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Practice Innovations — Managing in a changing legal environment
Gray Rule
January 2015 | VOLUME 16, NUMBER 1
Gray Rule
Smartphones as the New 'Swiss Army Knife'
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»Deconstructing the Myth of Low Technology Adoption in Law Firms
»Safe Travels in the Age of Digital Espionage: Protecting Your Assets on the Road
»Legal Pricing Technologies
»Client Data Security Audits—A Preemptive Checklist
»Smartphones as the New "Swiss Army Knife"
»Portable to Wearable to Embedded—How Technology is Literally Becoming Part of Us
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Smartphones as the New 'Swiss Army Knife'Jean O’Grady, Director of Research Services, DLA Piper LLP (US), Washington, DC
In the burgeoning world of mobile apps, a smartphone is no longer simply a phone. Able to support a multitude of downloaded apps, the pocket phone has become as indispensable and versatile as a Swiss Army Knife.

The idea of the "Swiss Army Knife" has become a kind of shorthand for compact, handy, and versatile devices with functionality limited only by the imagination of the developers. According to Wikipedia, this ingenious little device was invented for the Swiss Army with a limited goal of providing a tool which could be used to cut open a rations tin and disassemble a Swiss Service Rifle. The original 1891 knife included a blade, reamer, can opener, and a screwdriver. By 2006, there were 87 different tools supporting 141 functions. There is even a version which includes a flash drive and Bluetooth capability.

Thanks to the burgeoning world of apps, the owner of a smartphone soon realizes that this compact little device is no longer simply a phone. In fact, it may be least of all a phone. A mobile app is a software program designed to run on mobile devices. According to one source there are over 1.3 million apps available in the Apple App Store alone. Early smartphone apps mimicked the standard desktop functions and supported e-mail, contacts, and calendars.

A Thousand Devices in Your Pocket

Today our smartphones seem to provide the same limitless versatility and adaptability as the Swiss Army Knife. Gone is the need to travel with dozens of devices including calculators, GPS devices, tape recorders, flashlights, mirrors, alarm clocks, radios, and filoFAXes! A smartphone also offers functionality we never dreamed of. Live video chat apps offer the equivalent of a TV studio in your pocket. Smartphones are even portable weather stations.

Shortly after the release of the first smartphone, app developers with no knowledge of legal publishing began pushing out apps containing primary legal content, such as statutes and court rules. Arlene Eis, publisher of the online directory Mobile Apps for Law, reports a decline in the explosion of new legal apps. According to Eis, since the start of the directory in 2011, about 300 apps from 60 different publishers have disappeared. It is not surprising that small app developers overlooked the critical importance of continuously updating legal content as the laws and rules were amended. Major publishers such as Thomson Reuters, LexisNexis, Bloomberg BNA, and American Lawyer Media continue to offer new legal content based apps which provide eBooks, newsletters, database searching, and cite checking.

Apps Supporting the Business and Practice of Law
According to the 2014 ABA Legal Tech Survey, 91 percent of attorneys use a smartphone. Various surveys and legal trade publications report that lawyers are using a variety of general business apps to support their practice. Popular business apps include LinkedIn to network and check profiles on the go. GoodReader allows lawyers to read any kind of document. Auditorium Notes supports note taking and recording of a meeting. TripIt organizes flights and hotels. CamScanner scans and photographs a document producing a better quality image than using the smartphone camera. Dragon Dictation transforms voice to text. Dropbox is used for storing and sharing documents. Evernote manages lists, calendars, and documents.

Legal Research Apps

According to the ABA Survey the most popular research apps include Fastcase, Westlaw, LexisNexis, legal dictionaries, and access to dockets.

Litigation Management

The image of a lawyer weighed down with a heavy litigation bag is fading as apps connect to cloud repositories and offer an array of app solutions. Large publishers such as Thomson Reuters offer apps for their well-established products such as Case Notebook. Thomson Reuters developed a new product, Firm Central, for practice management with mobile apps in mind from its inception.

