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A look at legal technology trends for 2012

Stacked3This week's Daily Record column is entitled "A look at legal technology trends for 2012."

A pdf of the article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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A look at legal technology trends for 2012

Every year the American Bar Association publishes a multi-volume report on technology trends in the legal industry (available for purchase here. And, each year’s report offers surprising results and insight into our profession’s use of technology. This year was no exception.

The one trend that really stood out this year was the tremendous effect of mobile computing on the practice of law. From the statistics, one thing is clear: lawyers love their smart phones, and iPhones are now ruling the roost.

Although smart phone use by lawyers for work-related tasks was up just 1 percent from last year, with 89 percent of lawyers using smart phones, lawyers’ smart phone of choice changed dramatically from last year. Specifically, BlackBerry use declined significantly, dropping from 46 percent of smart phone users in 2011 to just 31 percent this year.

The decline in BlackBerry use by most lawyers is likely linked to RIM’s recent corporate struggles. However, interestingly, in spite of RIM’s declining market share across the board, large law firms of 500 and more lawyers continue to cling to the dying brand, with 57 percent reporting that BlackBerrys are their smart phone of choice.

Most lawyers who stopped using BlackBerrys switched to the iPhone and the percentage of lawyers using iPhones increased from 31 percent in 2011 to 44 percent in 2012. During that same timeframe, Android use increased by only 1 percentage point, going from 15 percent to 16 percent.

Another trend in the use of technology by lawyers was a drastic increase in the number of lawyers using tablets. That percentage nearly doubled, with 15 percent reporting tablet use for law-related tasks in 2011 and increasing to 33 percent in 2012; 91 percent of those lawyers who use tablet devices preferred the iPad, with the vast remainder choosing an Android device.

And, it’s not just smart phones and tablets that are fueling the mobile lawyer trend. Lawyers are also abandoning their desktop computers in favor of the more mobile counterpart: laptops. In fact, according to the report, a whopping 38 percent of lawyers have switched to laptops as their primary computer of choice.

But the systems of choice that are run on their computers are still PC-based despite Apple’s dominance in the smart phone and tablet market. 86 percent of reporting attorneys continue to use Microsoft products, with only 6 percent preferring Apple products. The other 1 percent used either Linux or another unknown type of operating system.

Finally, according to the report, cloud computing use continues to increase, but the adoption rate is far slower than that of mobile devices. For firms with 500 or more attorneys, nearly 15 percent have utilized some form of cloud computing, with that percentage dropping to 8 percent for firms with 100-499 lawyers. In other words, the use of cloud computing products by large law firms is becoming more commonplace, but we’ve got a long way to go before cloud computing becomes the norm in BigLaw.

Finally, social media use seems to be paying off more for mid-sized firms than for large firms, with nearly 14 percent of firms with 100-499 lawyers reporting that social media has resulted in new clients, whereas only 4 percent of firms with more than 500 attorneys reported gaining new clients from their use of social media.

So, while lawyers across the board have embraced mobile computing in all of its forms, cloud computing and social media seem to be the least popular of the newfound technologies — at least for the time being.

Over time I expect that will change, in large part because: 1) social media is now affecting case outcomes and thus can’t be ignored, and 2) in order to fully realize the advantages of mobile computing, cloud computing tools must be used. For those reasons, I’m confident that, in due time, our profession will come to terms with these emerging technologies and will learn to utilize them to their collective benefit. And, in my opinion, the sooner this happens, the better.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and the Vice President of Business Development and Community Relations at MyCase, an intuitive cloud-based law practice management platform for the modern law firm. She is also a GigaOM Pro Analyst and is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at nblack@nicoleblackesq.com.