Mobile Technology


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.

In the first edition of the Mobile Technology TECHREPORT published last year, we noted that lawyer use of mobile technology has remained remarkably consistent over the past few years, according to the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center’s Legal Technology Survey Report. This year is no exception: most lawyers like mobile technology, and use it to access information out of the office.

Some survey results have changed very little in the past four years. The majority of respondents still report working on mobile devices regularly or occasionally at home, in hotels, in transit, and at airports (65%-94%); they use a laptop (84%); they use a smartphone (91%); they are increasingly using tablets (49%); and they still use mobile devices primarily to check email (95%).

When looking at survey results over the past four years, however, it appears that the use of mobile technology for certain law-related tasks has remained somewhat static, and in some cases, even decreased. This is an intriguing trend, because logic and anecdotal evidence tells us that as lawyers become more comfortable with technology, they begin to use it for more law-related activities. But as we discuss further below, although lawyers are using mobile devices more and more for non-work activity, there is little change in some areas, and even a small downward trend in using them for certain types of legal work.

Why is this occurring? It could simply be a matter of survey demographics. In 2014, there was a 7% increase in the number of solo lawyers answering the survey, as well as a 4% increase in the number of brand new lawyers (practicing 0-4 years). As a general rule, solo lawyers are slower to adopt technology than lawyers who have it provided to them in larger firms. Younger lawyers, while certainly leading the way in mobile technology use, may not use mobile devices for legal work quite as much in the early years of their practice. It may also be that the decreased numbers in this survey, while evident, are still well within the margin of error of the Survey, and therefore are not important enough to draw concrete conclusions.

Whatever the reason, this year’s survey results are certainly interesting to examine. Let’s take a look at some of the trends worth noting this year.

How Lawyers Use Mobile Devices

When asked, “Do you use a laptop computer for law-related tasks while away from your primary workplace?” 84% of survey respondents answered “Yes.” In 2011, 92% answered in the affirmative—an 8% drop over four years. Part of this decrease is due to the rise in the use of tablet computers while out of the office (see below), but it is also clear that lawyer use of laptops, smartphones, and tablets have not changed much in certain work-related activities, and have decreased in others. In particular, lawyers are creating fewer documents on mobile devices; since 2011, lawyer use of laptops and tablets to create documents has decreased 4-6%.

On the other hand, lawyers are increasingly using mobile devices, especially smartphones and tablets, to perform non-law related activities—for which these tools were originally designed.

Camera – in 2014, 66% of smartphone users and 44% of tablet users, an increase of 12% and 26% over the past four years, respectively.

GPS/Maps – in 2014, 77.5% of lawyers use GPS on their smartphone, a 13% increase since 2011.

Instant Messaging / Chat – a big jump on smartphones just in the past year, as 44% report using an IM service, compared to 33% last year.

Text Messaging – 99% more lawyers are using smartphones to send text messages this year than
in 2011, from 73% to 82%.

The clear trend over the past few years is that lawyers are becoming more comfortable using mobile devices to perform everyday tasks, even those not necessarily related to the practice of law. 

Mobile Platforms—Jockeying for Position

The past year has seen the further entrenchment of the iOS and Android platform on mobile devices, all at the expense of Blackberry. In 2011, 48% of respondents reported using a Blackberry phone—this year, that number stands at 7%, a staggering loss of 41% in market share among lawyers in just three years. Unfortunately, Blackberry has done little in the interim to win back its once-loyal fans in the legal market. It seems like everything that Blackberry tries is met with ambivalence; it tried but could not find a buyer in 2013, and recently-released touchscreen smartphones have received average to negative reviews. Plans for 2014-2015 include a square smartphone, so it will be interesting to see whether Blackberry can recapture some of the love lawyers once felt for the platform.

Once again this year, Blackberry’s continued fall is welcome news for Apple and Google, with the loss of market share among lawyers being largely absorbed by the iOS and Android platforms. Apple’s iOS platform now holds a dominant 69% of the smartphone market, up 34% since 2011. As long as Apple continues to release iPhones that “just work,” a big priority for lawyers with little time to learn about technology, it should maintain its control over the smartphone market for lawyers. By contrast, adoption of Google’s Android devices is also up, but at more of a plodding rate. This year, 25% of lawyer respondents report owning an Android smartphone, which is up 3% over last year and 8% over the past four years. Use of Windows smartphones by lawyers is virtually non-existent; only 1.9% indicate they are using Windows Mobile, which is actually down from 2.5% in 2011.

