I’ve been working hard ever since I left a firm to go out on my own a few years ago to make my practice as paperless as possible. I really don’t want to spend a bunch of money storing old files in a mini warehouse somewhere. And one of the problems with appellate law is that the files get monster huge on even the smallest case. Every file consists of at least a transcript and trial counsel’s original file with a bunch of pleadings and discovery. So, to the extent that I have been able, I have tried to get etranscripts or have tried to scan everything to pdf and immediately send originals back to my client.
I was trying to set up everything to be paperless before the iPad. So, instead of carrying big boxes home and back, I have lived essentially from my laptop with all of my documents uploaded to RocketMatter, which is my practice management choice. Before that, I used TimeMatters, an application that is bloated and geared toward the law office of 1996. They don’t allow you to do anything in the cloud, and the application is prone to crash if you access it via gotomypc. They don’t make a mac version of TM either.
In April I bought the iPad, and I have been working over the last few months to figure out how to integrate it into my practice. I still haven’t figured out exactly how to work it in seamlessly, but I have observed some pluses and minuses with it.
- You don’t have to carry as much stuff around. I am gradually managing my files through Dropbox, a cloud-based service that allows you to sync files across multiple computers with a version uploaded to their server. Whenever you make a change in one place, in syncs to the others. If you put your files onto Dropbox, you can access them (for viewing only) on the iPad dropbox application. Meaning, that you can read transcripts on the iPad the way you might an ebook
- You can now mark up pdfs on the iPad. Out of the gate, the ability to mark up pdfs was a huge problem with the iPad. Things have gotten better. I have been using iAnnotate PDF, which allows me to write marginal notes, highlight, and underline similarly to what I might do on paper. I haven’t mastered the app yet, but I think it will make transcripts on the iPad much more manageable and “paperlike”
- It is a great note-taking device. I love Simplenote. It is a simple text editor that syncs with NotationalVelocity on my Macbook. It’s the perfect thing for taking notes during client interviews or during hearings. I think it might be good for storing notes for oral argument, but there is something about me that still needs paper for those things.
- The battery life and dispaly are way better than a laptop or a phone
The pluses are huge, and I have found that my laptop gets nowhere near the use it got before I bought the iPad. I find that the iPad is the device that I grab if I’m headed to the jail to do an interview or to a quick hearing. It is also my go-to device for notetaking or for bringing home a transcript.That said, it isn’t perfect, and it creates some problems, too.
- Paperless is great until you find yourself in court where paper trumps data. If you want to show a judge the great case that supports your point, there’s no substitute for a highlighted hard copy. There’s no substitute for witness impeachment than a hard copy of the trial transcript or a prior statement. Sometimes, a good old fashion notebook is better than anything else.
- Sometimes, you need the physical objects around. At the end of the day, taking a big ole trancript, a highlighter, some sticky notes, and a good pen, and getting down to work with them is just somehow better than flipping through screens and making virtual annotations. Also, looking at a big banker’s box and knowing that the job isn’t finished until you plow through it and move it someplace else makes it easier to get things done than when that same information is contained in a little icon that looks like a file folder.
- The iPad is very modal. With my laptop plugged up to an external monitor, I can have a writing screen and a second screen with the transcript or with a case pulled up. The iPad is not a great content creation device, and I couldn’t imagine actually writing a brief on it. I think that this part will get better. iA Writer is a pretty good writing app that I just added, but something seems lacking even here.
- Distraction. Put your phone on do not disturb mode, close your door, and open a transcript, and you will not get interrupted. You can’t stream a Netflix movie through a transcript. A transcript doesn’t beep to alert you that you have an email. You can’t read rss feeds on a transcript. So, if you are going to be doing a lot of transcript reading on the iPad, you should seriously consider turning the wifi off or setting email to not notify you of incoming messages. Also, if you are going to work at a calendar call or in the hallway at the courthouse, you have to factor in the iPad curiosity factor as a detriment to getting things done (“yes, I do like the iPad, thanks.” “umm, no it’s really not a big iPod Touch.” “Really, no, it’s not the same thing as a laptop.”)
I find that I like the iPad a great deal, except when I don’t. It’s helpful to keep a pen and paper nearby when you are reading on it because it’s much easier to write down notes that it is to switch out of transcript reading mode to pull up a writing application. It’s also helpful to turn some of the connectedness off when you want to get down to business. I have also found that a bluetooth keyboard is a handy thing to have. From a fashion standpoint, I use a small netbook bag, which looks way to much like a purse. But otherwise, it’s helped me for the good even if it requires its own level of discipline not to get distracted.