Law Life: Techie lawyers say iPad has potential

By Diana Smith

 

Apple’s new tablet computer has been on the market for just over a month, and tech-savvy attorneys are already exploring the ways that it could change the way they practice law.

Early testers heap praise the 1.5-pound device for its portability, storage capacity and long battery life, calling it a great fit for lawyers who are on the go.

But they acknowledge that some processes in the debut model are awkward, such as transferring documents and having a simple way to take notes or make annotations.

Fixing those hiccups is going to be important because “that’s one of the things I think a lot of attorneys can easily see themselves doing” with the iPad, said Spartanburg, S.C., lawyer Ben Stevens, who blogs at The Mac Lawyer.

“They’ll think, ‘OK, I’ll look at my mail on the iPad, circle things, make notes and send it off to someone else to use,’” he said.
Stevens is already leaving the laptop at the office and only using the iPad for certain court hearings. The family law attorney told Lawyers Weekly it’s been a welcome relief from lugging around trial notebooks and stacks of documents.

“Not only is it easier, I’ve got more information stored on the iPad than I would have in a paper file anyway,” he said.

Legal pundits added the iPad’s small size 9.6 inches long and 7.5 inches wide might be a good strategic tool at trial because it is less obtrusive than a laptop.

“It doesn’t put a screen between you and the jury,” said Nicole Black, a New York-based legal technology writer who blogs about iPads for lawyers at www.legal-ipad.com. “The more the jury can concentrate on what you’re trying to tell them and the less you have to fumble around with documents and interrupt the flow, the better.”

Lawyers are already storing entire client files on their iPads. That ups their efficiency because they can review depositions while commuting or during court recesses, Stevens said.

Also, the iPad’s 10-hour battery life allows attorneys to check e-mail, perform legal research and review client files all day long without carrying around a cable to recharge.

That’s different from what they might encounter with their laptops, whose batteries on average last about four hours.

“I could see where lawyers could leave their office and go down to the courthouse with no plug, no nothing, and still have battery power left when they hop in their cars to go home at 6 p.m.,” said Erik Mazzone, director for the Center for Practice Management at the North Carolina Bar Association.

However, because the iPad is so new, one challenge for lawyers may be grasping that it occupies a unique niche in the technology world, Mazzone said.

“It’s not just a big iPod you play games with,” he said. “The big thing that lawyers are going to have to do to make use of it is decide that it’s not a toy. It’s going to seem like it’s too fun and cool to actually be a work tool.”

Content consumption, not creation
Attorneys have found that the iPad is useful when it comes to reading documents, but less so when it comes to creating them.

The iPad can run nearly all of the 150,000 apps that have been designed for the iPhone. That means that lawyers use legal apps like Fastcase and Loislaw to perform legal research. Other ones provide access to the U.S. Code, Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights.

Beyond research, apps like Logmein allow users to commandeer their office computers through the iPad. That means they can interact with all of the documents stored on those machines in addition to whatever files or exhibits they choose to transfer directly to the iPad.

Also, any attorneys using a web-based case management program would have easy access through the iPad, Stevens said.

Still, it’s not a laptop. Although it has the means to create documents, spreadsheets and presentations, the apps are still not quite intuitive, Stevens said.

The iPad also does not allow a user to run multiple apps at the same time.

“I’d say the programs I’m working with are probably 80 percent there,” Stevens said. “But I’m probably a bit more techie than most people. One of my partners has a computer in his office that he’ll use occasionally, but I think if I handed him and iPad and said, ‘OK, mark it up,’ he’d just kind of stare at me.”

That wouldn’t be a surprising reaction, according to Black. That’s because most attorneys tend to be late-adopters of new technologies, so the iPad is only just registering on their radars.

“The vast majority of lawyers are Luddites, in my opinion,” she said. “They just think if they ignore the Internet and technology, it will just go away and they won’t have to think about it anymore.”

Mazzone and Stevens only know a handful of lawyers who are using the iPad.

But that will likely change as new apps are developed to smooth out some of its kinks. Stevens said that he’s now using apps to mark up documents than are better than ones that were available just three weeks ago.

Also, it depends on the lawyer and their practice area, Black noted.

“I don’t think it’s a necessity for any lawyer’s practice,” she said. “I think a lot of lawyers can get by without it, especially right now. Six months from now, it’s going to be a totally different animal. It’s going to improve over time and become more accessible and useful and common.”

“The question is, ‘Is this the new game-changing technology?’” added Mazzone. “If you’re trying to force this thing into the role of being a laptop, then you’re going to be disappointed. I think, however, if you use the iPad for the more mobile solutions and consume the content you’ve already created, it’s not going to be a hard fit at all.”

Recommended apps for the attorney’s iPad

• iWork for iPad: The equivalent of the Microsoft Office suite. At $10 per application, it includes a word-processing app (Pages), spreadsheet app (Numbers) and presentation app (Keynote).

• Dropbox: Displays all files stored on a user’s computer. Can be shared and synced with multiple computers.

• Logmein: Allows user to control his or her computer from anywhere.

• >Remember the Milk: Online task manager to create to-do lists that sync with iPad, computer and smartphone.

• Evernote: Allows users to save ideas, capture things from the web and record notes and voice memos. Can be downloaded for computer, iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad and can be shared across all platforms.

• Air Sharing: Can transfer files from desktops, iPhone or iPod Touch to the iPad.

• GoodReader: PDF reader.

• Aji Annotator, Zosh, School Notes Pro, Writepad: Lets user mark up, annotate and add notes to PDF documents.

• Penultimate: Allows users to take notes in their own handwriting.

• Dragon Dictation: Records voice memos.

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