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Today, everything seems mobile. The convergence of smart phones, tablets, and cloud technology over the past several years means you can now do virtually anything no matter where you are, no matter what time of day. Want to watch a movie while you wait in line at the DMV? How about downloading a walking guide as you stand on the streets of Paris and then following its audio commentary as you explore the city? How about writing and sending e-mail as you cruise at 30,000 feet in an airplane? All are possible and so much more.
Legal professionals have been slightly less hurried to embrace the wonders of mobility as a part of their work. Certainly, they use mobile devices and apps in their personal life just like everybody else, but because of tradition and habit, many have been hesitant to adopt these things as part of their working lives. However, this is changing — and in some cases dramatically.
For example, the ABA’s 2015 Legal Technology Survey found that 90% of lawyers now use a smartphone to perform work related tasks. Half use tablets for work — up 17% since 2012. The survey also reported that 20% of lawyers work at home and 10 % fewer work in a traditional office space than just three years ago. Indeed, a large and increasing number of lawyers are untethering from traditional office work spaces and performing work on the go.
Research On the Go
One of the many tasks today’s mobile lawyer can perform on a smart device is legal research. And while this is certainly convenient, it is becoming clear that mobility can also maximize the value of legal research in terms of productivity, quality of work and cost containment — all important components of an efficient, successful practice.
Productivity is the most obvious benefit of mobility for legal research. The ability to find, review and share content using an app means legal professionals can get things done far more efficiently. This accelerates the time to insights, speeds up action and supports better client service. These tangible everyday benefits also help a firm or legal department with their bottom line. The adage “time is money” summarizes the impact.
For instance, law firms and corporate legal departments truly seeking bottom line business value from mobility can deploy a cloud or hybrid technology environment that offers a seamless ecosystem for constant connection to research tools and results as users move from computer, to phone, to tablet. This powerful capability enables users to complete tasks faster or even simultaneously — tasks that have a direct influence on a firm’s ability to win and keep clients, or a legal department’s ability to assess and act on an issue, reduce risk or ensure compliance.
Imagine an associate pressed to deliver research results to a partner by the end of the afternoon, but has an important client meeting set for that same timeframe. Missing the meeting is not an option, nor is delaying the research request. He starts the research for the partner while sitting at his desk and using his laptop computer. Initial results on case law come in and he saves them as he gets up to go to the client meeting. As his fellow associate drives, he is able to use an app on his phone to re-open his research project and gather relevant court dockets, jurisdictional and judicial information, and news articles the partner will need. On the way back to the firm following a successful client meeting, he continues to take advantage of valuable time in the car by using his phone once again to finalize the results and verify citations. Back at his desk, he reviews his research one last time and sends it to the partner on time. The associate was able to both supply information for the partner to form the basis of a case strategy for a new client, while also providing quality, in-person service to an existing client. Situations such as these yield positive outcomes for a firm’s business and support the investment in mobile infrastructure.
Another way to use mobility to positively impact business is through alerts. Smart legal professionals sign up for automated updates on breaking news and court information that arrive to their phone or tablet. Because this type of information is automatically pushed in near real-time directly to the lawyer’s device, it can be highly valuable in identifying new business opportunities, beating the competition and making sure not to miss critical decisions or judgments that could impact a case.
Speed and clarity of information in critical moments also delivers business value. Lawyers like to prepare; they want to know their case, their client and the strategy they’re going to use to win, make a point or land a new business. However, not everything always goes to plan. Unanticipated questions arise, new information comes to light or something is put into doubt — possibly while in front of a judge, with a client or in a meeting with the boss. Even the most prepared lawyer can be caught off guard, and these are critical moments that may have a direct bearing on the success of a practice.
Mobile legal research throws the suddenly unprepared lawyer a lifeline by presenting a way to quickly find information that helps answer a question, support or dispute a point, or engage in a new line of questioning — all of which not only helps in those important moments, but also builds the trust and credibility that can lead to new and enduring business.
Recently, one of our customers shared a story about how she used the legal research app on her smartphone, effectively illustrating the value of on-demand, mobile legal research in critical moments. In the middle of a trial in which she was lead counsel, an evidentiary dispute came up that momentarily put her on the defensive and, in her opinion, cast doubt on whether she could win the case. With only a 10 minute recess to solve the issue, she had no time to go back to the office or rely on anyone else to find what she needed. Instead, she conducted a search on her phone and quickly found the case law that supported her position. Upon pointing the judge to this ruling, the issue was resolved and the evidence in question was allowed. Without the mobile app, she could not have uncovered the needed information in time — information that proved the difference in her winning the trial.
The ability to get answers fast, adjust to new information, look smart and avoid mistakes in critical moments has a bottom line value. Winning cases, providing timely answers to existing or potential clients and the ability to jump first on opportunities all accrue to a firm’s ability to generate revenue through client retention and new business.
Moving on from productivity, the areas of legal mobility with the most direct connection to cost containment are e-books and digital lending technology. Very simply, because e-books are digital they don’t take up any physical space and can be managed, replaced or updated virtually. This helps a firm or department law library reduce overhead costs, pare back replacement costs on damaged or out of date hard copy books and deliver better service.
For example, one law firm was able to slash its law library budget in half over a two year period by offering its collection in e-book format and making it available through a digital library solution. While it still offers hard copy print titles, the move to digital not only enabled it to scale back significantly on the space needed to store them and related overhead costs, it simultaneously helped increase the number of volumes available.
Another way e-books and lending technology can help the bottom line is with a “technology agnostic” approach. If a law library adopts this strategy, it will be able to set up a digital library that accepts and can dispense e-book titles from all different formats and from all types of publishers. Additionally, if the library has the ability to license legal e-books in the widely used .epub or .mobi formats, rather than a proprietary format, it can provide titles regardless of what device or app a reader employs. This agnostic approach helps a library avoid the cost of subscribing to multiple digital library platforms to deliver the titles its lawyers need, as well as eliminating the need to license multiple copies of the same e-book in different formats to ensure it can be used across a diverse selection of devices or readers.
And of course, legal professionals using e-books benefit from the productivity and efficiency discussed earlier because checking out and using legal e-books can be done from anywhere, on any phone, tablet or e-reader. Quality legal e-books also provide one other advantage to aide productivity: embedded links to online legal research solutions and citation verification tools. This provides the ability to jump from the text of a book directly into online research and back.
Legal professionals are certainly embracing the portability and cost benefit of mobile e-book technology. According to the ABA technology survey, one third of lawyers report now using legal e-books for work, which is actually a large and growing number compared to just a few years ago. Meanwhile, according to an internal 2015 LexisNexis survey of AmLaw 200 customers, 40% of AmLaw 20 firms have reported that they use a digital library — signaling that large firms definitely see the business value in digital libraries and e-books.
Mobility is the way of the world today — and as we’ve seen, this is now true for those within the legal profession too. Virtually all lawyers have a smart phone or tablet they use for work activity. More and more of them are working from non-traditional office spaces, and there is a steady increase in the use of legal e-books. In this environment, effective firms and legal departments will move to use mobile technology to create productivity gains for their lawyers, deliver better client service, act on new business opportunities, acquire needed information in critical moments and save on cost — and they’ll do it because each of these actions leverages mobile technology to create maximum business value for legal research.
The above article was originally published in Legal Tech Newsletter, Volume 32, Number 10 • February 2016. Legal Tech Newsletter is an ALM Publication.