When Michael Visconti III, an associate in the intellectual property group at Boston’s Nutter McClennen & Fish, wants an update on recent case developments or proposed legislation in his field, he turns to a source that 120 years ago would have been unheard of: an IP blog called Patently-O.
He’s in good company. For the first time ever on our Associate Tech Survey, more than a third of respondents (35 percent, up from 31 percent the year before) say they use social networking tools—both specialized legal blogs and applications intended for the public at large—for job-related purposes. LinkedIn was the most popular platform, at 94 percent, followed by Facebook at 30 percent and Twitter at 13 percent. Other sources listed by respondents included Instagram, Google Chat, and Pinterest, along with such industry-specific sites as Lexblog.
“If lawyers don’t make it a point to become social and understand how to communicate in social media, they will not be able to effectively join the conversation,” says Glen Gilmore, a New Jersey–based solo practitioner and social media expert who is ranked number 15 on Forbes’s list of top social media influencers. He found it surprising that only a third of midlevel associates are “leveraging social media [because] the failure [of] law firms to ‘get’ social is a terrible disservice to their clients, most of whom are using social media for personal and business purposes.”
Though the use of social media has gone up generally, there’s one social network that lawyers have been “un-friending”—at least at work—and that’s Facebook. The work-related use of Facebook among respondents decreased to 30 percent in this year’s survey from last year’s 34 percent, and 42 percent in the 2011 survey. Visconti says that he doesn’t use Facebook in the professional sphere, describing it as more for personal use. Instead, he turns to LinkedIn as his online network, using it to stay current with his contacts and as a platform for sharing content. However, his colleague, Nutter McClennen associate Dahlia Rin, says she finds Facebook useful “to keep in touch with people. You never know where a potential client will come from.”
The Associate Tech Survey is part of our annual midlevel survey, which examines job satisfaction among associates generally. Completed by 5,748 third-, fourth-, and fifth-year associates, the survey was distributed last spring and asked respondents to evaluate the technology at their firms in four categories: overall quality, training, support, and use of technology on behalf of clients. The scores were then averaged for a composite score. Nutter McClennen came in third out of 134 competitors, losing two positions from its first-place finish a year ago. [See chart, The Top Tech Performers.]
In the composite rankings, Paul Hastings rose from seventh place a year ago to finish in first place, with an overall score of 4.750. Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher came in second, with a composite score of 4.495. Thompson Coburn and O’Melveny & Myers, along with Nutter McClennen, were the other top-five finishers. Rounding out the bottom of the list were Patton Boggs, which finished third to last, at 2.638; Boies, Schiller & Flexner, second to last, at 2.330; and Clifford Chance at the bottom, with a composite score of 2.073.
There were some notable movements in these newest results. Fenwick & West dropped from a second-place finish last year, to 28th, while Goulston & Storrs plunged 72 positions, from 27th to 99th. (Sixty-one Fenwick midlevels responded to the survey, for an 84 percent response rate, while 10 Goulston midlevels responded, for a 77 percent response rate.) Although none of the Goulston respondents discussed complaints with their firm’s technology in their responses to open-ended questions, Fenwick associates suggested improving technology for working from home and streamlining administrative processes. A Fenwick spokeswoman declined to discuss the survey results, while a Goulston spokesman said his firm did “nothing different” from a year ago.
One of the biggest improvements this year was at Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, which rose from 101st last year to ninth place, with a composite score of 4.240, up from 3.298. Twenty-three associates responded from the firm’s Minneapolis office, for a response rate of 64 percent. Chief operating officer Patrick Mandile says the firm expanded its wide-area network capacities and focused on improving associate mobility through the use of laptops and personal devices.
Perks for associates working at the top-rated firms include upgraded videoconferencing systems at Paul Hastings, firm-issued MacBook Airs at Gibson Dunn, subsidized Internet protocol phones (which allow associates to have the same number at their office as at their home) at O’Melveny & Myers, and a full mock courtroom complete with a judge’s bench, jury box, and multiple monitors, and cameras that can record and broadcast trial preparation proceedings throughout the firm at Thompson Coburn.
Upgrading intranet systems was another theme at the leading firms. Thompson Coburn replaced its version of SharePoint, a Microsoft Corporation suite of business-collaboration programs [“ Sharepoint's Juggling Act a Hit with Law Firms,” October 2010] and developed a new intranet application for the SharePoint system. The upgrade increases the personalization for associates, making it faster and easier for them to get information, according to chief information officer Phil Rightler. The new intranet system brings social media capabilities, such as instant messaging and features for tagging information, to the firm’s intranet. Associates, he says, “expect high performance.” David Eberhart, a partner at O’Melveny and chair of the firm’s technology committee, says that a major revamp to the intranet was the biggest technological improvement for the firm in 2012.
At the other end of the spectrum, associates at K&L Gates, which finished in 121st place with a composite score of 3.215, were struggling with aging firm tools, according to both the open-ended survey responses and to Scott Angelo, the firm’s chief information officer. When he was brought into the firm to deal with technological deficiencies in the fall of 2011, there was no wireless connectivity. Lawyers were still using Office 2003, which made it difficult to work with clients who were using newer programs. Several outdated document management systems were making it hard for lawyers to collaborate between offices. After assessing needs and hiring a new IT management team, Angelo spent the better part of 2012 building a firmwide platform; he expects it to be implemented across all K&L Gates offices by October. “I will be excited to see what associates say for 2013,” says Angelo.
Indeed, midlevels are vocal, especially when they have complaints with policy.
At King & Spalding, which finished in 125th place, several associates mentioned in their open-ended responses a new policy that blocks personal e-mail sites like Gmail and Yahoo. According to an associate who is leaving the firm, the policy was implemented on April 15. “I find that it actually slows me down significantly,” this associate says. To send the occasional personal e-mail, he has to go onto his iPhone. (A spokesman from King & Spalding declined to comment on internal operations in the firm.)
“I think that if they really wanted to do this,” says the associate, the technology committee should have said, “ ‘We’ll buy you guys an iPad. . . . It’s less than my billable rate for one hour.”