Increase in Smartphone Use for Lawyers


Increase in Smartphone Use for Lawyers

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By Jeff Richardson,


2011 ABA Technology Survey suggests around 300,000 U.S. lawyers use an iPhone, around 130,000 use an iPad

Every year, the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center conducts a survey to gauge attorney use of legal technology.  Continuing the trend that the ABA saw in last year’s report, this year’s survey reveals that the number of lawyers using smartphones continues to increase.  And for the first time, the survey tells us something about the number of lawyers using iPhones.

Increasing Smartphone Use

The ABA surveyed lawyers from January to May of 2011.  An outside research firm invited “9,800 selected names of ABA lawyer members in private practice” to complete the survey, 838 did so, and the ABA says that this means that “[r]esults for total respondents are projectable within a range of +/- 3.5% (with 95% confidence) for most of the tables in this report.”  The report itself contains more details on the methodology and the structure of the survey, but suffice it to say that there was a dedicated effort to obtain results with statistical significance.

Last year, 79% of lawyers reported using a smartphone for law-related tasks while away from their primary workplace.  This year, that number increased to almost 88%.  In large firms with 100 or more lawyers, the number was up to 98%.  Solo respondents were the least likely to use a smartphone (78% in 2011, compared with 65% in 2010).  Most solo attorneys I know make even better use of technology than attorneys at large firms so these numbers surprised me a little, but perhaps that says more about the attorneys with whom I socialize.

Younger attorneys are more likely to use smartphones than attorneys over 60, but even in the over 60 crowd, 77% reported using smartphones.

For those who use a smartphone, 67% use a device that they own, 35% use a firm smartphone permanently assigned to them, and less than 1% report using a temporarily assigned firm smartphone from a shared pool.  Respondents typically replace their smartphones every two years.

Primary Smartphone Uses

The primary reported smartphone uses this year are “e-mail (92%), followed by telephone functions (83%, compared with 88% in the 2010 survey), calendars (80%, compared with 73% in the 2010 survey), contacts (76%, compared with 72% in the 2010 survey), Internet access (55% in the 2011 and 2010 surveys), and text messaging/SMS (53%, compared with 54% in the 2010 survey), among other functions.”  Very few lawyers reporting using a smartphone for time and billing, document creation, spreadsheets, web conferencing and presentations (5% or less for each of those tasks).

31% of Lawyers Use an iPhone

Ever since I started iPhone J.D. in 2008, I’ve been asked how many lawyers use an iPhone.  In the past, I haven’t really had an answer to this other than “lots, and more every day.”  In last year’s survey, for example, the ABA did not ask lawyers which smartphone they used, only whether they used a smartphone.

But this year, they did.  Of the almost 88% of lawyers who report using a smartphone, 46% use BlackBerry, 35% use iPhone, 17% use Android, 3% use Windows Mobile.  Thus, for all of the attorneys who responded to the survey — including the 12% who do not even report using a smartphone in their practice — that means that 31% use an iPhone, compared to 40% who use a BlackBerry and 15% who use Android.

How many lawyers are in the United States?  The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics put that number at 759,200 in 2008.  The ABA claims nearly 400,000 members and says that there are over 1 million lawyers in the U.S. (asserted, for example, in this PDF file).  Assuming that there are a million lawyers and assuming that the ABA’s latest numbers are correct and can be extrapolated to all attorneys — and yes, I realize that extrapolating from 838 ABA members in private practice who responded to a survey to the entire population of U.S. attorneys is huge leap — that suggests that there could be around 300,000 lawyers in the United States using iPhones, compared to around 400,000 using a BlackBerry and around 150,000 using Android.

About half of the respondents say that their law firms support multiple smartphone platforms.  Many of the attorneys I know who work for law firms and don’t use an iPhone tell me the reason is that their firm has traditionally only supported the BlackBerry and has not yet updated that policy.  Thus, my guess is that a portion of the 40% of all lawyers who are using a BlackBerry is a result of a law firm only supporting Blackberry use, and similarly my guess is that in law firms that do support multiple smartphone platforms, iPhone use is even higher than 31%.


27% of respondents say that they have downloaded a legal-specific app for their iPhone, especially those who practice in the fields of real estate, family law, contracts and general practice.  Legal research apps are popular, and the “most-often mentioned product names for downloaded legal-specific smartphone apps are Fastcase (25%), Westlaw (11%) and Lexis (9%).”  Other popular apps reported are Dragon Dictation, Documents to Go and apps to read PDFs.

13% of Lawyers Use an iPad

15% of respondents say that they use a tablet device for law-related tasks away from their primary workspace.  For large firms with more than 500 attorneys, that number rises to 26%.  Of the 15% of all attorneys who use a tablet device, 89% report that they use an iPad, 8% report using Android, 4% said “other” and 3% said that they did not know.  (Is it really possible for an attorney to use an iPad and not know that they are using an iPad?  I’m guessing that most of those 3% are not iPad users.)  Using the same assumptions that I used above, 15% of a million attorneys is 150,000 attorneys, so that suggests that around 130,000 attorneys in the U.S. use an iPad.

Keep in mind that this survey took place from January to May.  I know a lot of attorneys who waited to get a tablet until the iPad 2 was released in March, and it was hard to even get one until April.  Thus, some attorneys who answered the survey during the first few months of 2011 as if they did not have a tablet may now own an iPad 2, which would make the 15% and 89% figures too low.

For those using a tablet, the top uses reported were Internet (83%), E-mail (73%), Calendars (51%), Contacts (44%), GPS/Maps (33%) and Mobile-specific research apps (32%).

Putting the Numbers in Perspective

Surveys of smartphone users in general (not specific to attorneys) typically show a lot of Android users.  For example, comScore reported on April 1, 2011 that Android had 33% smartphone marketshare, BlackBerry had 29% and iPhone had 25%.  Attorneys as a whole are conservative on technology, and BlackBerry has long been the smartphone of choice for attorneys, so it is no surprise to see the ABA reporting that attorneys are far more likely to use a BlackBerry than the general population.  Likewise, fewer attorneys are using devices with the Android operating system, the newer kid on the block.  It is interesting to see that 35% of attorneys using a smartphone opt for the iPhone, a percentage higher than the general population.  If I had to guess, I’d say that this is likely because attorneys — and other professionals — are more likely to purchase a high quality product like the iPhone whereas a larger part of the general population will opt for a cheaper Android phone (often perhaps not even realizing that Android is on the phone) with the assumption that it will be good enough.  (And yes, I realize that there are many high-quality Android smartphones that are comparable to the iPhone, but there are also many cheap Android smartphones that do not correlate to a phone sold by Apple.)

Having said that, we must be cautious reading too much into fewer than 1,000 responses.  Perhaps the real significance of this ABA report is that we finally have the first study that purports to tell us something about the number of lawyers using the iPhone and iPad.  It will be interesting to see how the 2011 report compares to future ABA reports — for example, I predict that the 2012 report will show far more lawyers using an iPad — and perhaps these new numbers from the ABA will prompt others to conduct their own surveys.  For now, suffice it to say that if you are an attorney using an iPhone or an iPad, you are not alone.

About the Author

iPhone J.D. is a site for lawyers using iPhones and iPads published by Jeff Richardson, an attorney in New Orleans, Louisiana.