When it comes to tablet devices, Apple’s share is even more dominant, but some interesting competition is entering the market. In 2014, 84% of respondents are using an iPad as their tablet of choice—this is down from 91% last year. Android has made some good progress since last year, with 10% of the market share. But it’s the Microsoft Surface tablet that could draw lawyers away from the iPad over the coming years. Last year, only 1.3% of lawyers reported using a Windows tablet—but that number more than tripled this year, as 5.7% indicate they are using a Surface. The reasons for this are obvious; most lawyers live in the world of Microsoft Office, and there is no better mobile platform for running Office than a tablet running full versions of the productivity suite. This year’s survey went out just as interest in the Surface tablet was just starting to take off—can Microsoft continue this upward momentum through next year?

Are Tablets Still The Hot New Technology for Lawyers?

Lawyer use of tablet devices actually leveled off this year. In 2014, 49% of lawyers reported using a tablet for doing legal work, compared with 48% last year. Interestingly, when asked what hardware lawyers use most when they are out of the office, the tablet still comes in a distant third, with a 15% response. Laptops are still the most popular mobile device, with 48% preferring a more full-featured mobile device. However, that’s down from 59% in 2011—this decrease is almost exactly concurrent with the rise in use of tablet devices as a laptop alternative.

These statistics reveal that tablets have definitely found a place in a lawyer’s technology toolkit. But it’s also apparent that lawyers recognize an important fact about the iPad, and tablets in general: that at least for now, they cannot completely replace a laptop. Although more lawyers are finding a use for tablets in their practice, most no doubt realize that a laptop is still necessary for many law-related tasks, chief among them heavy-duty document creation and formatting. The use of tablet computers rose at an amazing pace, rising over 30% in just three years—the fact that the numbers basically leveled off this year may suggest that the legal market may have reached a plateau, temporary or not, in the use of tablets for law practice.

Also interesting is the decrease in lawyer use of tablet devices for work associated with the practice of law. As noted above, the 2014 Survey responses indicate that lawyers are using tablets less frequently in the following areas:

  • Calendars (down 1%)
  • Contacts (down 3%)
  • Document Creation (down 2%)
  • Email (down 7%)
  • Internet Access (down 4%)
  • Presentations (down 3%)
  • Spreadsheets (down 2%)

The decreases noted above are not huge, and may be statistically insignificant. But consider that over the past few years, lawyers have been learning from more and more sources that mobile devices are valuable for more than just surfing the Web, checking email, or playing Angry Birds; they can function as real productivity tools that can help provide better service to clients. This dip in the results may suggest that just a few more lawyers prefer using a tablet for Angry Birds than for legal work.

Lawyers and Mobile Security

Every year, we hear of new ways bad actors are getting to our personal, confidential information, and this past year was no exception. Adobe reported a major compromise of user accounts, affecting more than 38 million people—no doubt many of them lawyers. The “Heartbleed” bug caused vulnerabilities to half a million websites, enabling attackers to eavesdrop on communications, steal passwords, compromise data, and impersonate services and users. Despite these cautionary stories, and the ramifications they have for people who do not adequately protect their confidential information—whether it belongs to them or a client—lawyer concern for security has not changed noticeably in the 2014 Survey results.

To be fair, nearly all lawyers report using password protection, with 94% of laptop users and 90% of smartphone owners keeping the bare minimum in security to protect sensitive client information. As in other years of the Survey, however, there is a steep drop between this response and other, stronger security measures that are better options to protect client data. Only 15% of respondents indicated they use hard drive encryption on their laptops—arguably the easiest, strongest protection you can provide in the event a computer is lost or stolen. Only 18% of laptop owners use file/document encryption tools, and the days of cable locks and asset tagging seem to be long gone.

