The latest American Lawyer Technology Survey is out. Cloudy Forecast in the Am Law Tech Survey 2010 finds that BigLaw IT budgets are still tight. 

My take is that there is not much new or exciting in legal tech in large law firms. Reviewing the detailed findings (based on 86 respondenst from the AmLaw 200), however, a few results did surprise me:

  • Almost three quarters of respondents report that less than 25% of their clients require electronic billing. This says much more about general counsels than it does about law firms. With GC failing to insist on e-billing, I do not see how they can conduct analysis that would support sharper negotiation on fees and better selection of outside counsel. I have to assume law firm partners and managers are happy about this finding.
  • Almost 90% of firms now run a central data center. Ah, I thought, firms are getting smart about using hardened, off-site facilities. But then I read on…. Only 1/3 of these firms have offsite centers. Perhaps because I am inclined to outsource generally, I am surprised that only 30% of respondents take advantage of the added security and protection of a co-location facility.
  • About one-half of law firms now publish blogs, though the survey does not ask if they are firm-branded. Given the BigLaw pack mentality, I am surprised that 5+ years into the blogging phenomenon that there is such an even split. It’s not obvious to me the one-half that are not blogging will do so anytime soon.

Two other surprises for me go to the survey process and interpretation rather than the results per se. First, I continue to be surprised that many published legal market surveys do not disclose respondent demographics. Though we know “86 of the Am Law 200” responded, we do not know if this is a random mix or skewed sample. In my view, that limits the survey value.

Second, some results appear to be inconsistent. The 2010 average tech operating budget is about $15.5 million and the 2010 tech operating budget per lawyer about $18.5 thousand. Simple division tells us the average number of lawyers is 843.

The survey also reports that projected 2011 capital spending is about $4.5mil and 2010 capital spending per lawyer $11.1 thousand. Were we to ignore the different years, that would mean the average responding firm had 411 lawyers. Hmm. Do we think 2011 capex will drop about 50% from the 2010 level. Or will lawyer headcount drop 50%? Tough economics times notwithstanding, neither alternative feels right. Perhaps ALM can explain either my mistake in interpreting these results or how to reconcile them.