iPad: The Lawyer’s Secret Weapon

I’m 32,000 feet in the air on a flight from Michigan back to Phoenix, eagerly awaiting those familiar words “approved to use portable electronics”. With one fell swoop, my iPad is removed from my bag and onto my tray ready to write this article…or maybe watch a movie….or read a book. I admit that the iPad offers up some nice distractions from working, but at the end of the day it has become an integral part of my practice of law.

As a small firm owner, it is important for me to be able to access and transfer information efficiently. I don’t have an army of attorneys at my bidding, nor do I have paralegals that are able to read every document that comes across my desk. For the most part, I’m the one reviewing, sorting, and sending documents. Thus, my need for an “all purpose” assistant is crucial. Enter: the iPad.

Heralded as the next “big thing”, the Apple iPad has been marketed mainly to consumers for surfing the web, reading and sending email, seeing photos, reading books, and watching videos. In other words, the iPad is a lean mean content consuming machine. The real question is whether it has any value to lawyers. The answer depends on how comfortable you are with technology, how your practice is set up, and whether you are comfortable typing on a touch screen.

Evolving the Practice of Law? Yea, there’s an app for that.

First and foremost let me just say that I love my iPad. It has truly changed the way I practice law. It is, however, not a replacement for a real computer and I am painfully aware of this fact after typing a majority of this article on the iPad. So for those solo’s and small firm practitioners who were looking replace your clunky desktops for the sleek and stylish iPad you will have to wait a bit longer.

For me, the key selling point of the iPad is the device itself as it is lightweight (1.5 pounds), portable (fits inside briefcase pocket), easy to use (one button), and powerful. I no longer have to carry my bulky laptop to court, as the iPad allows me to take my calendar, emails, and files with me. For example, the other day while in Court I was able to take quick notes on the iPad and then immediately switch over to my calendar when the Judge asked for availability dates for hearings. No rummaging through your briefcase for pens and paper, or trying to decipher and transfer your handwritten notes.

Speaking of writing notes, there are several applications (“apps”) that allow you to take notes almost as quickly as with a pen and paper. For word processing and viewing business documents I use an app called “Pages”. If you are familiar with any word processing software it shouldn’t be get hard to get used to. It has a spell checker that not only underlines words, but will also offer suggestions for your word. Sometimes this can be an annoyance, as certain legal lingo is not in Pages database, but after awhile Pages will automatically recognize your persistence and no longer change it. With Pages you can also:

  1. Create and modify tables
  2. Bold, underline, italicize
  3. Change the font, font size, and color
  4. Convert and email the document to Adobe PDF or Microsoft Word

Although Pages can be a great app for editing and reviewing documents, I use Evernote when it comes to client meetings. Evernote is a free application that acts like a giant file folder. With Evernote, you can save WebPages, photos, text, and even audio recordings. Each note you create can be stored in a separate notebook, sorted by subject, and even tabbed with certain keywords. Once a note is created, it automatically e-mails it to my legal assistant who places it on our file server.

To me, the two apps I described above highlight the most attractive feature of the iPad: the virtual office. Every single document that comes in and out of my office is scanned with my Fujitsu Scansnap S1500 and stored in its appropriate folder. Once stored, I can have access to those files anywhere and anytime with either one of two programs, LogMeIn Ignition or GoodReader. LogMeIn is an app that allows me to remotely access and control any home or office computer, much like PC Anywhere or GoToMyPc. Actually, it is the app I use the most and has certainly been a lifesaver while in Court. For example, I was getting ready to walk into a hearing a few weeks ago and realized that a crucial document had not been transferred over to my iPad. I used LogMeIn to access my office computer and transfer the file from the server to the iPad, and within minutes I was back to feeling fully prepared for the case.

GoodReader, the other app I mentioned above, acts like a PDF library of all of my client files. Not only can I store client files in separate folders, but I have access to thousands of cases, statutes, and reference materials that I have sorted, categorized, and made searchable. Once I open a document I can flip through thousands of pages at the blink of an eye. I say thousands because I am a “kitchen sink” type person, and like to have as much information readily available and accessible at a moment’s notice. Instead of having to lug around an entire library of client files, statutes, or treatises…it’s all right there.

In addition to the above, there are a number of other apps that are useful for lawyers. For example, WestlawNext has just released an iPad app that will allow lawyers to conduct research and organize their research right on the iPad. I can see this being beneficial to lawyers who are researching a topic right before a hearing, and then rushing out the door and picking up their research on the iPad once they get to court. Once in Court, the iPad can become even more resourceful to an attorney. iJuror is a graphical app that allows the attorney to select the layout of a jury pool, enter information about each juror, and then use that information when deciding whether to utilize strikes on each juror.

Although most of the apps available for the iPad are centered around consuming content, there are clearly some real surefire apps that can help the solo practitioner. Simply buying an iPad and an app is not enough though, as your time and talents will go to waste unless you learn how to use it. This is why I recommend that once you download an app, you look at the developer’s website for a tutorial so you know how to use it.

Changing the way I Practice

I’ve touched on a few ways that applications for the iPad can help lawyers, but what about the practice of law makes the integration of the iPad so appealing? I’ve found that the iPad has been effective in both presenting information to clients and in managing my practice. In my humble opinion the iPad has the capability to evolve the practice of law by streamlining the way we present our cases, and ultimately ourselves, to the world.

When a new client walks in the door they see a simple conference room with a few chairs, coasters, law books, and an iPad on the desk. Most barely take notice as I type away on it, but become immediately more engaged in the conversation when I am able to hand the iPad to them and ask them to review an injury photo, verify a document, or play an audio recording of a deposition. I’ve had several people comment afterwards that the fact I had all of their case information available at the touch of a button made them trust me more, and made the meeting feel more genuine and interactive. I have found that the more interactive I am with my clients the better the result, or at least their feeling as though I gave them the best possible representation.

The iPad has also been a great management and marketing tool for my practice. Whenever I am out in public at a coffee shop or book store people will come up to me and ask me about my iPad. Naturally, the conversation will gravitate towards what I do and when I tell them they are surprised. Very few expect to see a lawyer using anything but the antiquated yellow legal pad. I also recently transitioned to cloud based billing and client management software called Clio. Clio allows me to access and enter client information, firm financials, and time entries from anywhere in the world. With the advent of “cloud computing” I can see how the iPad will become even more resourceful to lawyers.

Final Thoughts

Just like any other piece of technology, the iPad is far from perfect. It will not automatically make you a better lawyer. It will not stop you from getting carpal tunnel after typing on the cramped keyboard. It can, however, make your life easier and seamlessly allow you to create, edit, and present information.

The iPad has become an integral part of my law practice. It has changed the way I market my practice and educate my clients. In this fast-paced digital world, having the proper technological tools like the iPad, coupled with the seamless integration of my firms data is crucial. It can mean the difference between stumbling through a motion hearing and impressing a judge or client with my organization and ability to deliver rapid and accurate results. It truly is my secret weapon.