Mobile Technology


Tom Mighell

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.

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Over the past year, lawyers have seen some interesting additions to the world of mobile technology. Although fitness trackers like the Fitbit and smartwatches have been available for a number of years, it wasn’t until Apple entered the fray with its Apple Watch that people finally went crazy for wearables. And while these devices are interesting on a personal level, they aren’t terribly useful to lawyers in their practice, beyond providing notifications and reducing the frequency lawyers have to check their phones.

As for the mobile technology lawyers do use, the 2015 edition of the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center’s Legal Technology Survey Report delivers a consistent message: most lawyers use some form of mobile technology both in and outside of the office. Most lawyers use mobile devices to communicate with colleagues, clients, and others, as well as to create, review, and present information that is relevant to their practice. Consider, for example, the following statistics:

  • Lawyers access the Internet regularly (73%) or occasionally (21%) while out of the office, most likely on a mobile device.
  • The mobile device most used by lawyers remains the smartphone (90%), followed by the laptop (79%), and the tablet (holding steady at 49%).
  • Email is still the most popular activity at 93%, which should surprise no one.

As we mentioned in last year’s TECHREPORT, the use of mobile technology by lawyers is remarkably consistent over the past 4-5 years, and this year the message is essentially the same. And while mobile usage steadily increases in other occupations and industries, this has not been the case for the legal profession. In fact, the 2015 Survey results indicate that mobile technology usage has slightly decreased among lawyers, which was a surprise. This year’s Mobile report should be subtitled “The Year of the ‘Seldom’,” because the number of lawyers responding they “seldom” use mobile technology increased 3-5% in nearly every category this year.

What is the reason for this? Although we are hesitant to engage in stereotypes, the reason for this appears to lie in the demographics of 2015 Survey respondents. The percentage of lawyer respondents aged 25-60 dropped across all age levels, while the number of respondents aged 60+ increased nearly 9% from last year. Further, the number of solo and small firm lawyers answering the survey increased more than 6%. Historically, older lawyers (and, to a lesser extent, those in solo practice) are less frequent users of mobile technology, which would explain the rise of the “Seldom” response in answer to most questions.

Nevertheless, the information provided by this year’s respondents offers interesting food for thought. Let’s take a look at the top trends of 2015.

How Do Lawyers Use Mobile Technology?

Although the ways lawyers use mobile devices remains mostly consistent from year to year, there are some clear trends developing, particularly with regard to increased use of smartphones and tablets while out of the office. Case in point: the number of lawyers who use a laptop for law-related tasks on the road continues to drop, with 79% saying “Yes” in 2015. That’s down from 92% just five years ago. On the other hand, smartphone usage has continued at around 90% during that same time. Lawyers are finding that they can accomplish basic tasks on a phone just as well as on a laptop, and on a device that’s much lighter and easier to use. However, when asked the question, “What hardware do you use most when out of the office?” the laptop (42%) still beats the smartphone (31%) and the tablet (16%). So respondents are a little all over the place on this topic. Let’s take a look at a few of the common tasks lawyers regularly or occasionally perform outside of the office, to see the differences:

What does this tell us? Mostly that lawyers continue to use mobile devices like smartphones for quicker, easier tasksand laptops for more complicated activities like document creation, presentations and time and billing. What’s interesting from these statistics isemail, calendars, instant messaging—and laptops for more complicated activities like document creation, presentations and time and billing. What’s interesting from these statistics is that in terms of usage, the tablet is definitely an intermediate device between the laptop and smartphone; for example, more lawyers use the laptop for document creation, followed by the tablet and then the smartphone. On the other hand, more lawyers use the smartphone for instant messaging, followed by the tablet and then the laptop. Lawyers are definitely finding a tablet can replace a laptop for a lot of activities, and is better than a smartphone in certain activities because of its bigger screen.

Mobile Platforms: Apple Still Dominates

Lawyer mobile platform preference did not change much in 2015—most still prefer the iOS platform for both smartphone (68%) and tablet (83%). While the iPad has been the tablet of choice for lawyers since its inception, the iPhone has seen a nearly 100% increase in the number of lawyers using the device since 2011. The introduction of the iPhone 6 (2014) and iPhone 6s (2015) continue Apple’s domination of the smartphone market among lawyers—iPhones “just work,” which is a high priority for lawyers making technology buying decisions.

Lawyer use of the Android platform remained static as well, with 24% using Android smartphones and 12% Android tablets. While Android remains the most worldwide mobile platform, it has not gained a real foothold with lawyers, or with firms looking to deploy the devices on an enterprise level.

The real interest this year comes from the two platforms scoring the lowest among survey respondents. First is the continuing tragedy of Blackberry’s fall from grace among lawyers. In 2011, 45% of lawyers reporting using a Blackberry device; this year that number stands at an all-time low of 5.2%. Blackberry rolled out several new devices over the past year, to little effect. Late in 2015, Blackberry will release the Priv, a phone designed with email security in mind but operating on the Android platform. Given the relatively low amount of attention paid to Android by the lawyer population, it’s hard to believe this new Blackberry phone will do anything to increase its share among lawyers.

