2013 In-House Tech Survey

Our tech survey finds benefits—and security risks—in the BYOD movement.

, Corporate Counsel


In-house counsel render legal advice and lead e-discovery and compliance efforts every day. But now, it turns out, they can also tell you where the nearest Apple store is, too. If there were any doubts that iPhones and iPads—not to mention Android- and Windows-based mobile devices—have become a force within law departments, Corporate Counsel's 2013 technology survey dispels them. Mobile is here, and it's hot.

It also may be steering law departments toward trouble.

Our survey—answered by 47 companies with an average lawyer roster of 54—raises questions, and potential red flags, about just how the current, consumer-oriented generation of tablets and smartphones is being integrated into the corporate legal environment. While 76 percent of respondents said that legal staff can bring in and use their own mobile devices, of their own choosing, the survey reveals a surprising lack of consensus on policies. Security strategies are all over the map—and in some cases, perhaps not sufficient. More troubling: Nearly a quarter of respondents—23 percent—said that their legal department had no formal security policy at all for mobile devices.

Meanwhile, the survey shows that in general, the ways in which lawyers are using their devices are fairly humdrum, largely involving messaging or document viewing. More sophisticated uses, and capabilities, are going untapped.

The news isn't all worrisome, however. Bright spots among the survey results include a healthy uptick in IT budgets for a sizable number of law departments. Fully 20 percent of respondents saw their IT capital budget rise by more than 10 percent over the prior year, while less than 3 percent saw it decrease more than 10 percent. In all, capital budgets rose for 26 percent of law departments, remained stable for 60 percent, and decreased for 14 percent (operating budgets saw a similar pattern, increasing for 34 percent of respondents, while remaining flat for 49 percent and decreasing for 17 percent).

We see upward movement, too, in law departments' embrace of the cloud—a business model that offers increased efficiencies since companies, in effect, rent applications and hardware from third-party providers, instead of buying them, updating them, and maintaining them on their own. Nearly two-thirds of respondents—63 percent—said that their legal department uses cloud-based services, up from 50 percent in 2011.

And while the cloud has traditionally sparked worries about customization, control, and security, the legal departments that have embraced it have few regrets. Fully 80 percent say the experience was "mostly positive," with the other 20 percent labeling it "somewhat positive." The survey found the main uses of the cloud (in descending order) to be e-discovery and litigation support, billing, document management, and storage.

One thing that hasn't changed, however, is the law department's reliance on others within the company for its IT support, and even its IT–related decision making. Less than a quarter of respondents—23 percent—say their legal department has a dedicated IT staff. And an overwhelming majority—71 percent—note that all IT requests must be processed through central corporate procurement.

Legal technology experts contend that such strategies can hinder the ability of lawyers to effectively use the tools they need to do their job. The problem, and it's a historical one, is that the systems that lawyers rely on—such as their document management systems—tend to be different than those used by other parts of the organization. "In a law firm, you would have an administrator who specifically understands this 'law' product," says Adriana Linares, the president of LawTech Partners, a training and consulting firm specializing in the legal community. "In a company, when there is not dedicated legal IT support, [it's harder to] get the required customization and attention."

The emergence of "smart" mobile devices—phones and tablets that can do many of the tasks of a laptop—may only compound the challenge. While buying a smartphone is easy, figuring out how to use it most effectively—how to choose and troubleshoot and integrate all manner of law-specific apps—is another matter entirely. Centralized IT support and procurement, focused on the needs of the overall enterprise, may not be the most effective way to drive optimal use of mobile devices by lawyers.

Indeed, already there are signs that in-house counsel are not getting as much out of their mobile devices as they could be. According to the survey, the most popular mobile applications were email, document viewing (via an assortment of apps), text messaging, calendaring, and maps. More specialized programs that have gained traction within law firms—apps like Evernote (for taking notes), Citrix (for accessing core applications remotely), and FastCase (for legal research)—were far down the list (each of the apps mentioned above was used by just one survey respondent). "Adoption of mobile devices is much slower in law department than in firms," says Tom Mighell, a senior consultant with Contoural Inc. and a former chair of the American Bar Association's law practice management section. "They are still feeling their way around."

They're feeling their way around, too, on a host of platforms. More than 70 percent of responding legal departments now support Apple's iOS system, which powers both the iPhone and iPad (up from 40 percent in 2011). Nearly 40 percent support Android (up from 9 percent), and more than a quarter support one form or another of Windows (whether it is Windows Phone, Windows 7, Windows 8, or Windows RT).