With the rise of “Find My iPhone” and the Android Device Manager, tracking and remote data wiping software has become an easy and effective way of protecting information that may not be recoverable, yet only 13% of laptop owners use remote wiping, compared with 22% of smartphone owners (which is actually a 2% decrease from the 2013 Survey). Another interesting trend is the increase, albeit small, in the use of “Other Authentication” measures on smartphones, up 6% from 2013. This may reflect Apple’s introduction of Touch ID fingerprint security last year; more two-factor authentication options for major services like Google, Dropbox, and Evernote; Android’s use of alternative methods to unlock a phone, such as drawing a pattern or tracing a picture.

There is encouraging news, however; the number of lawyers reporting “None” when asked about security measures has steadily dropped over the past four years, especially for smartphones. In 2011, 23% reported using no security on their phone; this year, that number stands at 8%. Still, 8% is a pretty high number when the risk is a breach of client confidentiality.

Although more lawyers are using security on their smartphones, fewer lawyers are protecting themselves when using public Wi-Fi—significantly fewer. In 2014, 25% of users report using no security when accessing a public wireless network, compared with 15% in 2011—a 10% increase. When broken down by firm size, the gap becomes more obvious; 33% of small firm lawyers, compared with 24% of medium, and 12% of large firm lawyers, report using no security on public Wi-Fi. As with last year’s survey results, when security is used with public Wi-Fi, the method varies, depending on the size of the law firm. More large firms use Virtual Private Network (VPN) software, while more medium-sized firms use remote access tools. This is a function not only of the larger firms’ financial ability to provide for its users, but also a more structured way of looking at firm security.

App Use Remains the Same—Why?

It should come as no surprise that in 2014, lawyers continue to download legal-specific as well as business apps to get work done on mobile devices. After all, that’s how smartphones and tablets work—with apps. That’s why it’s so surprising that in 2014, the majority of lawyers still have never downloaded a legal-specific app (57%) or a business app (55%) to their smartphone or tablet. Granted, this number is down 20% over the past four years, when three-quarters of respondents had never downloaded an app for use in their practice; the current response, nevertheless, suggests that large numbers of lawyers are not using mobile devices to their fullest potential. 

Those lawyers who are downloading apps for business reasons do so primarily to be more productive—creating and revising documents, taking notes, and accessing a computer back at the office are all top priorities. The top apps downloaded over the past year include Dropbox (65%), Evernote (38%), Documents to Go (21%), GoodReader (20%), QuickOffice (18%), LogMeIn (15%), and Box (9%). Interestingly, the app that most survey respondents are downloading has nothing to do with productivity, but networking—68% report downloading the LinkedIn app in the past year.

When it comes to legal-specific apps, the 2014 Survey respondents once again demonstrated a distinct preference for research and reference apps. Four of the top five legal apps named in the survey make up part of the lawyer’s “mobile law library”: Fastcase (37%), WestlawNext (34%), Legal Dictionaries (22%), LexisAdvance (14%), and other such apps enable legal professionals to carry all of their case law, statutes, and rules in an easily transportable format.

For the first time this year, two litigation-related apps appeared in the legal-specific top 10 list: TrialPad (8.3%) and TranscriptPad (3.8%), which are technically used by relatively few of the survey respondents, but it explains another survey result—a 6% increase this year in the number of lawyers using mobile devices in the courtroom. As lawyers learn that tablet devices can be used successfully in court, mediations, or other legal settings, we will hopefully see a corresponding increase in the use of legal-specific apps in these venue.

Mixed Results for Virtual Services

The “Virtual Law Practice” has captured a lot of attention in recent years, with lawyers touting the benefits of offering online legal services, often at reduced prices and with greater efficiencies than a “brick and mortar” firm might offer. Enthusiasm for virtual law offices is definitely not reflected in this year’s survey—or in the past four years, for that matter. In 2014, 5.4% report using a virtual office—this number has not varied since 2011. Similarly, lawyers are not rushing to take advantage of a “virtual assistant,” who offers online administrative, clerical, and paralegal services. 2014 is the first year on the survey for this question, and only 4.1% of responding lawyers currently use a virtual assistant.

On the other hand, more lawyers are taking advantage of the services offered by virtual, voice-enabled apps like Siri and Google Now. A third of respondents have taken advantage of the interesting and sometimes useful services offered by these iOS and Android services. Perhaps as lawyers become more comfortable using free virtual services, they will be more likely to venture into working with more practical online tools that can directly benefit their practice.


This article is sponsored by Thomson Reuters.


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