DETROIT – If you look around, you’ll see that most everyone is communicating on the go, and more and more are connected and able to work and communicate at any time.
That includes the legal profession — meaning if you are not mobile, you are likely at a disadvantage, or soon will be.
According to the American Bar Association’s latest Legal Technology Survey Report, 48 percent of lawyers are now using tablets in their law practices, up from 33 percent in 2012. Apple is still king in the legal world, with 91 percent of lawyer tablet users preferring the iPad, and of the 9 percent who didn’t use the iPad, more than half used an Android device.
“Of all 21st century technologies, mobile computing has been the one most quickly embraced by lawyers,” said Nicole Black, director of MyCase, a cloud-based law practice management system. “Most lawyers now use mobile devices in their law practices because doing so allows them to increase their productivity and will be able to practice law and run their practices no matter where they happen to be.”
As a result, an increasing number of attorneys are using mobile apps and/or software with mobile integration, including PDF annotation apps, law practice management software and legal research products.
“I don’t know if lawyers are going to have a choice,” going mobile, said Brett Burney, principal of Burney Consultants in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. “When computers came around, [lawyers] could push it off a little, then email came around and less so.
“But now, it’s not so much the profession itself; it’s the clients, who say, ‘How can you not have a mobile device?’ ‘How can I reach you at any hour?’ ‘How can you not have a tablet to bring up paperwork when I need it?’ ”
Black recounts the story of when she attended a conference and federal appeals court Judge Richard Wesley was a presenter, giving tips for appellate attorneys. She said he suddenly went into a side discussion of the benefits of iPads.
She said Wesley explained that he takes his iPad everywhere and that he and all of the other 2nd Circuit judges use iPads on the bench. He apparently converted everyone at a judicial retreat last year, including the 80-year-old judges.
Wesley told the group that during oral arguments, the judges access Westlaw right from their iPads and also have PDFs of the briefs in front of them with hyperlinks to the cited cases.
“When you talk about practicing law, you talk about being able to do research, communicate and maintain a file, so it’s been 15 years or so, that legal research has been primarily done on computers,” said Eric Williams, law professor at Wayne State University Law School. “Anything you can do on a computer you can do on a mobile device.”
Michigan lawyer Randy Musbach is a self-professed Macintosh fan, and said he runs 80 percent of his practice on mobile devices, using an iPad Air, MacBook Air and iPhone.
“It allows you to practice anytime, anyplace and allows you to better serve your clients,” Musbach said. “I run off of the Apple system. It’s a closed system, which is better for security, and once you use one device, you can use all the others.”
He said that each mobile app has a specific purpose, so tasks are simplified and anyone can use them because they are intuitive. And, because all of his documents are filed in the cloud, he said he can access any file within 10 seconds.
“I believe that the fact that apps do one thing and they do it well, that is one of the glorious appeals of any tablet really,” Burney said. “It’s a whole different approach to computers; we’ve been working with computers and we have this gargantuan operating system and there are so many tweaks and software things you can do.
“But people see the app, and they are refreshed,” Burney said. “The fact that there are not 15,000 ways to customize your toolbar, they love that. You don’t have to go into detail. It’s like a closed system. People appreciate that.”
Burney also said he gives “quite a number of presentations on iPads, and every time I give a presentation, it is amazing how many people show up; every time we have 100 if not more. And what’s amazing to me is the fact that that many people are coming to learn about technology that’s barely three years old — I have never seen anything get so hyped up and popular.”
The ABA’s technology report found that solo practitioners were most likely to use mobile, with 85 percent reporting use of mobile devices in 2013, up from 77 percent in 2012.
The most popular mobile device was a smartphone, with nearly 91 percent of lawyers reporting that they used one, up from 89 percent last year.
iPhones were preferred, with 62 percent of those lawyers surveyed reporting that they used an iPhone, up from 44 percent last year. Androids came in second with 22 percent and only 6 percent of lawyers said they use a BlackBerry.
One time, at a deposition, Musbach said the court reporter became physically ill and could not record the proceedings. So he used the app Paranotes, with permission from opposing counsel, was able to notarize it, sent it for transcription, and was able to save everyone from wasting a few hours.
Security is an issue that’s often discussed, Musbach said, and he uses a reputable cloud provider with encrypted files.
“You have to find a reputable company with good security and a track record,” he said. “I think using the cloud is more secure than bringing a paper file to the coffee shop or leaving it in the car when you go to the store. I was convinced when after Hurricane Katrina, I saw attorneys try to go to their offices and reconstruct files. You are being ethically responsible; you are taking reasonable precautions.”
He suggested getting a phone connection for devices, as it’s more secure than if you were to transmit information over, say, a Starbucks Wi-Fi connection.
“I get this all the time; the question I get is, ‘How can I store on a server that I don’t own?’” Burney said. “You have to take reasonable precautions. Of course you can store [in the cloud], and that’s the same precautions you have with documents in any way or form. Those cloud services are probably 10 times more secure than the email we use today; it’s as secure as banks or Amazon.”
Black said she doesn’t think lawyers will be left in the dust if they aren’t totally mobile — it will simply be advantageous.
“Of all the different new technology, mobile computing is the one that lawyers have very quickly embraced. Compared to cloud, social media, really, compared to any recent technology, mobile is the leader.”
One of the upsides, she noted, is 24/7 access. But that also is one of the major downsides.
“It’s finding the right balance, it’s about turning off the law, the work, when you need to.”
What apps are lawyers using the most on their mobile devices?
According to the ABA survey:
Fastcase (26.5 percent)
Westlaw (7.7 percent
Lexis (7.7 percent)
WestlawNext (7.3 percent)
Other legal apps used by lawyers surveyed included the ABA Journal, LawStack, American Bar Association, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, PLI and Lexis Advance.
The top three most-used nonlegal apps lawyers reported using:
DropBox (15.2 percent)
Evernote (9.8 percent)
LinkedIn (8.6 percent)
Other nonlegal apps used by lawyers included Dragon Dictation, Documents to Go, The Wall Street Journal, PDF readers, and QuickOffice.
Some apps recommended by the sources in this story:
Goodreader — Allows tablet, iPod Touch and iPhone users to read virtually any document: PDFs, books, maps, even pictures and movies.
Transcriptpad — Used to review and annotate transcripts.
Trialpad — Is used to present cases at trial, can connect device to a projector and display all your exhibits.
Onepassword — A place to securely store all your different passwords.
JotNotFax – Turns your iPhone and/or iPad into a portable, outbound fax machine..
Evernote — Good for basic account to save notes and reminders in a number of document formats.
DropBox — Lets you bring all your photos, documents, and videos and share them easily. Access any file you save to your DropBox from all your computers, iPhone, iPad and even the DropBox website.
Fastcase — A legal research app that enables an attorney to pull up cases, statutes, court rules and other documents virtually anywhere on the planet using any Android device.