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Tablets becoming better tools thanks to useful apps

Each lawyer in Russell Alexander’s firm has an iPad. The founder of Russell Alexander Family Lawyers has been using one since Apple Inc.’s tablet debuted four years ago.

Donna Neff, founder of Neff Law Office Professional Corporation, started her tablet experience on an iPad 2, a device she rarely uses now that she has an iPad Mini. Lighter weight and less bulk sold her on it, and she admits her initial concerns over its small size have proven unfounded.

Neff and Alexander are just two Canadian lawyers who look upon their tablets much like Boy Scouts regard their Swiss Army knives. Light weight, fast boot-up, long battery life and just enough of a computer’s functionality have them using tablets regularly at work.

Tablet-toting lawyers still appear to be ahead of the curve. “Lawyers are kind of quirky,” Alexander says. “You’ll often see lawyers going to court with boxes of files. They may only need a handful of those documents… They’re going towards laptop computers and iPads but the majority of lawyers I go to court with still prefer paper.”

Not carrying paper around can take some getting used to, he notes.

Mobile apps are where it’s at

Tablet usage is largely driven by the applications available for them. Since the tablet market tends to copy iPad’s minimalist design, few physical characteristics distinguish one model from another outside of size, weight and ports. Even the same types of accessories can be had for various models. (The lawyers I interviewed use iPads. That said, as long as the apps mentioned are available for other tablets, this article applies to Windows- or Android-based tablets as well.)

Alexander’s iPad connects to his firm’s Microsoft Exchange server “out of the box” (without needing additional software). Lawyers access their Exchange information using iPad’s native calendar, e-mail, contact and reminders apps.

Mobile document apps

Alexander likes how discreet the tablet is compared to notebook computers, especially in courtrooms where he reviews and annotates court transcripts using TranscriptPad and organizes and presents evidence using TrialPad.

Productivity on a tablet frequently involves handling documents. When Asim Iqbal takes documents with him to court, he copies them on to his iPad from his firm’s document management system before leaving the office. The Pallett Valo lawyer advises other lawyers not to rely on wireless Internet access in court.

David Feld uses a stylus and the iAnnotate PDF app to sign documents on the screen, then saves said documents to the cloud so both Feld, a partner at Feld Kalia Professional Corporation, and his staff can access them later. Iqbal annotates documents using GoodReader (“It’s the best $5 you’ll spend,” he says) while Neff prefers neu.Annotate PDF.
Iqbal also uses a stylus he picked up for $15 to write on the screen, while Neff writes mostly with her finger on-screen.

Feld also reviews documents with clients using the big-screen TV in his boardroom on which he wirelessly shares documents on his iPad. “It somehow makes it more real, more exciting, more official for the client,” he says, while admitting he still prints paper for them to sign.

Creating documents on the go… not so much

Few people create documents using tablets. Alexander dictates documents and sends them to his assistant to type, though he concedes that the Documents to Go app is OK for quick edits.

Iqbal says formatting on a tablet is tedious. He uses the Pages app to create content and leaves the formatting to an assistant. When he creates content, however, he doesn’t type as much as he uses his iPad’s built-in voice recognition feature. He finds it accurate, though he notes that a slow Internet connection can cause more mistakes that he needs to clean up.

Neff avoids the on-screen keyboard since it lacks things like the function and arrow keys one finds on a physical keyboard. She defaults to a desktop if she needs to write things from scratch — which isn’t often. “Most of the work that I do is reviewing and revising and marking up someone else’s writing,” for which she uses her tablet. Neff figures she spends 80 per cent of her work time on the iPad and the rest on a desktop.

Sharing documents from tablets

Iqbal cuts down on the time it takes to share documents using Genius Scan — PDF Scanner. “If I’m in court and I get an order that I know people are looking for right away, I’ll take a picture of it once it’s issued and send it to people who need it,” he says.

Alexander keeps his paper document load even leaner by relying on apps for the Ontario Rules of Civil Procedure and Ontario Reports while in court.

Tablets with SaaS

Neff figures the usefulness of a tablet corresponds to how “paperless” a law office is. Given her policy of digitizing every document that arrives at her office, she can access everything she needs remotely.

Tablets offer Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and some also feature cellular radios that enable Internet access when outside the range of trusted Wi-Fi hotspots. Iqbal tethers his non-cellular tablet to his Android phone so he can also access data on the road.

Connectivity helps lawyers access applications and files kept at the office. Alexander uses Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Connection to access his firm’s servers. Neff uses LogMeIn. “That and e-mail see the heaviest use,” she says.

Videoconferencing, security and wrapup

Neff videoconferences using (part of the LogMeIn application suite) as well as Skype and Facetime. She also “attends” Law Society or OBA webinars using her tablet.

Must-use security tools include passcode protection of devices, the ability to find lost devices and wipe them remotely, and setting tablets to erase all data after a set number of unsuccessful password attempts.

When the iPad first hit the market, many people derided it as an overgrown iPod Touch. Alexander points to the larger screen size as something that makes tablets useful. As an example, he mentions Digits, a straightforward calculator with large numbers and buttons flanked by a ticker tape that shows calculations performed. “You forget about the little things like that that you can use a tablet for,” he says.

This article originally published in Lawyers Weekly Magazine. To view the print version, click here.