews.


 


Figure 3 – Perception of Internal IT Expertise in Employing Organisation

 


Figure 4 – Perception of Availability of Funding for IT in Organisation

 


 
‘Cost. That’s related both to the size of my department and the state of the manufacturing sector in which I work.. For any real investment you’d need to be able to demonstrate clear cost benefits, and sometimes the gains from systems are a bit intangible. There are things I’d like to do, a case management system would help our claims handling for example, and to have a database of our contracts which I had in my previous firm. However I’d find it hard to justify the cost – and as an organisation we’re not that advanced in our use of IT generally.’ (Head of Legal, Manufacturing Company)

Also identified was a lack of continuing support post implementation, which was seen to inhibit future system development.

 ‘Money and technical assistance. In implementing our new system we found there are a lot of hidden costs in getting it up and running, apart from the up front costs on software and so on. If you give a new system to 50 people, you then need the technical support to keep it running, that’s getting to be more of a problem as the overall use of IT increases. There’s some lack of internal expertise and resources.’ (Senior Litigator, Local Authority)

‘The identification of someone with responsibility to do that, to drive forward the development. With an organisation of our size there should be the expertise, but do they have the interest or the time? People don’t have the time or resources – it’s just not allocated for this.’ (Senior Solicitor, Local Authority)

Also identified was the time required for training. This supports the survey finding that 26 per cent of respondents did not feel they had had sufficient training on the IT available to them.

‘We have good access to training but it's hard to find the time to do the training and then to play with or use a package often enough to become competent.’ (Commercial Lawyer, Service Industry)

6.2 Comparisons With Reported Levels in Private Practice

6.2.1 Benefits Gained By In-House Practices From Forming Part of a Larger Organisational Structure

Most In-House practices in this survey are small, being departments of less than 20 people. However, all In-House practices form part of larger organisations, and appear to gain some benefit from this in respect of hardware and software provision. In Private Practice, Fletcher (2003)[10] shows that in firms of Sole Practitioners, no firm in the sample exceeded a total staff number of 22 and only 45 per cent of Fee Earners had a PC on their desk. In firms of 2 – 4 Partners, 68 per cent had a total staff of between 6 and 22 and 49 per cent had a PC on each Fee Earners’ desk. In this survey 75 per cent of respondents were in practices (legal departments) with a total staff of between 1 and 20, and all had a PC for their sole use. Most Local Authority practices ware larger and are more comparable with Private Practices of 5 – 10 partners where Fletcher reports 97 per cent as employing between 10 and 100 staff and 62 per cent of Fee Earners having a PC on their desk, again all Local Authority respondents, who were mostly in departments of more than 40 people, had a PC for their sole use. Many In-House practices also had access to more sophisticated communications such as video conferencing, which it would be unusual to find in small Private Practices.

6.2.2 Strategic Influences on ICT adoption

Susskind (1996)[11] proposed a paradigm shift in the delivery of both legal service and legal process underpinned by the use of ICT. Wall and Johnstone (1997) [7] highlighted the adoption of ICT as a product of commercial pressure to improve profitability through organisational efficiencies. This survey finds that many of the drivers identified in these studies remain important influences in current adoption in In-House practices, particularly client demands, changes to legal process and the need for more sophisticated Practice Management (Susskind) and the need to improve operational efficiency, make working practices more economic and organisational structures more effective (Wall and Johnstone). The developing importance of the Internet as a ‘first port of call for information and services’ (Susskind), and continuing improvements to communications technology also support the underpinning of the delivery of legal services using ICT. These were forseen by Susskind in the second edition of his book (1998)[12] and are supported in the survey results.

6.2.3 Communication with Clients

Clients of In-House practices are internal to the lawyers employing organisation. Client contact is facilitated by the universal provision of internal E mail, and is a key benefit gained by In-House practices from being part of a larger organisation which can support this provision. Private Practice firms would require an External E Mail connection to communicate with their clients. Fletcher (2003)[13] reports that although 95 per cent of 2-4 Partner firms with PC’s had Internet access, more than one third of Fee Earners in those firms did not have an Internet connection at their desk.

