Jeff Richardson at iPhone J.D. comments on Law Firm Mobile’s recent study showing only 42.5% of AmLaw 200 firms have mobile sites–this, after the ABA’s 2013 Legal Tech survey stated 90% of attorneys use smartphones. Global 100 firms fare even worse: only 39 Global 100 firms have mobile sites. This is perplexing data–the legal industry is characterized by its competitiveness, why are so many firms choosing to willfully disadvantage themselves by not having a mobile site?

Mobile device usage is far from being a niche market, in fact, Pew Research reported in late December that 58% of all Americans have a smartphone, and 42% have a tablet device. The research study also states 34% of cell internet users access the internet mostly by using their phone, rather than via a desktop or laptop. The ubiquity of the hardware is influencing and modelling user behavior, and both underscore the importance of mobile sites.

Mobile devices are the prime driver of internet traffic in the United States, though, surprisingly, mobile app traffic outpaces mobile browser traffic by a nearly 6 to 1 ratio. A few weeks ago CNN Money reported, through data collected by comScore and research compiled by Enders Analysis, more than half of U.S. internet usage is coming from mobile devices. Desktop internet usage accounts for 45% of U.S. internet traffic, while mobile app and mobile browser traffic accounts for the other 55%. Breaking down mobile device usage further, though, reveals 47% of internet traffic is from apps, and the other 8% is from mobile browsing. Jeff Richardson rightly proclaims the negatives of app production: they require a lot of upkeep, offer little value over a mobile site, and are unlikely to be downloaded by a lot of people. But, the positives are clear too: they account for heavy traffic and represent a big market of potential users. The real question is would heavy app users have any interest in law firm-produced apps? How much utility does a law firm mobile app bring? How much overlap is there between the two groups? Of the AmLaw 200 firms, 36 firms have taken a gamble that overlap exists, and have created one or more apps to attract this potential market of users.

Though the numbers are unimpressive, creation of mobile sites for AmLaw 200 firms is on an upward trend: 37 AmLaw 200 firms had mobile sites in 2011, 54 had sites in 2012, and 85 had sites in 2013. Presumably, this upswing will continue, though the rate of mobile site implementation is notably and surprisingly low.