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Lawyers, Cloud Computing, and Mobile Technology in 2016

Nicole BlackI’ve been writing about lawyers using cloud and mobile technologies for nearly a decade now. While lawyers have adapted to mobile technology like a fish takes to water (all things considered), cloud computing has been a bit more of an uphill battle due to ethical concerns, among other things. 

But over time, as ethics committees across the country have given cloud computing the green light, more and more lawyers have dipped their toes into the cloud, with many eventually moving all or most of their firm’s data to cloud-based servers.

Last year’s ABA Legal Technology Survey Report (Report) provided even further evidence of lawyers’ increased use mobile tools and cloud-based platforms to store law firm documents.

First let’s take a look at the statistics regarding lawyers using mobile technology. According to the Report, the vast majority of lawyers now use laptops as part of their day-to-day practice, with 76% of lawyers reporting that they used laptops as their primary computer in 2015. Solo attorneys were the most likely to personally use laptops for law-related tasks at 82%, followed by lawyers from firms of 100-499, where 76% of lawyers reported using laptops.

The vast majority of lawyers now use smartphones as well, with 79% reporting that they personally used smartphones for law-related tasks in 2015 compared to 71% in 2011. 

Likewise, lawyers are also incorporating tablets into their practices, with 42% using tablets in their practices in 2015. 78% prefer iPads, followed by Windows Surface at 12%, Samsung Galaxy at 11%, Amazon Kindle Fire at 5%), Google Nexus at 2%, and Asus Transformer at 1%. 

So there’s no argument that lawyers have rapidly adapted to mobile technologies—especially considering that the first smartphone, the iPhone, was released less than a decade ago and the vast majority of lawyers now use smartphones in their practices. But what about cloud computing? Are lawyers adopting that technology into their firms as quickly as they have with mobile technology?

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The answer is that while the rate of adoption has been a bit slower, it is nonetheless impressive considering that lawyers are typically averse to change -  especially when it comes to technology.  For starters, the majority of lawyers are using cloud computing for online storage. In fact, according to the Report, over 59% of respondents report personally using online storage for law-related tasks in 2015, up from 45% in 2012. Of those respondents, 62% are from firms of 2-9 attorneys (up from 40% in 2012), 61% are solo practitioners (up from 43% in 2012), 56% are from firms of 10-49 attorneys (up from 44% in 2012), and 50% are from firms of 100 or more attorneys (up from 52% in 2012). 

The chart below highlights the top cloud computing services used by lawyers for law-related purposes:

So why are lawyers using cloud computing? The bottom line is that it’s convenient and affordable compared to traditional premise-based systems, as you can see from the following chart that includes the top reasons lawyers report using cloud computing in their practices.

Interestingly, when the question regarding cloud computing use was rephrased and lawyers were specifically asked whether they use “SaaS/cloud computing” as opposed to online storage, the numbers declined significantly, indicating that lawyers do not necessarily grasp that online storage is, in fact, cloud computing.

According to the Report, when the question was phrased this way, only 31% of respondents reported having used “SaaS/cloud computing for law-related tasks.” Lawyers from firms of 2-9 lawyers lead the way at 40% (compared to 26% in 2012), followed by solos at 37% (compared to 29% in 2012), then 23% of lawyers from firms of 10-49 attorneys (compared to 30% in 2012), and finally 17% for lawyers from firms of 100 or more attorneys (compared with 11% in 2012).

So, according to the Report, lawyers are increasingly using both mobile and cloud technologies in their practices, although some may not completely understand the extent to which they are doing so. Promising developments indeed, although the lack of comprehension is a concern—especially given that lawyers in many jurisdictions now have a continuing obligation to stay abreast of changes in technology.

Nicole Black is the Legal technology Evangelist at MyCase, a cloud-based law practice management platform. She is an attorney in Rochester, New York, and is a GigaOM Pro analyst. She 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 speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .
 

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