Law departments may be missing opportunities to help guide and support their attorneys as they integrate these new devices into their work. For example, the survey reveals that at 29 percent of law departments, most lawyers use mobile devices instead of laptops while traveling. At another 24 percent, some lawyers do. Yet 0 percent of respondents—as in, zero—supply tablets in lieu of laptops. If so many lawyers are already finding mobile devices a better on-the-road solution, perhaps law departments could improve the productivity—or at least the convenience—for others by giving them the option to switch.

Outside-the-office productivity might be enhanced, too, if law departments more proactively steered their users to the new generation of mobile-friendly apps and services. "With a tablet, you can access online litigation platforms via a browser that knows you are coming from a tablet and delivers its content in a format suited for it," says Brett Burney, the founder of Burney Consultants, which provides technology-related services to corporate executives and legal professionals. "We're at the beginning stages . . . but there are some tools law departments might want to look at."

Law departments might want to take a closer look, too, at their mobile security policies—or lack thereof. One of the more startling findings on our 2011 survey was that only half of responding legal departments had a formal security policy for mobile devices. After all, these are products that are a lot more likely than laptops and desktop PCs to be lost or stolen, and also more likely to be used for nonwork reasons (no one ever photographed their kid's graduation with their workplace Dell). With the surge in tablet and smartphone popularity, we expected to see movement on that number, and we did—but not as much as anticipated, or, perhaps, hoped: 23 percent of law departments said they still had no formal security policy.

Of the others, implementations varied widely. While 37 percent apply their security policy to all mobile devices in use by their lawyers—whether supplied by the company or brought in from home—another 37 percent only have a policy for company-issued hardware. (More troubling still: Nearly 3 percent of respondents didn't know if their law department had a security policy.) In the survey questionnaire, we asked those with policies to describe them, and suffice to say that there is no widely embraced standard.

Most—but not all—law departments rely on passwords, encryption, and remote wipes (purging the device when it is lost or stolen, or when legal staff take their personal tablets or phones to new employers). Some use mobile device management (MDM) software that can implement those policies and do other things like update and troubleshoot the device. "There is no consistency in how law departments approach mobile security," says Burney. "Even if they have some kind of MDM system, they often take it only so far, turning on some features but not others."

That law departments are feeling their way around on not just the use of mobile devices but the policies connected to them might be a natural consequence of the fall of the BlackBerry. Back in 2011, 89 percent of law departments supported BlackBerry devices. This year, less than 60 percent did. While the BlackBerry may lag behind iOS and Android devices in apps and admirers, it has always offered rock-solid, built-in security, easily managed by—and from—corporate IT. The new wave of devices—designed with consumers as well as business users in mind—require more effort, and often third-party software, to re-create and implement those BlackBerry-like features.

Nor is it just security that needs a close look in the mobility era. Law departments may need to rework their policies and processes for documents as well. According to the survey, 71 percent of law departments permit lawyers to bring digital files in from home on electronic devices or flash drives. That raises a crucial question: Where exactly do work-related files reside? Is everything on a mobile device replicated on a corporate server? Are there documents that reside only on an iPhone or an iPad?

"Having mobile devices and screens everywhere means more locations where corporate records could be located," says Mighell. "When an e-discovery request comes in, you might have to put a quarantine on every device or otherwise make sure the information on the device is secured. Most folks are trying to catch up on mobile devices, but they also have to think about information governance. You can't have mobile devices without having a plan."

There is also the issue of how documents are getting onto mobile devices. Does the company have its own internal process for access—for example, letting attorneys download what they need from a central repository? Or must lawyers go the DIY route, using third-party, often cloud-based solutions, like Dropbox—outside the company's reach and perhaps even its knowledge? "Lawyers want to access documents on their iPads . . . they want to annotate them, and so on," says Burney. "To me, that is one of the things that IT has to provide a way to do. Something that is seamless, secure, and under their control."

It's ironic, perhaps, that the same technology that promises to simplify life for attorneys is—for now, at least—complicating legal IT. But as the survey makes clear, mobile technology is playing both a larger and a more complex role within corporate legal departments. Coming up with the right policies to facilitate its benefits—and to mitigate its pitfalls—isn't just a wise strategy. It's essential.

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Originally appeared in print as Goin' Mobile

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