Copywriter, technical writer, translator (FR>EN, ES>EN, IT>EN), journalist

iPad apps for lawyers

originally published in CBA PracticeLink

Lawyers may not view the iPad as a viable laptop substitute today, but that may change with the development of new apps.

“But what is it for?” That’s the main question dogging the iPad, Apple Inc.’s new touch-screen tablet/slate computing device. The answer? To run apps.

Many people who develop applications (“apps”) for the legal industry have leapt onto the iPad bandwagon. And apps are what largely define the iPad’s value to lawyers, especially since lawyers will need to load the iPad with a few more apps before it’s ready for work.

This doesn’t apply to current iPhone owners, though. They can use the iPad right away since their apps work on the iPad too, and in many cases at no extra charge. iPhone apps still appear in their original size, which users can stretch to fill the screen at the cost of some mild pixelation, while others are iPad-ready.

Note: while mobile device apps are by nature more limited than those meant for full-fledged computers, the iPad-half-full camp paints the device as a serious work tool.

Take practice management systems. They may not yet be available as dedicated iPad apps, but those that work via web browsers prove more useable on the iPad’s near-laptop-size touch-screen than they do on any smartphone screen.

The iPad’s Safari web browser also makes existing legal research services more accessible on the go. Add in PDF readers like Goodreader (Apple’s free iBooks will soon accommodate PDFs), and lawyers can do all their reading on an iPad. In fact, the iPad’s document handling prowess may reduce the need for printouts. (CBA PracticeLink looks great in Safari, by the way.)

It is likely early days for apps developed with a Canadian audience in mind. Do an App Store search for “Canada law” and the Torys LLP app figures prominently in the results. Searching the App Store by provinces turns up the Québec Civil Code, but little else. Overall, Canadian lawyers may be disappointed at the current selection of offerings tailored to them.

American lawyers, on the other hand, can download dozens (hundreds?) of state and federal legal resources to their iDevices. These include iBooks like The U.S. Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Bill of Rights, plus apps that feature multiple legal resources under one title like Black’s Law Dictionary, LawBox and LawStack.

U.S. legal industry news comes through the ABA Journal iPad/iPhone app.

Intellectual-property lawyers will want to research patents using Patent Finder, perhaps complemented by Patent Glossary, Lanham and a number of other apps in this area. The preceding uses hinge on content consumption, but content creation apps exist as well. For instance, an increasing number of apps let iPad users work with “Office” documents. Apple’s own word processor, spreadsheet and presentation offerings are Pages, Numbers and Keynote, collectively known as iWork. Documents To Go also handles Office documents.

If the user wants to simply view a document’s contents, Mail capably handles attachment viewing. The built-in microphone offers developers an alternative to the onscreen keyboard. Apps that use the mic include Dragon Dictation, Google’s Voice Search feature and Skype.

In small meetings, people can pass an iPad between them like a magazine. For larger meetings, Apple sells a VGA connector for projectors. That connector comes in handy for “whiteboard” usage with apps like PaperDesk and Penultimate.

Intrepid, tech-savvy litigators have tried cases relying primarily on their iPads for electronic support, since it’s lightweight, instantly on when needed and far less awkward to handle (or hand around) than a laptop or reams of paper.

Trial lawyers currently read, highlight and email deposition transcripts on their iPhones using Mobile Transcript.

Managing cash flow happens on the go thanks to apps like Billings Touch and American Express.

Few people call the iPad a laptop replacement, but as more apps hit the market they may change their tune.

Relevant links

To stay up to date on iPad apps meant for lawyers, check out the following links and blogs.

Tablet Legal – http://tabletlegal.com
iPad Notebook – http://ipadnotebook.wordpress.com
The iPad Lawyer – http://offsitelawcenter.com/iPad.aspx
iPad4Legal- http://www.ipad4legal.com
Legal iPad – http://www.legal-ipad.com

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