Finally, Windows tablets (Surface Pro and Surface) continue to increase their share of the tablet market in the legal community. Although it is still relatively low at 8.3%, this represents a more than 300% increase in use in just three years. Given that Microsoft does not enjoy quite the golden reputation of Apple, it’s not surprising tablets like the Surface Pro are not gaining more momentum. However, the Surface is a quality device for legal use, and we are interested to see whether Microsoft’s latest devices—the Surface Pro 4 and first-ever laptop Surface Book—increase lawyer interest in the platform.

Lawyers and Security: Are We Getting Better?

Despite our constant efforts to keep client communications and information private and secure, lawyers have traditionally not done a very good job of securing their mobile devices, which often contain a great deal of confidential information. Over the past few years, we have gotten better at security in some areas, but in others we just can’t seem to get a clue.

This is perhaps nowhere more apparent than in response to the question: “What security measures do you use when accessing public Wi-Fi?” While more lawyers appear to be using remote access (33%) as a security feature, the number of those responding “No Security” increased 5% over last year, and almost 15% over the past five years! 29% of lawyers don’t use security at all when accessing Wi-Fi networks, which is an extremely risky practice given the ease with which a bad actor can compromise a mobile device using open Wi-Fi. Interestingly, the number of lawyers using a Virtual Private Network (VPN, 37%)—a much more secure tool to use when accessing public Wi-Fi—has dropped fourteen percent over the past three years.

When it comes to securing the mobile device itself, nearly all lawyers still rely on that old stand-by, the password. 97% use password protection on their laptops (92% for smartphones), which demonstrates the basic awareness that our mobile devices contain information on them that needs to be protected. But is password protection sufficient? Many experts say no, which is why over the past year we have seen several mobile devices—the iPhone and Android phones, for example—debut with biometric authentication, primarily fingerprint scanners, as security features.

Whether fingerprint security is any better than a long, secure password is a debate for another venue; the point is, in 2015 most lawyers are not using other, stronger means to secure their mobile devices. As in recent years, file encryption (19%) and hard drive encryption (17%) are the most popular alternative security options to secure a laptop. Remote data wiping is being used by a mere 12% of lawyers for laptops, but 21% use the feature on their smartphone, suggesting that tools like “Find my iPhone” and “Android Device Manager” are starting to gain traction. Only 11% of lawyers are using “Other Authentication” on their laptops, but there was a huge jump in the number of respondents using “Other Authentication” on smartphones, from 8% in 2014 to 21% this year. This is probably primarily due to the introduction of fingerprint sensors on the iPhone and most Android phones.

One area for cheer is the number of lawyers who use “No Security Measures” to protect their laptop or smartphone—at 2.4% for laptops and 6.2% for smartphones, these are the lowest percentages reported in the history of the Legal Technology Survey Report. Therefore, the good news is that in general, lawyers understand the need to protect confidential information on their mobile devices. It may take a while longer still before most lawyers are using the best and strongest security options.

App Use

Like the other categories we have covered, app use among lawyers has not changed much from year to year. Apps are generally considered the lifeblood of a smartphone or tablet. Indeed, at an Apple Event this year Tim Cook announced, “The future is apps.” It’s hard to get anything done on a mobile device without an app. So why aren’t most lawyers using legal or business-related apps?

In the 2015 Survey, only 41% of respondents have downloaded a legal-specific app, and just 45% downloaded a general business app. What are the other 5-60% of lawyers doing on their smartphones? Judging by the answers given above, most of them are using smartphones for the basics: making calls, email, and text messaging. These responses are remarkably consistent over the past few years, suggesting that most lawyers are content with using their mobile devices in these limited ways.

For those lawyers who do use legal or business apps on their smartphones, the answers are also consistent. Once again, Fastcase came in first in legal downloads (40%), followed by WestlawNext (34%), “Other” (27%), the generic Legal Dictionary (18%), and Lexis Advance (18%). Respondents are also downloading litigation-specific apps like TrialPad (8%) and TranscriptPad (5%), but these numbers continue to be low. Perhaps lawyer use of mobile devices in the courtroom is not growing as fast as first thought.

When it comes to general business apps, lawyers are again nothing if not predictable. The top five apps in 2015 were LinkedIn (71%), Dropbox (62%), Evernote (38%), GoodReader (18%), and QuickOffice (16%). QuickOffice is an interesting answer, considering that Google took that app off the market in 2014 and it wasn’t actually available for download in 2015. Also interesting is the fall of venerable office app Documents to Go, which fell quite a bit over the past year—this may be due to the introduction of Microsoft Office apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) on just about every mobile platform available.

Virtual Services

Virtual services seem to be popping up all around—the past year saw an explosion of apps and other tools that allow you to request travel concierge advice, personal shopping, hard-to-get dinner reservations, and more. While the virtual law practice has been around for considerably longer, lawyers are still not sold on the idea. Only 7% use virtual offices and even fewer use a virtual assistant (4%) or virtual paralegal (3%). Unlike other topics in this area of the survey, the virtual law office is one that has never seen any increase in popularity since the question was introduced five years ago. Lawyers do seem to be taking more advantage of voice-enabled apps, for getting information or completing basic tasks. This year saw a 5% increase in those who regularly or occasionally use apps like Siri or Google Now (37%). Windows rolled out Cortana in 2015, a worthy competitor in the “digital assistant” field, and Alexa—part of Amazon’s Echo device—may well represent the direction in which this technology is headed.



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