#citylis Reflections and Research: Zaki Abbas on the Rise of Mobile Technologies among Law Students

This post is by #citylis PhD candidate Zaki Abbas.  Here he describes his current research on the rise of mobile technologies and the information seeking behavior of law students.

#citylis PhD candidate Zaki Abbas

#citylis PhD candidate Zaki Abbas


I’ve been studying for my PhD, on a part-time basis, since 2012. My initial motivation started when I saw how mobile technologies were impacting our daily lives and how we related to the world around us. From the minute when I first heard my elder son – who at the mere age of 18 months could say “Daddy…I want iPad” and could navigate his way around the interface to find his favourite cartoon on YouTube or activate the camera at the worst of times!

This sparked my interest in wanting to explore the impact mobile devices were making on the daily lives of society; I could see it making an impact on my family, I could see it making an impact on the workplace with smartphones and tablets being the “In thing” and a must for communication and social sharing space. I could see between the technologies, the unprecedented opportunities (intended or serendipitous) these devices could bring, if applied in the right way.

But studying for a PhD “In smartphones” as not as simple and straight forward, I needed a niche, something that had not been explored before, or more so, not in as much detail. Specifically I wanted to find out how mobile technologies were impacting the way people learn new things and education was the obvious choice.

At that time I was employed as a technology manager for a leading US law firm based in London, I could see with my own eyes how lawyers were increasingly becoming mobile savvy and growing numbers of them reliant on not only mobile communications but also data and information retrieval. To me, and others it seemed like unchartered territory, lawyers wanting to be able to use certain devices to do certain things and not being able to do so or finding the functionality of the resource incompatible, the list goes on.

I wanted to take a step back and see what was happening to these lawyers before they entered the workplace and how mobile technologies were shaping their way of retrieving information before they left the world of academia and entered into the profession. The era of the Generation Z Lawyer was here!

Initially I wanted to study how law students used smartphones for Legal Information Retrieval (LIR) but saw that as my literature review progressed and discussions with law librarians – a key component of my research – started, that it was not just smartphones law students were using but also other technologies such as tablets, netbooks and even phablets for the same purpose. Thus my focus moved onto finding out the impact of mobile technologies (not just smartphones!) on law students in higher education institutions.

Law librarians are already having to change the way in which they work around these new technologies, gone are the days of the paper-based search, we welcome the digital catalogue – with all the bells and whistles, mobile friendly and near instant speed at retrieving search results. We welcome the use of social media to communicate with the law student body. We welcome the use of tablets and smartphones as it provides law students with the opportunity to access costly legal resources whilst on the move. We welcome many more opportunities still to be discovered.

This new technology spectrum provides unprecedented opportunities for exploration and learning with new genres and paradigms that have not been seen before. The possibility of a complete revamping of the traditional pedagogic methods are apparent and the question is?

“How are law students using mobile technologies and just as importantly, how are higher education institutions – in particular – law libraries, accommodating for these changes?”.

With the iWatch surfacing in the market only a few months back, how long before law librarians report having seen law students in the library using these wearable technologies for their IR needs? Exciting times indeed! In my next blog I will be talking more about what I have discovered so far in my journey.

Zaki is working under the supervision of Dr Andy MacFarlane (@unixspiders) and Dr Lyn Robinson (@lynrobinson), and he is on Twitter as @zakiabbas77.

We are always pleased to discuss potential projects for PhD research. For more information please see our web pages and do get in touch! Initial enquiries can be made to Dr Lyn Robinson, or you can contact the member of staff whose work interests you.

If you are a current #citylis student or alumni and would like to contribute a post, please contact Ernesto Priego at ernesto.priego.1@city.ac.uk

For current and future Library and Information Science news, opportunities and events follow the #citylis blog on Twitter @citylis.

About Ernesto Priego

A lecturer at City, University of London. My research interests include digital humanities, library and information science, human computer interaction design, comics scholarship, scholarly communications, open access, open data and open educational resources.
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