Over the last decade, technology has advanced at rates never before seen. Smartphones and tablets—concepts that were once solely within the realm of science fiction—are now commonplace. Social media, which was written off as a fad by many lawyers when it first appeared, is now a factor in many cases being litigated in courtrooms across the country.
The latest wave of change involves wearable devices, which are the next stage of mobile computing. Within the past few years, relatively affordable wearable devices, such as Google Glass and smartwatches, have been released to the consumer market. While Google Glass didn’t take hold and was a bit before its time, smartwatches have been received more favorably in the legal space.
At first, many lawyers initially wrote off the relevance of wearables to their practice, just as they did with social media over a decade ago. But, as was the case with social media, that attitude is already beginning to change, as lawyers become more aware of the value of using wearables to provide better client representation, in and out of court.
Lawyers and Mobile Computing
One thing that bodes well for the likely adoption of wearables in the legal profession is that lawyers have become increasingly mobile, and more quickly adapt to technology that facilitates a mobile law practice. For example, the vast majority of lawyers now use laptops as part of their day-to-day practice. According to the results of the 2015 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report, in 2015, 76 % of lawyers used laptops as their primary computer. The vast majority of lawyers now use smartphones as well, with 79 % of lawyers reporting that they used smartphones for law-related tasks in 2015. Lawyers have also adopted tablets into their practices, with 41% using tablets in 2015.
That’s a lot of lawyers using mobile technology, especially considering that the first smartphone, the iPhone, was released in 2007, and the first tablet, the iPad, was released in 2010. The Apple Watch, which was released in April 2015, has paved the way for smartwatch adoption in the legal profession. Although the number of lawyers using smartwatches remains unclear at this early stage, initial reviews by lawyers indicate mostly favorable reports.
This is likely because smartwatches offer a host of benefits to lawyers. Not only do they provide increased mobility and unobtrusive access to information, they also offer the ability to control the flow of information. With smartwatches, lawyers can set filters so that only the most important information is received from their smartphones via a subtle tone and/or vibration on their wrists. This feature will come in handy when lawyers are in court or in a meeting. Whether it’s a priority email or phone call—instead of causing a disruption in the proceedings, lawyers will receive a subtle notification and can then address the issue during a break. In other words, for lawyers, smartwatches provide the much-needed ability to untether from their smartphones while still receiving need-to-know information.
Using Wearables to Make a Client’s Case
Another way that attorneys are using wearables in their practices is during the pre-litigation phase, as a tool to help make their client’s case. Marc Lamber and James Goodenow, partners at the oldest and second-largest law firm in Arizona, Fennemore Craig, provide a great example of this use of wearables in action.
James and Marc typically represent catastrophically injured clients. One innovative way that Marc and James’ practice group has used wearable technology is by providing Google Glass to its clients.
As Mark explains, when Google Glass was first released, his firm immediately recognized its potential. Google Glass offered severely injured clients the ability to tell their stories in a memorable fashion.
“Since we’ve always looked at how we can harness tech to convey info in a more powerful and simplistic way, when we first saw Google Glass, we knew it would provide an opportunity to present evidence in a unique way from the standpoint of our injured client’s perspective. So we immediately put it to use with one of our clients who was a double amputee,” he says.
“Typically with that type of case you’d write a demand letter describing the issues, and in some cases you might even record a day-in-the-life video from a third-party perspective. But Google Glass improved on that by allowing us to provide a first-person perspective, and show the viewer what it’s really like to move a wheelchair when you have only one arm and leg while in the grocery store trying to get a product off of a shelf.”
Marc and James have found that using Google Glass to create a day-in-the life video from their client’s perspective has been particularly effective in resolving claims before filing suit, in part because it forces them to visualize their theory of the case from the very start. In fact, that’s one reason the firm embraces new technologies such as wearables so readily, and constantly seeks new ways to implement them into their practice.
As James explains, “Using technology gives us an edge and keeps up sharp. It is a mechanism for us to conceptualize a case differently and come up with more creative approaches in terms of how we’re practicing, which ultimately benefits our clients. Can you do that with a yellow pad and a pen? Maybe. But with this technology, it jump starts the process and allows us to better represent our clients by presenting their cases in unique ways.”
Wearable Data as Evidence in Litigation
The data obtained from wearable devices can also be useful in litigation. In recent years, astute litigators have used social media evidence to enhance their clients’ cases, whether by mining social media for evidence or researching jurors on social media. Like social media evidence, the information obtained from wearable devices can likewise be useful in court. Whether it’s using the specific data collected from those devices, or drawing helpful implications from the data, wearable devices offer lots of opportunities for creative, tech-savvy litigators who understand that by learning about the limitations and possibilities of wearables, they’re able to offer their clients the best possible representation.
For example, in December 2014, a Calgary law firm submitted its client’s Fitbit data as evidence in a personal injury matter to show that her activity levels had significantly decreased due to her injuries. In another case from June 2015, a rape complainant’s Fitbit data was used by police in Lancaster, PA., to refute her claims. The complainant alleged that she’d been asleep when an assailant broke into her home and attacked her, but data from her Fitbit belied her claims and indicated that she’d been awake and walking around for much of the evening.
These cases involved only health-related data gleaned from a Fitbit device. The Apple Watch and other smartwatches collect health-related data along with many different types of information, including geolocation data, payment information, social media interactions, and more. Right now, the health-related information will be most useful in court. But as the amount of data amassed by users wearing their smartwatches while going about their daily activities increases, smartwatches and other wearables will no doubt provide invaluable information for use in litigation.
Wearables in 2016 and Beyond
Not all lawyers will find wearables useful in their practices, but the lesson to be learned is that it’s important to stay abreast of changes in technology so that you can selectively implement new tools into your law practice. Pay attention to the legal marketplace and the demands of 21st century legal consumers, and choose technology that will meet their needs and ensure that you provide the best legal representation possible.
For some lawyers, that technology will be wearables. For others it may be voice recognition interfaces, web-based computing, big data analysis tools, or a combination of these tools. Whatever technologies you choose to use in your law firm, they key is to select the right ones for your practice. Certainly the use of technology in and of itself won’t make you a good lawyer, but if used wisely, technology certainly has the potential to make you a better one.
About the Author
Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, a frequent author and speaker on the intersection of law, mobile computing and Internet-based technology, and is the legal technology evangelist at MyCase, a law practice management software company.