eDiscovery Daily Blog

eDiscovery Trends: Joshua Poje


This is the fourth of our Holiday Thought Leader Interview series. I interviewed several thought leaders to get their perspectives on various eDiscovery topics.

Today’s thought leader is Joshua Poje.  Joshua is a Research Specialist with the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center, which publishes the Annual Legal Technology Survey. He is a graduate of DePaul University College of Law and Augustana College. 

Why does the American Bar Association produce an annual legal technology survey? Why does legal technology demand special attention?

Technology is inescapable for lawyers today. It's integrated into most aspects of the profession, whether that's communicating with clients, interacting with the courts, or marketing a practice. At this point, if you want to understand how lawyers are practicing, you really have to understand how they're using technology.

That's what we're trying to measure with our survey and that's also the reason we direct our survey questionnaires to practicing attorneys rather than to IT staff or vendors. We aren't just interested in learning what tools are on the market or what technology firms are purchasing; we want to know what they're actually using.

How long have you been involved with the ABA Legal Technology Survey, and how has it changed in that time?

The 2011 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report is the fifth edition I've worked on personally, but the survey has been running in various forms for more than 15 years. Aside from moving to electronic publishing via PDF in 2008, the biggest change we've made in the time I've been here was adding a sixth volume–Technology Basics. That volume allowed us to take a deeper dive into basic questions about budgeting, training, and security.

Aside from that, most of the changes in the survey are evolutionary. We sit down every Fall and evaluate the questionnaire, sometimes adding a few questions about new technology and sometimes dropping questions about technology that's fallen out of use. We try to maintain a high level of consistency from year-to-year so that we can take a meaningful look at trends.

Lawyers have a reputation for being late adopters of technology and even technophobic in many respects. Is this an accurate assessment? Has that changed, or is there still an element of truth to the stereotype?

Lawyers are in a difficult position when it comes to new technology. Normal businesses and organizations have to deal with issues like cost, training, and implementation obstacles when they adopt new technology, and the biggest risk is usually just losing money. Lawyers share those challenges and risks, but also have to consider their obligations under their states' rules of professional conduct. A misstep under the rules can have serious and long-lasting professional consequences. So I think it's understandable that some lawyers take a cautious approach to new technology.

That said, lawyers have certainly become more comfortable with new technology over the last few years. Take Twitter, for example. A recent Pew study found that 13 percent of online adults use Twitter. That's right in line with our 2011 survey, where 14 percent of our lawyer respondents reported using Twitter for personal, non-professional purposes. Around 6 percent even use it for professional activities.

In some cases, lawyers actually seem to be leading on technology. A Nielsen study from May 2011 found that just 5 percent of US consumers own a tablet device like the iPad. In our survey, 20 percent of our respondents reported having tablets available at their firms with 12 percent reporting that they personally use the devices.

There seems to be a new trend or buzzword ever few years that dominates the legal technology conversation. At one point it was all about knowledge management and now it seems to be cloud computing, and then whatever comes next. Do you get the sense legal technologists are prone to getting taken in by hype? Or are they generally practical consumers of technology?

The endless hype cycle is just a reality of the technology sector, legal or otherwise. I think our challenge as legal technology professionals is to navigate the hype to identify the useful, practical tools and strategies that lawyers and other legal professionals can put to good use. We also have to be on alert for the technology that might be problematic for lawyers, given the rules of professional conduct.

There are certainly times when the technology we love doesn't catch on with practicing attorneys. Technology experts have been pushing RSS for years, and yet in 2011 we still had 64 percent of our respondents report that they never use it. But on the other hand, "paperless" was the hot buzzword five or six years ago, and now it's a standard strategy at many law firms of all sizes.

Have the demands of eDiscovery forced the profession to come to grips with their own technology use? Are lawyers more savvy about managing their data?

EDiscovery has certainly been influential for some attorneys, but it's worth noting that 42 percent of our respondents in 2011 reported that they never receive eDiscovery requests on behalf of their clients, and 49 percent reported that they never make eDiscovery requests. Those numbers have barely moved over the last few years.

As you might expect, electronically stored information (ESI) has generally been a bigger concern at the large law firms. In 2011, 77 percent of respondents at firms with 500+ attorneys reported that their firm had been involved in a case requiring processing/review of ESI, compared to just 19 percent of solo practitioners. Those large firms, however, outsource a significant amount of their eDiscovery processing. In 2011, 62 percent reported outsourcing eDiscovery processing to eDiscovery consultants, 50 percent outsourced to computer forensics specialists, and 35 percent outsourced to other lawyers in the U.S.

What trends and technologies are you most interested in following in the next survey?

Cloud computing is definitely a topic to keep an eye on. In 2011, 76 percent of our respondents reported that they had never used a cloud-based tool for legal tasks. Of those, 63 percent cited unfamiliarity with the technology as a reason. A lot of attention has been focused on the cloud this year, though, particularly after Apple's iCloud announcement. It'll be interesting to see how those numbers move in 2012.

Mobile technology should be another interesting area. BlackBerry held onto the overall lead for smartphones in 2011, but iOS and Android made substantial gains. Among our solo and small firm respondents, the iPhone actually led the BlackBerry. Will that carry over to the larger firms in 2012? And on the tablet front, it should be interesting to see how the market shifts. In 2011, 96 percent of the respondents who reported having a tablet available specified the iPad. Apple now has competition from Motorola, Samsung, RIM, HP and others, so it's possible we could see movement in the numbers.

Thanks, Joshua, for participating in the interview!

And to the readers, as always, please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic!