Going Mobile

Tom Mighell is a Senior Consultant with Contoural, Inc., helping companies with records management, litigation readiness and e-discovery issues. Tom is the author of iPad in One Hour for Lawyers, iPad Apps in One Hour for Lawyers, and iPad in One Hour for Litigators. He is also a co-host of The Kennedy-Mighell Report podcast. In addition to serving on the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center’s board, he also serves as Chair of the ABA Law Practice Division’s Publishing Board.

The title of this year’s report on lawyer use of mobile technology might very well be “The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same.”  That is to say, the Legal Technology Survey Report produced by the ABA’s Legal Technology Resource Center has been very consistent the past few years on the issue of mobile technology.  Lawyers like mobile technology and use it to access information when they are out of the office. Some survey results have changed very little in the past three years. Most respondents still report working on mobile devices at home, in hotels, in transit, and at airports (68%-93%); they use a laptop (85%); they use a smartphone (91%); and they still use mobile devices primarily to check email (89%).

But there are some interesting trends in lawyer use of mobile technology over the past three years.  The first is in the shift to newer mobile platforms, as well as the shift from laptops to tablet computers.  There is also an increased focus on security, as well as on law office policies on the use of mobile devices at work.  In this report, we’ll take a look at some of the more notable trends in mobile technology appearing in the 2013 Legal Technology Survey Report.

The Fall of Blackberry 

Mighell Chart 1

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.  Perhaps the biggest change year-over-year in the Mobile Lawyers volume of the Legal Technology Survey Report is the number of respondents using the Blackberry platform.  As late as 2011, 45% reported using Blackberry smartphones; in 2013, the number is now a shocking 16%.  Of the other platforms, Apple’s iOS has stolen most of Blackberry’s thunder; at 62%, its share has nearly doubled from two years ago.  The number of lawyers using the Android platform has stayed fairly steady at 22%.  And less than 1% report using the Windows Mobile platform, showing that Windows is essentially a non-player in the mobile game – at least according to lawyers. Interestingly, in the worldwide cell phone market, Android beats iOS in market share, but among lawyers the iPhone still remains the most popular phone choice, with 62% of those surveyed.

What accounts for Blackberry’s dramatic fall?  Most likely, Research in Motion’s (RIM) failure to innovate.  For years, the Blackberry was the best at handling email – and some would argue that Blackberry’s security is still the best of all the mobile platforms.  But with the rise of iPhones and Android phones, consumers began to demand devices that did more than just read email – lawyers wanted to use maps to navigate, take pictures, and take advantage of the more interesting features that mobile “apps” could offer.  Blackberry took too long to recognize this shift and react to it; ever since, they have lagged behind Apple and Google in development.  Blackberry tried to stop the bleeding by rolling out two new phones in 2013, but neither has been received with much enthusiasm.  Unfortunately for Blackberry, we expect this trend to continue.

The Rise of the Tablet

Another interesting trend in this year’s Mobile Lawyers results is the increase in ownership and use of tablet devices.  In 2011, only 15% reported using a tablet device for working on law-related tasks; in 2013, that number has more than tripled, with 48% now saying that they use a tablet at work.  Also interesting is the change in the tools lawyers use to access the Internet – although the laptop is still the mobile device of choice at 44%, it has fallen nearly 20% in the past two years, while the tablet has moved from 3% to 14% during the same period of time.

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The lawyer’s choice for tablet computer probably should come as no surprise; the iPad (90%) handily wins this contest, with only 7% using Android tablets.  This is due, in large part, to the fact that no Android tablet really has come close to being a serious competitor to the iPad, and the fact that legal app developers just aren’t making apps for Android devices.

There’s no question that tablet computing is hot right now among lawyers; “iPad for Lawyers” seminars across the country routinely play to packed audiences.  Why the sudden interest in the tablet form factor?  The likely answer is that lawyers are discovering that many of the things they do on a daily basis can be accomplished with the smaller, more convenient tablet:  taking notes, reading and annotating case law and other case files, conducting legal research, and creating or revising documents are now common activities that tablets can handle with ease.  When the same work can be completed on a tablet as on a laptop, lawyers are increasingly choosing to travel with the smaller, more lightweight device. 

As lawyers continue to learn the value of tablet computers, both on the road as well as in the courtroom, we expect to see a steady increase in the use of tablet computing in law practice.

Are Lawyers Getting Smarter on Mobile Security? 