There is also an abundance of small app publishers that target very specific aspects of the trial process. SmartDocket manages legal calendars and deadlines. AgileLaw supports the deposition process. TranscriptPad and Mobile Transcripts provide trial notebooks. Shake supports the creation and signing of legal documents. Exhibit A provides exhibit presentation software. Deponent facilitates the creation of question and exhibit outlines. There are a wide variety of products that support the jury selection process including iJuror, Jury Duty, Jury Pad, and iJury.

One of the more unique apps Eis highlighted is called uFaker. It is a sophisticated anticounterfeiting management system that helps IP attorneys track counterfeit goods from anywhere around the globe.

Put a Law Firm in Your Pocket

Lawyers recognize that their clients also live on mobile devices and have begun to explore mobile outreach by developing their own apps. The first round of law firm apps has been app versions of law firm brochures, which didn't offer much functionality. There is a growing recognition that apps have the potential for serving serious client needs while also enhancing the firm brand.

The website Law Firm Mobile, which produces an annual survey of law firm apps, reported that there was a 62 percent increase in law firm apps between 2013 and 2104.

At the time of the 2014 survey there were 68 apps created by AmLaw 200 and Global 100 law firms. Eight firms produced more than one app. While a significant number of apps are focused on recruiting, firm descriptions, and events, 62 percent of these apps offer legal content of some kind.

Several firms have focused on crisis management, helping clients respond to the arrival of government agents or a subpoena. DLA Piper offers Rapid Response. This app promises "legal crisis assistance at the touch of a button" for a dawn raid, a home visit, unannounced visits, and seizure of documents.

Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman offers a Crisis Management Toolkit. This app is intended to provide company executives and in-house counsel with guidance and tools for reacting to potential crises. It includes checklists broken down by crisis type—including Aviation, Chemical, Construction Collapse, Employment Emergency, Financial Crisis, Oil & Gas Incidents, and Privacy Breach. Pillsbury's crisis toolkit also offers PR best practices and a crisis management process diagram with a toll-free hotline to the firm's crisis management team. European law firm Noerr offers Dawn Raid designed to avert employee obstruction of government officials while providing guidance on basic rights during a search. The app also offers emergency access to a lawyer at Noerr.

Fox Rothschild offers Data Breach 411, which was designed to help companies understand privacy rules and regulations. The app includes state security breach statutes, HIPAA/HITECH statutes, information on the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, and links to credit monitoring agencies and services.

Transactional Apps

On the transactional side Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman also offers the Global Sourcing Tool Kit for calculating performance metrics and costs for global sourcing. The intent of the app is to provide a tool that helps sourcing deal makers negotiate and manage contracts. Interactive calculators cover downtime, cost of living adjustments, and service credit in multiple currencies (US dollars, Euros, and British Pounds).

Bracewell & Guiliani offers the ShalePlay app, which provides a resource on shale gas and hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"). Features include laws and regulations, an interactive map of shale plays, an historical timeline of fracking, a glossary of terms, and expert analysis of fracking issues from the firm's attorneys.

Latham & Watkins has released seven Book of Jargon apps that explain the terminology used in a variety of corporate and financial contexts. Sutherland Asbill's SALT Shaker provides guidance on state and local taxes.

One small, high tech, Phoenix based law firm, the Kelly law firm, has developed a rather unique law firm app which focuses not on advice but on supporting the relationship it has with existing clients. A review in Law Firm Mobile indicates that this app provides live chat, access to the client's files via Dropbox, payment for services using PayPal, and viewing case information using Basecamp, as well as news on blog feeds. There is also a case evaluation feature for potential new clients.


The development of apps to support client needs may evolve from an exotic "value added extra" to a core competency for the law firm of the future. Recent trends suggest that law firms will continue to develop high value, interactive apps which keep them tethered to their clients and available at the moment of a client's greatest need. The ultimate law firm app may be a portfolio of handy tools including a "hook" which lands new clients and keeps the existing clients coming back to the law firm in their pocket.


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