By Charles C. Platt
For decades, lawyers have been tethered to their offices. Most of their information was stored there, and that is where they interacted with colleagues, clients, and adversaries. That world has changed. Lawyers have gone mobile, and can carry most information with them that is downloaded to, or accessible through, small devices. The legal profession and the courts now must find the best ways to use these devices in every step of the litigation process, to be sure we are maximizing efficiency and productivity, and meeting the needs of clients.
The American Bar Association Legal Technology Resource Center’s 2014 survey, titled “Mobile Lawyers,” reports this trend in detail. According to the survey, 91 percent of lawyers use smartphones, and 49 percent use computer tablets, for their work. They use these devices for making and receiving calls; sending and receiving emails and attachments, keeping all calendar appointments and contact information, and accessing large databases of information on the internet. A growing number (17 percent) now use their phone or tablet as an e-reader, or for legal research or word processing.
Efficiency and Productivity
Lawyers have become dependent on mobile devices because they offer flexible and convenient access, from almost any location, to information and to other people. With expanded wireless and cellular data networks, lawyers can significantly increase their efficiency and productivity when they are out of the office — at home, on the road, or even during waiting time for appointments or court appearances. What used to be sizeable gaps of “down time” each day are now employed sending and receiving correspondence, reviewing documents, attending web-based conferences, or even researching factual or legal issues.
Perhaps more importantly, clients today expect their lawyers to be taking advantage of every technological edge, just as clients themselves are increasing their use of these devices to meet the competitive demands of their respective industries. Indeed, Comment 8 of the ABA’s Model Rule 1.1 states that lawyers must keep pace with such technological demands to meet their duty of competence to clients. As a result, instantaneous access to information, and accelerated processing of that information for decision making, is the new normal for client service, and is more readily achievable through mobile devices. Web sites, blogs, forums, and conferences have sprung up to advise lawyers on how to keep pace and maximize their use of technology in their practice.
The usefulness of these mobile devices will only increase. Tablets with a lightweight wireless keyboard can now be used to draft, revise, and share briefs, motions, and other documents. Visual presentations, such as PowerPoint or videos, can be prepared and stored on a tablet or light laptop computer, to be shared at a meeting or in court. Once documents have been filed with the court, or information has been gathered during discovery, it can efficiently be stored, retrieved, and reviewed on tablets or on smartphones with larger screens. Applications permit these stored documents to be highlighted, tabbed with notes, and shared with others electronically, increasing collaboration and productivity. The days when lawyers were in court or at a meeting without a critical piece of evidence should be over: all the relevant material is now instantly accessible, and much more manageable, on a device that weighs one pound or less, and is less than 11 inches diagonally in size.
Finally, legal research is now fully available on mobile devices. There are free law libraries that can be downloaded on a mobile device, and used to rapidly search case law, sort and customize the search results, and integrate citation analysis. There are also applications for downloading the federal and state rules of civil procedure, rules of evidence, and local court rules, so that they are available at a lawyer’s fingertips, even during a trial or an oral argument.
Unleashing the Devices
In short, mobile devices are increasingly integrated into every aspect of lawyers’ work lives. We can no longer operate without them. To the extent there are still restrictions on the use of these devices in some courts, conversation should begin between the bench and bar on the most appropriate ways to fully unleash the efficiency and productivity of these devices.