Considering the ethical importance of protecting client confidences, you might think lawyers would be at the forefront of mobile security.  Surprisingly, though, lawyers do not utilize security measures commensurate with a profession that values confidentiality as one of its virtues.  Granted, the vast majority of survey respondents report using password protection on their mobile devices - 95% on laptops, 87% on smartphones.  Many security studies have shown, however, that password protection alone is not sufficient to protect a mobile device, and that additional measures should be taken to make it more difficult should the laptop, phone or tablet be stolen or lost.

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Most lawyers have not gotten this message, because after passwords, there is a steep drop off to the next most popular method of security. Encryption is still not a popular method of securing a laptop: 18% report using file/data encryption, while only 13% use hard drive encryption – arguably the strongest and best way to protect a computer from unauthorized access.  These numbers have not changed much over the past few years.

Lawyers are, however, paying a bit more attention to smart phone security these days.  Remote data wiping use has doubled in the past two years, up to 25% from 13% in 2011.  Likewise, use of tracking software has increased to 20%.  The most likely cause of this increase is the use of the free “Find My iPhone” app for both iPhones and iPads, which will track a device and remotely wipe it to prevent information from falling into the wrong hands.  Interestingly, encryption of smartphones received the same number of responses – 11% - as “No Security.”

One last interesting statistic comes in response to “What security measures do you use when accessing public wireless (WiFi) networks?”  The responses to this question seem to depend on the size of the law firm practice.  Large firms reported using Virtual Private Networks (VPN) more than smaller firms (71%), while medium-sized firms are the biggest users of Remote Access Software (39%).  Perhaps not surprisingly, solo and smaller firms report only using secure websites (SSL/HTTPS) to protect themselves (30%), or using no security measures at all (31%).  Given the number of low-cost VPNs and remote access alternatives, it is surprising more small firms are not taking advantage of these reasonably simple security measures.

Can Lawyers Bring Their Own Device?

A popular trend in corporate America these days is that of “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD).  Employees bring their iPhone, Android device, or iPad to work and demand that IT support it so that they can use it for work purposes.  The initial response to these demands was complete rejection – but companies, and law firms included, are now developing BYOD policies that attempt to allow use of these devices, while protecting the company from security issues or other technological problems.  As an alternative, many companies are adopting “Company-Owned, Personally Enabled” (COPE) policies, which allow employees to use mobile devices for work that are more tightly locked down and regulated by the Information Technology department. 

So how has the legal profession adapted to this world of BYOD?  It’s hard to tell from the results of the LTRC Survey.  In 2013, 43% answered “Yes” to the question “Does your firm have a policy regarding use of mobile devices…outside of the primary workplace?”  The question and answers don’t specify the aspects of mobile technology use these policies cover.  However, only 49% of respondents answered “Yes” to the question “Does your firm support multiple platforms for smartphones?” – this suggests that the majority of law firms have not adopted BYOD policies. It may well be that many firms have standardized on one platform with a COPE-type policy, but this is not likely.

Apps on the Rise 

When asked which legal and business-related apps lawyers download to their smartphones and tablets, their responses demonstrate how use of mobile devices are changing the practice of law, as lawyers begin to do more “law practice” tasks via mobile technology. 

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Most lawyers using smartphones or tablets reported downloading and using apps to be productive – creating and revising documents, taking notes, and working with PDF files.  A large number of respondents reported downloading banking or other financial apps, and social networking apps are also popular among lawyers.  Lawyers also reported downloading utilities that help them work better – scanning, remote access, and printing apps all appear to be popular choices.

It should come as no surprise that in terms of law-related activities, lawyers tend to use their mobile devices primarily for legal research and reference.  The vast majority of respondents indicated that they have downloaded one of the primary legal research apps (LexisAdvance, WestlawNext, Fastcase, CaseMaker), and dozens of state code and rule apps were listed.  Lawyers clearly like the idea of the “mobile law library,” with their responses indicating that the ability to carry all of your case law, statutes, and rules on a compact mobile device is rapidly becoming a favorite practice.  Beyond legal research and reference, however, lawyers are not using many legal-specific apps on their mobile devices. Although nearly 38% of survey respondents identified Litigation as their primary practice area (with no doubt many more respondents engaging in litigation to a lesser extent), there were no litigation-specific apps mentioned in survey responses – perhaps indicating that most lawyers with iPads are still not comfortable using it to try a case in the courtroom.

As lawyers become more comfortable with the idea of “practicing law” on a mobile device, we expect them to begin to download and use more apps that allow them to operate their law practice no matter where they happen to be – whether in court, at a client’s office, or at the beach.


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2013 Legal Technology Survey Report