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December 01, 2016 TECHREPORT 2016

2016 Mobile Technology

by Aaron Street

Though it’s now fair to say that all lawyers incorporate mobile devices or remote work into their law practices, understanding how they do that—their internet options, the devices they use, their security procedures, and software tools and apps they access—shows there is still a lot of room for lawyers to expand their use of mobile technology.

It is worth noting a few words about methodology. Much of the ABA Legal Technology Survey Report data regarding mobile technology usage has been surprisingly consistent over the past five or six years, despite the fact that non-lawyer mobile trends are changing over time. It appears that the respondent population has been skewed a bit over the past few years, with older people, men, and large firm attorneys over-represented in the survey sample. This may explain some of the longitudinal stability in the data.

Despite the lack of many clear trends in the 2016 Survey data, there are definitely some valuable insights and themes worth noting.

Lawyers Now Practice Law Everywhere They Go

Law practice is increasingly happening outside of a traditional law office. Whether lawyers are working from a home office or shared office space, working while traveling or after going home, or checking work email in line at the coffee shop, internet-connected law practice now happens outside a law office as much as in it.

Though 70% of lawyers primarily work out of a private law office, 16% primarily work from home, and 14% work from office space shared with other firms or businesses. Even more solo and small firm attorneys have moved away from a traditional space, with only 35% having private offices, 37% working primarily from home, and 26% working from shared space.

Beyond their primary workspace, lawyers regularly perform legal work outside their office. 77% do legal work from home (not counting those whose primary office is a home office), 38% work while traveling, 28% work remotely from clients’ or opposing counsel’s office, and 19% do work from court.

This work outside of the primary office can be a very substantial portion of a lawyer’s time, too. 15% of lawyers work remotely at least 10% of the time, 46% work remotely 10-24% of the time, 27% work remotely 25-49% of the time, and 12% of lawyers work remotely more than half of the time (though at that point, it’s not clear how their office could be considered a primary workspace).

Similarly, respondents were asked about frequency of telecommuting (not sure what the distinction between telecommuting and remote working is) and found that 33% telecommute at least one day per week, 30% telecommute 1-3 days per month, 33% telecommute three to 11 days per year, and 5% rarely or never do.

How Lawyers Work Remotely

Whether on a computer, a tablet, or a phone, lawyers are now constantly working and checking email outside of the office.

When accessing the internet for legal work (other than just email) outside of the office, 46% most often use a laptop, 27% use their smartphone, 13% use a tablet, and 13% use a desktop computer (presumably from a home office).

In total, 77% say they use the internet for working away from the office. Presumably, these 2016 Survey respondents assumed “use the internet” was somehow different than accessing email because 99% check email while out of the office (89% regularly do).

Given that, anecdotally, I know of a few proud Luddite lawyers, I’m amazed that 99% of respondents check email outside of work. Even within a statistical margin of error, basically everyone checks email at home or on their phone on evenings, weekends, and vacations.

When lawyers access the internet outside of work, 61% use private Wi-Fi, 57% use broadband (I assume this means an Ethernet cable, to distinguish it from Wi-Fi), 40% use public Wi-Fi, 25% use their phone’s data connection, and 18% use a data hotspot.

That means, with likely a few exceptions, most lawyers have very high-speed internet access even outside of work.

Lawyers Work from Their (Personal) iPhones and iPads

Though only 27% of lawyers use their smartphone as their primary internet device outside of work, 93% do use a smartphone. So while the laptop may get more emphasis for getting work done, most lawyers are really connected to the internet all the time.

Despite potential concerns about client confidentiality or data security, though, most lawyers (74%) use a personal phone, not a firm-issued phone for their legal work, meaning law firm work is very much BYOD (bring your own device).

Interestingly, smartphones are now so common and easy to use that 70% of lawyers use their smartphones to do legal work while they are still at the office!

The iPhone continues, by far, to be the most-used phone for lawyers, with 73% using iOS devices. 23% of lawyers have Android phones, 3% still have Blackberries (down from 16% just three years ago), and 2% have Microsoft devices.

Though not as popular as smartphones, a majority (51%) of lawyers use a tablet computer for their legal work. Of these, 84% are iPads, 10% are Android, and 7% are Windows. And just like with smartphones, the vast majority (81%) of the iPads used for legal work are personal, not firm-owned devices. In addition to phones and tablets, most lawyers (84%) have a full laptop computer for more in-depth work away from the office.

Lawyers Have Inadequate Mobile Security

With all of this internet-connected legal work being performed outside of the office on personal devices, it’s no surprise that client data security is slipping through the cracks. The confidential client data in emails, files, and other communications that are stored and transmitted by lawyer’s laptops, iPhones, and iPads are not being protected well.

In fact, only 43% of lawyers reported having a mobile technology policy for their firm, meaning the majority of law firms don’t even have a policy for how mobile devices should be used and how client data should be stored and transmitted on them.

This lack of clear technology standards and policies for firms becomes clear when we look at what security precautions lawyers use on their devices.

Lawyers are not good at securing the data on their laptops. While 98% of lawyers use password protection for logging into their laptops, which does little to protect data from an interested party, only 19% encrypt their laptop hard drive.

Thankfully, a benefit of the high usage of iPhone devices among lawyers is that smartphone security has greatly improved. 95% of lawyers use a passcode on their smartphone, and since most smartphones are encrypted when locked by a passcode, this data is quite secure.

Previously, I noted that 40% of lawyer access legal work over public Wi-Fi. When accessing public Wi-Fi, 53% say they sometimes use a VPN. This is still too many lawyers not protecting their data in highly insecure public transmissions—in coffee shops, libraries, and hotels, where people love to snoop internet traffic—but is also probably even worse since it’s unlikely that these respondents always use their VPN when checking email or sending client files.

Given the degree to which lawyers use mobile devices for internet-connected legal work, it is time for lawyers to use smarter security measures.

Lawyers Should Use More Apps for Work

Though respondents seem to use their smartphones, especially iPhones, for a significant amount of their legal work, they don’t seem to use them anywhere near their phones maximum capabilities.

Respondents regularly use their smartphones for calls, email, calendar, contacts, texting, and web browsers, but often not much more.

Other than these core, built-in features, most lawyers don’t even use other apps for work, despite the many great legal research, practice management, time & billing, and general productivity apps specifically designed for working remotely.

Only 40% of lawyers have legal apps on their smartphones, and those are primarily legal research apps from Westlaw, FastCase, and LexisNexis, rather than practice management tools.

Similarly, only 40% of lawyers say they use any business or productivity apps not built into their phones, meaning 60% of lawyers are fundamentally missing opportunities to leverage the power of their devices. The only business apps lawyers do claim to use in any notable quantity are Dropbox, LinkedIn, and Evernote.

It’s fair to assume lawyers would be well served by testing out more legal and business tools to use on their iPhones.

The 2016 Survey shows that lawyers are actively practicing law, on the internet, away from their offices. Though internet-connected iPhone, iPads, and laptops are now used by almost all lawyers, there remain some big gaps for lawyers to fill in safe and effective use of these tools. Hopefully, the 2017 Survey will indicate better security procedures and more engagement with productivity and practice management apps for lawyers to really make effective use of the tools they have.

Aaron Street

Aaron Street is the co-founder and CEO of an online community providing law practice advice to solo and small firm lawyers, where he co-hosts the weekly Lawyerist Podcast. Aaron serves on the ABA’s Legal Technology Resource Center board as well as the board of the Hennepin County Bar Association in Minneapolis and on the State Assembly of the Minnesota State Bar Association.