6.2.4 Growth in Useage Rates

There has been a notable growth over time in both the range of applications and systems available and the level of adoption. In 1997 Wall and Johnstone[14] [7] listed 8 applications and obtained a Mean use of applications of 2.3 In this survey, 16 applications were listed and the Mean use of applications was 7.5 against a Mean Availability of Applications of 9.1 For core Office applications, it is interesting to compare the use rates in this survey with those reported by Wall and Johnstone (1997).[15]

This shows clearly that these applications have been routinely adopted within In-House practice. Survey respondents also had a generally positive attitude to the use of ICT, seeing it as an aide to improving efficiency, service delivery and communication


Table 5 – Growth in Use of Core Office Applications

Application

Solicitors 1997

All In-House Respondents 2003

Variation

Word Processing

44 per cent

99 per cent

45 per cent

E mail

35 per cent

100 per cent

65 per cent

Presentations

12 per cent

77 per cent

65 per cent

Electronic Diary

27 per cent

93 per cent

66 per cent

 


 7. Conclusion: Main Benefits Gained By In-House Practices

In House practices were found to gain by being part of a larger organisation. They are better equipped with hardware, software and systems than would be normal in a Private Practice of a similar size. They also have access to more sophisticated communications technology and the primary gain from this is improved internal communications with their Clients.

Most In House practices are too small to gain the potential benefits of legal specific systems, but where these are implemented in larger practices, gains in efficiency and provision of management information are reported.

Small practices appear to be making best use of the Internet for research and accessing legal information, but this is mainly from necessity due to the lack of Law Library facilities than from choice.

Notes and References

[1] Cole, B (2003) ‘Trends in the Solicitor’s Profession. Annual Statistical Report 2002’, London, UK, The Law Society.

[2] Susskind, R. E. (1996) and (1998) 2nd Edition The Future of Law: Facing the challenges of Information Technology. (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

[3] Hoult, P (2002) ‘Benchmarker Survey ‘Managing Value’, Legal Director, August 2002, Global Professional Media Ltd. UK

[4] Hoult, P (2003) ‘Benchmarker Survey ‘Value Management’, Legal Director, July/August 2003, Global Professional Media Ltd. UK

[5] Brennells, P. (1997) ‘The Achievable Law Office – How Law may be practised in 1998 and will be practiced in 2002’, 12th BILETA Conference The Future of Legal Education and Practice, 24 – 25 March, Collingwood College, University of Durham, Durham, UK. <http://www.bileta.ac.uk/pubs.html>. Duncan, P (1997) ‘Information Technology and the Scottish legal profession: innovators versus the majority’, 12th BILETA Conference The Future of Legal Education and Practice, 24 – 25 March, Collingwood College, University of Durham, Durham, UK. <http://www.bileta.ac.uk/pubs.html>. Wall, D. S. and Johnstone, J. (1997) The industrialisation of Legal Practice and the rise of the new Electronic Lawyer: the impact of Information Technology upon Legal Practice in the UK. International Journal of the Sociology of Law, Volume 25, Issue 2, 95-116. Singh, G et al (2002) An Empirical Study in the Use of IT by Small and Large Legal Firms in the UK, refereed article, The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT) 2002 (1), <http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/jilt/02-01/singh.html.> (citation as instructed) {Accessed 26/2/03}

[6] Dudman, J. (2002) ‘The great divide: lawyers are not renowned as IT pioneers nor as major spenders on technology’, MiscoScope, June 5, v21 i26 p30(3), Reed Business Information Ltd.

[7] Cole, B (2003) ‘Trends in the Solicitor’s Profession. Annual Statistical Report 2002’, London, UK, The Law Society.

[8] Venkatraman, N. (1994) ‘IT Enabled Business Transformation: From Automation to Business Scope Redefinition’ Sloan Management Review/Winter 1994, 73-86.

[9] Wall, D. S. and Johnstone, J. (1997) The industrialisation of Legal Practice and the rise of the new Electronic Lawyer: the impact of Information Technology upon Legal Practice in the UK. International Journal of the Sociology of Law, Volume 25, Issue 2, 95-116.

[10] Fletcher, N (2003) ‘Solicitor’s Involvement in E-Business, Research Study 46, A Survey of the extent and nature of solicitor’s use of information and communication technologies 2002’ London, UK, The Law Society

[11] Susskind, R. E. (1996) and (1998) 2nd Edition The Future of Law: Facing the challenges of Information Technology. (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

[12] Hoult, P (2002) ‘Benchmarker Survey ‘Managing Value’, Legal Director, August 2002, Global Professional Media Ltd. UK

[13] Fletcher, N (2003) ‘Solicitor’s Involvement in E-Business, Research Study 46, A Survey of the extent and nature of solicitor’s use of information and communication technologies 2002’ London, UK, The Law Society

[14] Wall, D. S. and Johnstone, J. (1997) The industrialisation of Legal Practice and the rise of the new Electronic Lawyer: the impact of Information Technology upon Legal Practice in the UK. International Journal of the Sociology of Law, Volume 25, Issue 2, 95-116.

[15] Ibid.

 

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