What is the Impact of Mobility on Large Law Productivity?

What is the Impact of Mobility on Large Law Productivity?

We bank online, we shop online, we work online, some of us even find love online. Increasingly, we’re not just doing these things online, we are also doing it on the move. And so too are lawyers.

The trend has been steadily tipping toward mobile for some time: In 2014, we began spending more time accessing the internet on mobile devices than on desktops.  In 2015 Google reported more searches were being conducted on mobile devices than on desktops.  In the first half of 2016, the U.S. population literally poured money into mobile:  top US retailers said more than half of all e-commerce sales (52%) occurred on a mobile device.

Connectivity Requisite in Large Law

The trend has steadily seeped into the legal community as well. For example, the 2015 Legal Technology Survey Report, an annual survey conducted by the ABA, found about half (49.6%) of participating attorneys reported using a tablet for work. While the ABA finding includes lawyers from firms large and small, there is evidence to suggest the reliance on mobility could be even greater in the large law segment.

“Lawyers don’t sit at their desk, waiting for information to come to them. They are out and about, wanting and needing access to information anywhere: from the road, from the hotel, from the client site or from home.”

“You could not do this job if you couldn’t get connected from everywhere,” according to a large law partner cited in the Mobility Metrics report published in 2015.  The report, commissioned by kCura and completed by Ari Kaplan Advisors, was based on both quantitative and qualitative research stemming from interviews with 25 senior partners from the Am Law 200.

Another partner cited in the study noted that law firms are equipping staff with mobile options to provide that level of connectivity. “Litigators, associates, and all partners get a choice of a tablet or a laptop in addition to their desktop workstations.”

Interestingly, the study found on a personal basis, more large law partners owned an Apple iPad® (72%) than owned a PC laptop (60%), which mirrors the consumer trends.  More importantly for the business of law, most large law partners report mobile technology in the courtroom is commonplace.  Indeed, 83% of the lawyers interviewed in the study “are either comfortable or very comfortable using mobile devices in the courtroom.”

What is the Impact on Productivity?

So what’s the impact of all these mobile devices on productivity in large law?  It’s not where it should be because the software vendors are still catching up, according to Jeffrey Brandt, the CIO at Jackson Kelly, PLLC and editor of the PinHawk Law Technology Daily Digest.

Devices simply provide “access,” he wrote in a piece for Legal IT Professionals titled, “True Mobile Productivity for Lawyers: Beyond The Basic Plumbing.” He notes that many legal technology applications used in large law are designed for desktop use – and mobility and remote access tend to be an afterthought.

In other words, lawyers have to be at their desks in the law firm office to access the systems and data they need in order to be productive.  This simply does not match the reality of legal work or day-to-day experiences of an attorney in a large law firm today.

“Lawyers don’t sit at their desk, waiting for information to come to them. They are out and about, wanting and needing access to information anywhere: from the road, from the hotel, from the client site or from home. True mobility for lawyers is about access to the data and applications they need when they need and wherever they need it,” wrote Mr. Brandt in the article citing a vision laid out in 1999 by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. “True lawyer mobility is seamless access and links to existing stuff in the firm. It is completing workflows and collaborating, accessing and sharing information – all in a secure and protected manner.”

At Aderant, we couldn’t agree more with Mr. Brandt’s assessment.  We’d also like to believe we’ve taken that idea to heart and have made mobile access a central theme in the development of enterprise-grade legal software products for law firms.

Three Mobile Recommendations for the Agile and Productive Firm

In large law firms, the entire team needs access to both financial and client information such as tasks, appointments, and documents on the move.  To make this possible, mobile options need to be baked into the software – as opposed to being bolted on after a product release.

As such, we’ve identified and recommended large law firms seek the following in legal software solutions such as case management, practice management, and business intelligence:

1) Clear focus on user experience.  Legal software UX on a mobile device must work in the way in which lawyers are already familiar.  For example, if a lawyer accesses a case management system on a tablet, the interface should be responsive and touch-friendly.  Accessing data should not require the equivalent of fingertip gymnastics to click a button or view a screen.

2)  Built for the web.  New legal applications for a large law firm should be built in HTML5 which makes them ready for the web.  HTML5 makes the applications easy to access and use through the common browsers most popular with attorneys.  In addition, it also allows the product to be deployed where it best suits the firm – in the firm’s environment or hosted securely through a third-party managed service provider.

3) Precision of functionality. In the courtroom, litigators want to have specific legal mobile application functionality that is tailored toward the tasks they are most likely to perform on-the-go. When mobile applications attempt to mirror desktop applications, the excessive functionality causes poor application performance leading to poor user experiences. For successful adoption and ease of use, mobile applications need to be precise in functionality, providing utility for only those relevant mobile tasks like time entries, expenses, and workflows.

Mobile as Minimum Expectations

Mobility has graduated from a perpetual trend on the horizon to one that has clearly arrived.  Legal work by the very nature of its importance and intensity requires mobile access. If law firms truly want to achieve the benefits of the mobile lawyer, then well-equipped mobile applications are a minimum standard, rather than the exception.

“You don’t have to impose overbearing security. You don’t have to rely on consumer apps. What you have to do is proactively deliver the tools that lawyers need,” wrote Mr. Brandt in the conclusion of his piece.  “Don’t let your systems be built on one concession after the other. Technology has come a long way and so have attorney expectations.”

Note: Aderant recently published a new white paper titled “Efficiency is the Future of Law.” The paper explains in part, why mobility is a key aspect of the new role of the modern and comprehensive case management technology for competitive law firms.  All Aderant white papers are available for download – no registration required – on our law firm resource page.

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