Technology Use Amongst Law Students…

And I could change the world
I could be the sunlight in your universe…

Lyrics and music by Tommy SimsGordon Kennedy and Wayne Kirkpatrick, recorded by Eric Clapton.
U. Victoria Logo

The University of Victoria has been asking law students about the technology that they use for the last 12 years. The latest survey, released in September this year, makes for interesting reading. They had a 90+% response rate, which is astounding in and of itself and indicates the depth of the information revealed in their survey.

Their Executive Summary is a nice recap of their results:

Executive Summary:

  • 89% of incoming law students own “Smart Phones” that can browse the internet (up from 84% last year and 50% two years ago), with 48% of the total being iPhones, 29% Android and 11% Blackberry (Blackberry usage down from 27% last year).
  • 31% of students own tablet devices or ebook readers, up from 19% last year.
  • When it comes to reading school related documents, students report reading those documents in bound books 46% of the time, on laptops 35% of the time, on laser printed pages 16% of the time, and on tablet devices 3% of the time.
  • 99% of students own laptops. 49% of laptops are Mac’s, and 48% Windows.
  • The students’ average typing speed is 49 wpm.
  • 68% of all students bring their laptops to school most days.
  • 75% of students use laptops to take class notes, 63% use pen and paper, 6% use tablets and 3% use their cell phones.
  • 53% of students use Gmail as their primary email account, 7% use UVic email and 20% Hotmail.
  • 33% of students identified Google Drive as their favorite tool for collaborative document editing. 22% favor DropBox, 4% Apple iCloud and 3% Microsoft Sky Drive.
  • 95% of students use Facebook (down from 97% last year, but up from 91% two years ago), 34% user Twitter, 21% Linked In, 10% Google+ and 4% no online social networks.

This survey has implications for law firms. Their incoming law students will have a good knowledge of Macs and iPads – will this place law firms under pressure to accommodate the greater use of Apple devices into their practices?

The students are tuned into the mobile web. They understand the need to access information where ever they may be.

Many students take their notes on laptops. Perhaps this is the beginning of the end of the legal pad?

Cloud services are clearly accepted…with Gmail just being the tip of the iceberg. These students understand the cloud and the convenience that it brings to their work and their life.

Reading information in electronic form is accepted. They can work from laptops or e-readers and would use them further if legal information was available for download to these devices. This has positive implications for firms contemplating going paperless.

Social media is ingrained. These students are clearly on the younger side of the digital divide. After all, these are the students that will be changing our world…and bringing sunlight into our universe…


  1. If anything, this survey speaks volumes of the socioeconomic background of the students entering law school. Obviously, law school is only for the very privileged. This is troubling.

    My other point of contention is the use of the word “understand”. For instance, “[t]hese students understand the cloud…”. They may use it, but do they actually understand it?

  2. I agree that many law students don’t understand the potential negative implications of storing their data in US based cloud services like Gmail, Dropbox and iCloud, but a significant percentage do. Every semester when I guest lecture in the Legal Research and Writing course here at UVic, at least one student asks a question about the US Patriot act and cloud services… which provides a beautiful segue for me to talk about the importance of encryption for sensitive data.

  3. Verna, what about this survey speaks to socioeconomic background?

  4. Adam, I’m referring to the fact that so many of the new law students can afford the gadgets and wireless plans that are needed to use the gadgets much of which are high-end devices. These gadgets are not inexpensive. Coupled with the high tuition fees possibly having to pay rent etc. either the students are fairly well-off or they are like many Canadian households heavily in debt living beyond their means.

    Not everyone can afford smartphones, tablets etc. this is the divide to which I refer. For instance, do any of these students in the survey depend on the food bank because they’ve got to choose between a wireless plan and putting food on the table? Perhaps, that should have been a question for the survey although I’m aware that was not the intent of the survey. Nevertheless, as these new law students can apparently ably afford these gadgets and plans does comment on their socioeconomic position. Hope this long-winded explanation helps.


  5. A teacher recently told me that ~75% of students in his suburban public high school classes have smartphones — reasonably close to the number this survey finds for law students. I think the survey is more revealing of the value young adults (future lawyers, future clients) place on technology than it is a real indication of their socioeconomic status.

  6. L’Actualité this week has an article on the prevalence of mobile phones (most of them no doubt smart phones) at the secondary level and whether schools should resist their presence as a distraction or embrace it as a new tool for learning. My own first response was with Verna’s: that puts a serious financial burden on the families of those kids. I make a reasonable living, and I find the cost of my family’s telecom very high. Can you have a smart phone with a data plan (needed if you’re going to use the thing as a learning tool) for under $500 a year?

  7. I have to say that based purely on anecdotal evidence and my observations being at a law school for the past decade-plus. I see a socioeconomic shift happening; anyone who does not come from an affluent background is either not at law school or has taken on a significant debt load.

  8. Susan Anderson Behn

    Yes, mobile devices are expensive, but are considered an absolute essential by most students once they hit secondary school, if not sooner. Remember also how available wireless is these days…depending on your plan, you can browse wirelessly without invoking your data plan. It almost doesnt matter what the monthly cost is, you cannot do your school work without accessing the web, and most do it via smartphone. If you have used a smartphone all through secondary school, of course you continue to do so once you reach post-secondary….so I dont think the use of mobile devices show in the UVic law student survey would be much different in other post grad Departments.

  9. I guess I just see technology purchases as par for the course with any degree. I put them on the same level as text books or pens. Secondary education is expensive as a whole but I don’t see the technology purchases as a huge extra burden compared with the amount that tuition is increasing. If student loans and other forms of aid aren’t available or sufficient then I would see that pushing a trend of only people from affluent backgrounds being able to access education.

  10. Speaking as a parent of 5 kids (9-17 years old), four of whom now have cell phones, there are ways to have smart phones and not be locked into expensive long term contracts. Until this past summer, all of our childrens’ smart phones were on $20/mo no contract plans with 50 minutes of voice and unlimited texting. For the most part the texting is what our kids use the phones for (our 17 year old averages 3500 texts per month). All the phones were hand me down iPhones that could connect to the internet via wifi, but not the cell phone network because of a lack of data plan.

    This summer my two older boys got jobs and decided to get new phones with no contract data plans through Koodo. They ended up paying $150 for their Android phones (iPhones w/o contracts were too expensive at $550), and have $5/mo pay as you go data plans. They end up paying between $25 – $30 per month for their plans depending on how much data they use (we pay $10 of that – 1/2 of the basic plan their started with).

    Do they need smart phones with data plans? No. Is it convenient? Yes. From a social perspective, having a device to text with is getting close to being essential in Canadian middle class schools. Our 11 year old daughter just started middle school and has been quietly campaigning for a cell phone. We had told her that she could get one when she was 12, but we ended up relenting when she started babysitting… For us being in closer contact with her while babysitting was the tipping point.

    From an academic perspective, having a smart phone with an internet connection (be it cell phone data or wifi) makes an excellent reference device, if you don’t have a laptop handy.

    All that said, this is a very first world problem.