Mobile Technology

ABA TECHREPORT 2017

Aaron Street is the co-founder and CEO of Lawyerist.com 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.

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In last year’s TECHREPORT, I noted that mobile technology—including laptops, smartphones, and tablets—has been a ubiquitous part of law practice for a number of years. With nearly 100% of lawyers using mobile computing tools for at least some aspects of law practice, there aren’t many new device-adoption trends in the Legal Technology Survey Report to note.

So the fact that most lawyers have smartphones and laptops isn’t newsworthy, but how lawyers use their devices continues to slowly evolve. Where lawyers work remotely, the apps they use, and their data privacy and security protocols are all interesting to watch.

The 2017 Survey did not ask questions about smart watches, augmented-reality glasses, Apple AirPods, Google Home, or Amazon Alexa devices, so we don’t yet know how much lawyers are using wearable computers or voice assistants as part of their mobile technology adoption, and it will be interesting to see if some of those tools (or future versions of them) become important parts of the mobile law practice story.

Like last year, I want to take a moment to comment on the 2017 Survey’s methodology, since I think it has some impact on the trends we do and don’t see in the data. A huge portion of the data on mobile technology has shown little directional change for the past five years, even though there are clear and major changes happening in the broader mobile technology industry. Like last year, it appears that the survey population this year was quite heavily weighted for older respondents (more were over 70 than under 40) and men (over 73% of respondents), both of which probably skew the results and may, in part, explain why the data has been so stable for a number of years.

That said, though there aren’t any huge new findings in this year’s mobile technology data, there are some interesting trends to note.

Where Lawyers Work: Virtual Office, Telecommuting, and Remote Work

For years now, lawyers have been working more and more frequently from places other than their law office. Many lawyers work from home, shared office space, coworking offices, or operate virtual law practices. Even lawyers with traditional offices frequently do legal work from home, while traveling, or anywhere else they are with their smartphone. Over the course of a week, it’s common for lawyers to do online legal work (like checking email, working on documents, or scheduling appointments) away from their office as much as from their desk.

Two-thirds of lawyers still have a traditional private law office, with 16% primarily working from home, and 17% working in a shared office. Solo lawyers are almost equally divided between traditional offices, home offices, and shared spaces. Not surprisingly, traditional offices are the norm for most law firms once they have more than one lawyer.

Even lawyers with traditional offices spend a lot of time working on law firm work outside of the office. 77% regularly work from home, 33% regularly work while traveling, and 20% regularly work from clients’ or opposing counsel’s office or from court.

The amount of time lawyers do this remote work seems to be increasing, too, with almost 85% of lawyers working remotely at least 10% of the time, over a third of lawyers working remotely at least 25% of the time, and more than 10% of lawyers working remotely more than half-time. In fact, over 30% of lawyers say they telecommute at least once per week.

The Devices Lawyers Use: Laptops, iPhones, and iPads

Lawyers say they use their laptops most often as their primary remote-work device (44%), followed by smartphones (30%), tablets (13%), and non-work desktop computers (12%).

Even though laptop computers are lawyers’ primary remote working platform, 96% (essentially everybody) use a smartphone at least occasionally to do legal work. At 96% smartphone adoption, it is fair to say that all lawyers are now remote workers.

The devices lawyers use outside of the office often don’t belong to their law firm. The majority of laptops, smartphones, and tablets that lawyers use to connect to the internet and do client work outside of the office are personally-owned devices, meaning their ownership, settings, and maintenance are almost always entirely outside of the oversight of the lawyer’s firm or IT department. This ongoing bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend is one of many that puts client data security at risk.

Like in past years, the iPhone continues to dominate the legal smartphone market. Now almost 75% of lawyers have iPhones, followed by 23% with Android devices, and just over 2% with Blackberries or Microsoft phones.

Exactly 50% of lawyers use a tablet for legal work and exactly 50% don’t. Like phones, the vast majority of tablets are personally owned (81%) and almost all are iPads (81%), followed by Microsoft Surface (11%) and Android tablets (10%).

The Apps Lawyers Use: Most Lawyers Don’t Make the Most of Their Devices

With such widespread adoption of iPhones and iPads among lawyers, the amount of remote computing power available to lawyers in 2017 is pretty incredible. And yet, most lawyers seem to only use their devices for simple default tasks like calls, email, calendar, and contact management, rather than harnessing their devices power and the App Store to maximize their productivity outside of the office.

The majority of lawyers (53%) say they haven’t downloaded any non-default apps for work. While it’s certainly true that the default apps for email, calendar, notes, reminders, and podcasts are all well-built, there are thousands of outstanding apps for research, productivity, communication, and marketing, all designed to improve remote work.

When lawyers do use non-native apps on their devices, the few that receive even modest adoption are Dropbox, LinkedIn, Westlaw, Fastcase, and Evernote. Considering that most practice management software providers, time and billing platforms, and project management and productivity tools all have apps lawyers could be using on their phones, it’s time for more lawyers to check out the App Store.

Device and Data Security Practices: Most Lawyers Still Don’t Use Proper Security

The near-universal use of mobile devices, especially personally-owned iPhones and iPads, for legal work increases the potential client confidentiality and data security risks for lawyers, yet most firms have inadequate, or nonexistent, security precautions for remote work.

As in past years, about 42% of respondents work at firms that have a written policy about mobile device usage for firm work, meaning that most lawyers have no written guidelines about data security and file access for remote work from mobile devices.

Lawyers continue to fail at following good data security practices on their mobile devices.

The number of lawyers using SSL/HTTPS, remote access software, or VPNs for accessing content over the internet has actually been decreasing over the past few years. The lack of either understanding or implementation of basic mobile data security precautions signals significant technology incompetence among survey respondents. In 2017 there is no excuse for having weak (or no) data security systems.

There are a few bright spots in some otherwise-depressing security trends. The use of hard drive and file encryption on laptops increased significantly over the past year, from 19% last year to 25% this year. That said, that still means that nearly 75% of lawyer hard drives are unencrypted and thus completely vulnerable to data theft. Similarly, the fact that so many lawyers use iPhone and iPads for their remote work means that most lawyer phones have decent security by default. Almost all lawyers (94%) have password locks, and thus encryption, set on their phones, with an increasing number also having biometric login and tracking software activated on their devices.

However, beyond the default security settings on iPhones, lawyers seem to take very few precautions. If the results of the past few years have been accurate, lawyers use weak security protections when transmitting data over public wifi, weak security for storing the data on their devices, and generally don’t even have policies to follow about how they should be protecting their client data.

It is time for these lax standards to change and I am hopeful that maybe we’ll finally start to see some positive security trends next year.

The 2017 Survey shows that lawyers are regularly doing legal work on laptops, iPhones, and iPads outside of their law offices. Their mobile technology makes them more connected and more productive. However, too many lawyers aren’t making the best use of these tools and the apps available on them, and far too many continue to use weak data security precautions on their devices.

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