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Technology: Surviving in the always on world

How smartphones, tablets and keyboards can help a lawyer function at peak efficiency

The legal industry is known for its customer service and responsiveness. Even in the pre-Internet world, attorneys were known for working long hours in the office and then being available to clients with a phone call to their house line -- even in the middle of the night. Servicing the needs of clients (whether as in-house counsel or outside counsel) has always required thoughtful responses in a timely manner. With the advent of Blackberrys in the early 2000s, however, the expectations for responsiveness increased. In today’s world, with ubiquitous Internet access via cellular networks and Wi-Fi found in every hotel, coffee shop and airplane, it is a foregone conclusion that attorneys will always be available no matter where they are. So what can we do to ease the burden of our “always on” lifestyle, and how can mobile computing technology make you more productive?

Smartphones

A good smartphone is the foundation of any mobile computing strategy. Ever since the iPhone came on the scene in 2007, the smartphone has become the central communications device in mobile computing. Email on smartphones has been thoroughly developed, and anyone using either an Android-based phone or iPhone can send and receive emails, make phone calls and schedule appointments from anywhere in the world without skipping a beat. If you can add Wi-Fi tethering to your smartphone’s cellular plan, you will have the added benefit of using your phone as a wireless hotspot for your laptop, tablet or any other computing devices with which you may travel.

With regard to the iPhone vs. Android debate, both platforms are equally powerful and user-friendly. Whether you choose one over the other is largely a matter of ecosystem preference (Apple’s app store vs. Google’s app store) and how important device size is to your smartphone use, as Android phones are sold in a wide variety of sizes, whereas iPhones only come in one size.

There are other smartphone brands on the market to acknowledge, such as Blackberry and Windows Phone. Both of those platforms, however, have a much lower market share and therefore have fewer applications supported by vendors upon you which you may rely.

Tablets

When the iPad was released in 2010, there was much debate whether it would be a successful product. Many pundits assumed that combining smartphones and laptops together would create a sufficient mobile platform and that tablet computers would simply be a “device in the middle” that few people would actually use. Four years later, it is clear that tablet computing is hugely successful and here to stay. Many people like the casual, “lean-back” nature of tablet computing, and the software is sophisticated enough to satisfy most basic business needs.

Anyone who works around attorneys has learned that tablet computing has become very popular with attorneys on the go. The large screen size and ability to review PDF files with ease has made tablets — and iPads in particular — a very popular mobile computing device. Tablets are generally sufficient for most mobile tasks including responding to email, basic review of documents and attending online meetings via WebEx, GoToMeeting and the like. Tablets also support important remote access technologies such as Citrix and VMware View. Some attorneys are also using tablets in lieu of deposition binders, a practice that not only saves on paper but also makes it far easier to sort through hundreds of documents in just a few swipes of the finger.

A word about iPads versus tablets in general: While Android phones are of equal quality to iPhones in every respect, it is clear that iPads are still the highest quality and best-built tablets on the market. There are some strong Android contenders in the tablet category, but when build quality matters, iPads will be most appreciated by attorneys on the go.

If you can afford a tablet with built-in cellular access, such as 3G or LTE, you will be able to use the device almost anywhere without the need of Wi-Fi access. This can be critical for attorneys on the go, especially if Wi-Fi tethering is not enabled on your smartphone. You may also find it advisable to carry a portable USB battery pack to accompany your tablet. This playing card-size device is lightweight and can add an additional 8-10 hours of charge to your tablet device when power outlets are not available.

Keyboards

One thing any mobile device user will tell you is that eventually, you will want to use a keyboard. Touch screens are wonderful and convenient, but if you want to write an involved email or draft a document on the road, you need a real keyboard.

There are two schools of thought with the keyboard problem. Some attorneys prefer to have a laptop with them whenever they travel. That way, if a real keyboard is needed they have their familiar computer to rely on. This approach adds weight, of course, but provides the greatest set of options. The other approach is to simply purchase an external Bluetooth keyboard for your tablet or smartphone and bring the external keyboard as a backup for emergencies. There is no right answer as to which approach you choose and a little experimentation may be in order to find what is right for you.

Conclusion

In the end, expectations of responsiveness require that all attorneys have ways to stay in touch with their clients wherever they are. Mobile computing technologies such as smartphones, tablets and a good mobile keyboard can make your office as mobile as you need to be. Mobile technology will provide you the opportunity to be responsive and more productive. Just make sure you have access to electricity to power all of your mobile devices and make sure to upgrade to the latest software for your mobile equipment as updates often improve battery performance. That way, your technology will be as available as you are in your new “always on” lifestyle.

Contributing Author

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David Carns

David Carns is Vice President, eDiscovery Client Services at @Legal Discovery, LLC. He can be reached at dcarns@legaldiscoveryllc.com.

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