Can Wearable Technology Be Effective For Legal Professionals?

Wearable technology (also called wearable gadgets) are devices that can be worn by consumers and often include tracking information related to health and fitness and often can link to mobile devices. In this month’s Roundtable Discussion, we asked members of the LTRC Board their thoughts on “Wearable Technology”.

Our Panelists

Dennis Kennedy (DK), Nerino Petro Jr. (NPJ), Steve Embry (SE), Aaron Street (AS), Andrew M. Schpak (AMS), Chad Burton (CB), and Mark Rosch (MR).

Have you used wearable technology?  Why or why not?

DK: Yes. My Apple Watch is the poster child for wearable technology. I’ve also become convinced that headphones and earbuds, especially those with Bluetooth, can be thought of as wearable technology or even a wearable technology platform. My Bose QC25 noise-cancelling headphones are a revelation every time I fly.

NPJ: Bluetooth wireless headsets and audio equipment to date for communications for phones, music, and speech recognition. I have held off on a smart watch waiting for the technology to mature.

SE: Yes. I use two types: a smart watch and, for health-related reasons, a Fitbit. To me, these devices enable you to have another access point for information quickly and perhaps less intrusively than a smart phone.

AS: I bought a Pebble smartwatch on Kickstarter when they were brand new. It’s cute and some of the custom watch faces and apps are interesting, but none of them were valuable enough to me to pull me away from my mechanical watch collection. I assume I’ll get an Apple Watch eventually, but it doesn’t yet seem compelling.

AMS: Yes, I’ve used both Jawbone and Fitbit products for fitness tracking and caller ID. I have not jumped onto the Apple Watch bandwagon yet because it does not add much to the functionality my cell phone already provides.

CB: Yes, I am a former Pebble turned Apple Watch guy. Why? Well, I like watches, devices, and new, shiny tech. I am like a lemming.

MR: I have test-worn some smartwatches, but I have not really seen an overwhelming need to add any of the current crop of “smart” wearable technology to my daily routine. I stopped wearing a “dumb” watch years ago because the band would catch on the edge of my laptop. In that regard, smartwatches are no better.

Where in your practice, or in the legal profession, do you think wearable technology is most effective?

DK: Reminders, notifications, and simple tasks that require only a few seconds of attention, and that will include voice commands and responses. Wearables extend the range and convenience of smartphones and that’s important. Notebooks extended the range and convenience of desktop computers. Tablets and smartphones did the same for notebooks. Wearables play a similar role.

NPJ: In the office to use your communications devices and computer without being tethered by a wire and to allow you to not have to have your phone out all the time. Working outside of the office as well with wearable tech allowing to you access your digital life less obtrusively.

SE: As for the smartwatch, there are often times I like to receive notices without having to necessarily pull out my phone. Hearings, client meetings, depositions—even driving are all instances where you don’t necessarily want to interrupt what’s going on by anxiously peering at your phone. A smart watch lets me do that by telling me I have a message or call, allowing me to look at it by glancing at my watch and then deciding whether I need to interrupt what I am doing. How many times have you been in a meeting with someone whose phone bings, chirps, or buzzes just so the person can keep up with messages? A smartwatch is less obtrusive way to do that. And it reduces the stress and distraction of wondering how important a message may be when you can’t look at your phone. Another issue for us litigators is the wealth of information that smart devices can provide for use in litigation and discovery. For this reason alone, lawyers need to be familiar with the technology and information it provide

AS: Unless I’m missing something, it seems this technology is mostly good for two things, (1) fitness tracking, and (2) notifications. Though fitness tracking may be valuable to lawyers as people, it’s not valuable to law practice. And while I’m sure lots of lawyers like getting phone/text/email notifications on their Apple Watches, I personally find notifications to be hugely distracting and enemies of productivity, so I mostly don’t use them on my computer or my phone (let alone my wrist).

AMS: In meetings. My Fitbit vibrates when I receive a call and displays the caller ID information. This allows me to subtly check to see who is calling without taking my phone out of my pocket.

CB: Organization. Having the ability to stay on top of notifications for appointments, tasks, and important emails is naturally important. The Watch adds another safeguard or interaction to make sure important items are not missed. It also is great for travel—being aware of flight changes and seeing status updates right from your wrist is helpful, especially when trekking thru airports or in an Uber.

MR: I can see where the small, quickly accessible screen on a smartwatch could be useful for calendar reminders, checking to see if the notification of an incoming call, email, or text is really something I’d need to grab my phone for, or even reading quick notes (including text or emails when grabbing my phone might be inappropriate). However, I’m not at the point yet where it’s such a burden for me to reach into my pocket or briefcase to check my phone when it vibrates.

Where do you see wearable technology headed and how will this impact the legal profession and or your firm?

