Am Law Tech Survey 2012: Both Sides Now

Long accustomed to corporate-friendly enterprise devices, law firm IT chiefs have plunged headfirst into the more challenging world of consumer gadgets.

, The American Lawyer

For a long time, law firm CIOs broke into a cold sweat when lawyers clamored for the slick smartphones, laptops, and tablets they saw advertised on TV. Unlike Research In Motion's ubiquitous BlackBerry, these consumer-friendly gadgets weren't easy-to-manage, easy-to-secure devices that were designed for business use.

But no more. The American Lawyer 's 17th annual survey of law technology reveals that the once unthinkable has become conventional: Consumer-friendly technology is in; enterprise-centric gear is out. Nearly 90 percent of the firms surveyed expect to see fewer BlackBerry users in the next 12 months, while Apple- and Android-based smartphones continue to gain momentum. "The marketplace has spoken," says Dana Isaacoff, chief information officer at Williams Mullen, which had approximately 500 BlackBerry users a few years ago and now has about 40. "Consumers have learned that smartphones are more attuned to their needs, and it would be irresponsible for us to stand in the way of that. To the contrary, we want to usher in an era of user-friendly, flexible devices.

Yet as they usher in that era, firms are finding challenges: How are devices that have both personal and work-related uses (and are often owned by the lawyers themselves, not the firms) best managed? How is security ensured? How is work product kept separate from personal content? It's not just the hardware that has changed, either. The popularity of social networking sites is spurring firms to consider how best to leverage this new medium. Can it be used to develop business—and if so, how? Cloud computing, a burgeoning force in both consumer and business markets, is also raising questions. What types of applications should be performed in the cloud, and which should stay in-house? The survey and follow-up interviews don't find just differing opinions on how to tackle these issues, but some fairly dramatic splits.

In other areas, results from the survey—which was answered by 83 Am Law 200 CIOs and tech chiefs between mid-July and mid-September—showed more consensus. CIO morale was high: Ninety percent of respondents said they were satisfied with technology-related decisions management had made; 84 percent said they were satisfied with their compensation. We did find some movement in compensation: 36 percent of CIOs reported earning between $300,000 and $399,999, up from 25 percent at that level last year (above $400,000, there was little change, with 24 percent at that level compared to 26 percent last year).

Technology budgets have also been stable: Only 15 percent of respondents said their capital budgets had increased by more than 10 percent; just 11 percent said they decreased by more than 10 percent. Operating budgets experienced even less movement—6 percent of firms saw increases of more than 10 percent, with another 6 percent seeing decreases at that level. Also unchanged is that recession-born mantra: You want it, you justify it. "We're seeing an uptick in business, which is good, but I still have to make a very strong business case for what I want to do," says one CIO who asked not to be identified. "The money does not just flow anymore."

There is consensus, too, regarding Microsoft Corporation's new Windows 8 operating system: It can wait. Just 7 percent of firms said they plan to migrate to the updated version within the next 12 months. "Most firms have recently moved to Windows 7 and would prefer to not go through it again soon," says Phillip Rightler, chief information officer at Thompson Coburn. There is also concern about Windows 8's touchscreen-centric design. "A lot of people won't go to it until they actually have a [Windows 8] notebook with a touchscreen," says Ken Kroeger, chief information officer at Kutak Rock.

Regarding mobile devices, there is also agreement, at least about the risks. Of the firms that allow users to bring their own devices to work, 82 percent said their biggest concern was security. And even when the devices are supplied by the firm—such as the 8 percent of respondents that give their lawyers tablets—their dual work-play orientation makes the devices hard to lock down or manage. Personal content and apps reside side by side with work content and apps.

What to do about this is a question that firms are addressing, but in dissimilar ways. Nearly a fifth of firms—19 percent—restrict in some way the mobile apps that can be downloaded to a device. But another 80 percent said they don't. (One percent of respondents said the question was not applicable to their circumstances.) Close to two-thirds of firms prohibit lawyers from using cloud-based file storage and synchronization services like Dropbox on mobile devices, but another third allow them. And 68 percent of firms—a solid but by no means eye-popping majority—use mobile device management (MDM) software. This is a relatively new type of application that gives IT departments a variety of tools for handling consumer-oriented devices like iPhones, iPads, and Android-based gear. MDM software can ensure that passwords are being used, and that users have the latest mobile operating systems installed, among other things.

For the CIOs that use it, MDM technology is seen as pretty much mandatory: "It gives you visibility onto what [devices] are on your network," says John Sroka, chief information officer at Duane Morris. "It gives you the ability to wipe work content without wiping the entire device, and the ability to keep devices off the network if they are out of compliance, for example, by running an old version of Android that is known to be insecure." MDM software also enables firms to push security policies onto devices, and implement encryption.

But many of these packages are still works in progress—which might explain their less-than-universal popularity. Of the 56 firms that implemented MDM software, only 42 reported a positive or even somewhat positive experience. "There was a rush by vendors to get these products to market to solve a problem," says Sroka. "[Today] there are maybe four that are considered stable: Good Technology, MobileIron, Zen­prize, and AirWatch. When I go to meetings with my peers, those are the ones that come up."