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

'Magic' iPad proves popular with lawyers

originally published in Lawyers Weekly Magazine

Given the seemingly inescapable buzz surrounding Apple Inc.’s iPad, you probably don’t need it explained to you. It’s a tablet/slate computing device, it has a touch screen, no keyboard, and Apple CEO Steve Jobs calls it “magical.”

But what “magic” does it bring to a law practice?

Early adopters in the legal profession explain that magic in several ways.

“It doesn’t change the way I work,” says Toronto real estate attorney David Feld, “but it adds flexibility. It allows me to leave the office without really leaving.”

“I don’t think it will replace a laptop, but it can do many things a lot faster,” adds David Stuckel, a Peoria, Ill.-based workers compensation and labour relations lawyer.

Here’s how Feld explains the physical layout of this slate and its effect on the computing experience: “I call an iPhone a small iPad. The iPad takes all the apps that I wouldn’t bother with on the iPhone and makes them fun and usable.”

“You don’t have to be tied down to a computer,” claims Memphis, Tenn.-based bankruptcy lawyer Arthur Ray. “It’s easier than working on a computer. I’ve had laptops, and this is exponentially easier.”

Ray’s assertion may surprise those who wonder how you use a computing device that does not have a physical keyboard. Instead, the iPad displays a large version of the virtual onscreen keyboard which first gained notoriety on Apple’s iPhone.

The virtual keyboard is an acquired taste (note: this article was drafted using said keyboard) that not everybody wants to acquire. Stuckel falls into this camp, but it hasn’t stopped him from finding workarounds. He relies on an app called Penultimate, one of several that permit “iPadders” to write notes directly on the screen using their fingers. The app saves notes as images for later reference.

Feld’s getting used to the keyboard, though he finds it awkward to tap a screen instead of clicking a mouse. “I also use dictation software with it to reduce my typing when searching for things on the Internet and when sending e-mail,” he says of his preferred workaround.

“(When using Google Voice Search) I can just say ‘BP oil spill’ while I’m holding my baby and I get all the news on it,” Feld continues, then sighs: “Sometimes when you’re changing a baby, all you can think about are oil spills.”

Stuckel, who finds himself on the road much of the time, calls it a communication tool. “I need something I can access quickly when I’m on the road,” he says. “I don’t want to wait three minutes for a computer to boot up.

“I can get into my e-mail in 20 seconds.”

The iPad also compares favourably with the reigning champ of mobile technology among lawyers in several ways. “I don’t have to charge it but every two to three days,” Stuckel says. “I have to charge my Blackberry every 36 hours or it’s dead.”

Don’t expect lawyers to abandon Research in Motion in droves at this news, but the Blackberry’s much vaunted e-mail handling may be facing its most serious challenge yet.

“It’s a real problem if you have to look at attachments on the Blackberry,” Stuckel notes. “The iPad is certainly easier to use than Blackberries when you have real email with real attachments. There’s no ‘page too large to load’ stuff.”

Feld feeds his paperless bent by routing all faxes and voicemail into the Mail app. “I don’t miss any information that way,” he says. “It allows me to go from room to room and office to office without really carrying anything. I can be anywhere in the office (yes, even the washroom) and still see my entire law firm’s activities.”

Feld also reviews agreements of purchase and sale and faxes on the iPad. “The screen is the perfect size to see a whole page at a time and zoom into the important areas (or unclear areas as many of our agreements are faxed to us),” he explains. “You can get one page on the screen at a time. I can pinch and zoom in on spotty faxes.”

The iPad’s “pinch zoom” doesn’t always help, though. “When you try to zoom in on small handwriting, it can get pixelated,” notes Stuckel.

Apple designed the iPad to compete in several technology niches, not the least of which is e-readers, and legal and business publishers have taken note.

Ray’s reading list includes books he downloads from Amazon that help him market his law practice. “I had a Kindle before this, but that’s like comparing a Model T Ford to a Ferrari,” he says. “Going through a petition took forever on the Kindle.”

“It’s big! That’s what’s great about it — you can see a whole page.”

Third-party PDF readers like GoodReader win raves among all three lawyers, and Apple will soon update its iBooks application so that it, too, handles PDFs.

Indeed, while Apple did plenty right on the iPad — it’s fast, the battery lasts a reported 10 hours, and so forth — the real “magic” comes to the device thanks to third parties that develop custom-made iPad apps. Those apps include Google tools, Penultimate, dictation recorders, word processors, RSS readers, even legal resources. Its flexibility leads to use in research, client meetings and trials, as well as the office.

As big a fan as Feld happens to be — he bought the first of his three iPads before it was available in Canada — he is looking for an app that lets him search files on his server.

Stuckel concedes another shortcoming. “I can’t print from my iPad,” he says, “but that isn’t a big deal. I can just look at it.”

Feld, Stuckel and Ray plead guilty when asked whether they sometimes use the iPad just for fun. Faced with the question of whether he finds himself trying to justify it for business use, Feld quips “Just to my wife.”

“It’s a toy,” Stuckel admits, “but it’s a useful toy.”

For a PDF of this article, click here.