DK: Wearables will become the most personalized form of technology we’ve ever seen. They will both make lawyers more accessible and help lawyers define boundaries to that access. There are so many ways these devices can help busy lawyers, but it’s their place as a data and evidence source that will probably have the biggest short-term impact on the legal profession. I will predict, however, that few lawyers will be able to talk their firms into provided them with Apple Watches, no matter how good their arguments are. Also, do not underestimate how important virtual reality and VR glasses might become to trial lawyers.

NPJ: Wrist based technology allowing you access to your email, messages, and communications will be the continued focus for the near future. Most of our lawyers are slow to take on new technology and other than wireless headsets, I do not anticipate wearable tech to become a part of our practice for awhile for most of the lawyers and staff.

SE: I see us moving from simple wearables like watches to more complicated devices that can do much more. The Microsoft HoloLens immediately comes to mind. These devices will change much of what we do in ways similar to the changes brought about by the tablet revolution. Instead of tablets, we will use HoloLens type devices. And just as with tablets, the change will come quickly as these new devices become perfected and can do more and more.

AS: I feel very confident that the hardware and software for smart watches and other wearable technology will eventually combine into some great professional tools. At the moment, I don’t see anything like that and don’t really even see it on the immediate horizon.

AMS: I can only imagine that soon, wearable technology will do everything smartphones currently do.  For me, it is about fitness and connectivity, but for others, dictation software may be very attractive.

CB: We are just at the tip of the iceberg on wearables. With further development of personal assistants, such as Siri, we will see further ways to stay organized and be informed. The more organized lawyers are, the better.

MR: Since the dawn of technology, devices have tended toward getting smaller and smaller—that’s nothing new. Maybe one day, a single wearable device will combine data storage, visual capture, infrared motion recognition, and projection into one unit that allows you to capture and store documents; project them, large enough to read, with an integrated yocto-projector; markup the projected documents using the built-in motion recognition; store the marked-up documents back on the device.  In the future—and probably not too far in the future—I think the wearables of today will be integrated into daily life to the point where they will seem mundane, replaced by the next wave of amazing. After all, wrist watches, eyeglasses, and hearing aids were all once considered cutting-edge “wearable technology.”

Overall, do you encourage lawyers unfamiliar with wearable technology to take notice and to start learning about this new technology?

DK:  Oh, yes. The entry point for wearables are fitness bands and smart watches. Fitness bands are inexpensive these days, so they are a good place to start. However, the smart watches will really open the doors to you for the possibilities of these tools. And, if you fly on planes, noise-cancelling headphones are a game-changer.

NPJ: Yes, to at least be aware of what it can and cannot do in its current iteration, and to be thinking about how it may be able to make them more effective and efficient.

SE:  See above. Not only can wearable devices save time and provide greater convenience, they also have a practice component: we need to be familiar with what information that can be gleaned from wearables to competently practice. For this reason alone, I encourage everyone to take notice. And since more changes will come, obviously keeping abreast of this and any technology will be important to keep up with the competition so to speak.

AS:  I think it’s still early enough in the evolution of this technology that all lawyers can feel comfortable ignoring the details of “wearables” if they want to.

AMS: Yes. It can increase efficiency and encourage a more healthy lifestyle.

CB: Absolutely. Everyone should have the opportunity to look like a crazy person talking to their wrist in public—”Hey Siri, remind me to pick up medicine for my Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease when I leave home.” (That was someone else. Not me. Leave me alone.)

MR: I think  it’s a good idea for lawyers to keep up to date with new technology that could help make them more productive. I’m just not convinced that in their current state, wearables are it.

If you could design one piece of wearable technology, what would it be?

DK: I have the notion that a wearable for both wrists is a good thing, so maybe “your second smartwatch.” Perhaps a tasteful Bluetooth earring device I could get away with wearing. I’m also intrigued by the way Bluetooth headphones or ear buds might become a wearable platform, perhaps even combined with a VR viewer.

NPJ: Smart clothing that allows for adjustment of temperature for both hot and cold climates that also integrates a personal area network for wireless connection of watches, smartphones, etc.

SE: A device that allows you to easily and comfortably access information that could before be only accessible with a tablet or laptop. The HoloLens, for example, holds promise. But it must be designed in a way that allows people to wear and use it without looking like a freak from outer space. This is a distraction to many people and since we are in the people business, that’s important. Once this and the technical hurdles are overcome, the possible uses of wearables is limitless.

AMS:   Apple Watch compatibility with the smartphone plus Fitbit step-tracking and competition functionality merged into a device that looks like a nice, classic chronograph.

CB: I would like to have a chip implanted in my temple that would replace my iPhone.

MR:  A time machine; it wouldn’t even have to be wearable. Because the one thing I need—that no piece of technology I own has given me yet—is more hours in the day to get done the things I need to get done. Technology’s promise of increased productivity has mostly translated into more/new/different work to fill that extra time created by the increase in productivity. If not a time machine, then that document capturing/storing/projecting/editing thing I described.

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Law Technology Today is the official legal technology blog from the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center (LTRC). Law Technology Today provides lawyers and other legal professionals with current, practical and innovative content developed by some of the leading voices on legal technology.

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