GPSolo Technology & Practice Guide - June 2006

Road Warrior
The Mobile Lawyer’s Tool Kit Revisited

Several years ago I wrote an article discussing the “tool kit” that I had built to facilitate my practice while on the road. In that article I talked about the equipment and procedures I used to make it possible for me to continue to serve my clients well when out of my office. As this issue of GPSolo’s Technology & Practice Guide focuses on mobility, it seemed appropriate to revisit that article and update the tool kit to reflect the advances in technology that have made it even easier for a lawyer to work effectively and efficiently outside the office.

First, let me dispel the misconception that many attorneys have about mobile lawyering. As I use the term, “mobile lawyer” includes any attorney who, at times, practices outside of the office environment. Many practitioners who think of themselves as “office” lawyers actually practice at multiple locations (clients’ offices, other lawyers’ offices, hotel rooms, etc.). To the extent that they practice out of the office, such attorneys have mobile aspects to their practices and can benefit by using some items from the mobile lawyer’s tool kit.

The ultimate mobility kit will likely vary from lawyer to lawyer, depending on practice needs and personal perspectives, priorities, strengths, and weaknesses. The “master” tool kit provides the full assortment of tools you need to be productive in any environment where you anticipate working. You select from that master kit the tools you’ll need for a particular excursion—that way you can work effectively but still travel light.

My personal master tool kit includes a couple of laptop computers; an air card (cellular communications device for laptops enabling a broadband-speed connection in most major metropolitan areas in the United States); a digital light processor (DLP) projector; several cell phones and converged cell phones/PDA wireless devices, including some with e-mail capabilities; scanners; a printer; global positioning system (GPS) devices; storage devices; a document camera; still and movie digital cameras; a digital voice recorder; an iPod; portable digital speakers; noise canceling earphones; portable surge protectors; extension cords; a locking security cable; and a variety of FireWire, USB, Ethernet, and telephone cables and connectors. Having this collection of gear and several other things that I occasionally throw into the mix makes me feel capable of working effectively almost anywhere. I rarely carry the entire arsenal, but some parts of it travel with me almost everywhere. Keep in mind myFirst Law of Mobility: “Tools make you mobile by helping you work efficiently and effectively on the road, but the more that you carry with you, the less mobile you become.” Every tool, no mater how small, takes up space. Every tool, no matter how light, adds weight. Every tool that you carry when you don’t need it adds dead weight that makes it more difficult to get around.

In choosing the tools for your kit, you face many trade-offs. For example, if you intend to make a presentation to a client, at a trial, or at an ADR proceeding, you may need a projector. If you plan on doing word processing as well as the presentation and also want to get your e-mail along the way, you probably want to bring a laptop. But there are other options. If your presentation is in PowerPoint, you can avoid the laptop and bring an Internet-capable PDA. If you will have a small audience (one or two), you might consider leaving the projector and screen at the office and simply run the show on your laptop. If someone else is presenting with you and will have a computer, you may be able to bring your presentation on a thumb drive (flash memory module) and run it on the other presenter’s laptop. You can even run your presentations, without a laptop, directly from some of the more sophisticated converged telephone PDAs, such as the newer BlackBerry devices ( www.blackberry.com) or the Treo 650/700 ( www.palm.com). You can handle most e-mail through a wireless communicator, such as a BlackBerry 8700 or 7100 or a Treo 650 or 700, both of which have PDA and telephone capabilities. If you need to do just a little word processing, you can even do that on many PDAs.

Word processing. If you have a significant amount of word processing to do, you will prefer working on a computer. If not, you may find that a Palm device with a folding keyboard and Documents To Go Professional ( www.dataviz.com/products/documentstogo) will satisfy your requirements. If you choose to go this route and your PDA supports Bluetooth (short-range wireless), consider using a larger, folding Bluetooth keyboard instead of the thumb board for typing.

Tools sometimes include services, which provide an alternative source of support. Consider using a digital recorder for dictation in and/or out of the office. The quality of digital recording has improved greatly in recent years. If you record your dictation digitally, you can e-mail the electronic files to your secretary, who can type them while you travel. Alternatively, you can e-mail the files to a secretarial service such as LawDocsXpress ( www.lawdocsxpress.com). They will take your digital file, transcribe it, and e-mail you Word documents the next day. If you provide them with models of work you have done in the past, they will incorporate your format. As they have people working during the night, they can often turn a document around faster than your own secretary. And as they charge at a rate that makes them cost efficient, many lawyers now use LawDocsXpress in lieu of having their own secretary.

Although speech-to-text programs are far from perfect, they have evolved significantly in recent years. The most recent versions of ViaVoice ( www.ibm.com/software/voice/viavoice) and Dragon Naturally Speaking ( www.dragontalk.com) are both quite good, particularly for dictating documents that do not include extensive legal citations. If you properly train them and use them in a quiet environment with a good USB microphone, you can get quite usable production. If you want to dictate away from your computer, you must use a compatible digital recorder to interface with the programs.

Grundig ( www.grundig.com) has some very solid digital recorders designed for dictation, some of which are portable and battery operated as well. Currently, Grundig’s devices carry a European design, which differs somewhat from the traditional dictation setup used in the United States, although the devices will function just fine for use by American attorneys. I am advised that by the middle of 2006, Grundig will have an American version of its digital dictation recorders available for sale in the U.S. market.

Sony ( www.sony.com) and Olympus ( www.olympusamerica.com) produce a variety of digital recorders that will work quite well for these uses (as well as recording interviews, etc.). The Sony and Olympus recorders generally weigh less than the Grundig devices and have price ranges that go from lower to about the same costs. Less convenient controls are the trade-off for the smaller-size, lower-weight units. I am particularly partial to the Olympus units, especially the DS 4000.

Laptops. If you choose to use a laptop, you will want one that combines small size, light weight, large capacity, and powerful features—preferably at a reasonable price. For those of you who prefer the Windows platform and want ultra-light weight (around 3 pounds), look at the well-received IBM (Lenovo) X60 Thinkpad series ( www.ibm.com), the Fujitsu P series ( www.fujitsu.com), the Sony T series, or the Toshiba Portege R200 ( www.toshiba.com). All of those computers come from responsible and well-known manufacturers in a variety of configurations, including some fairly powerful ones. Dell offers another possibility in its X-1 ( www.dell.com). For those who prefer the Mac, Apple’s 12” PowerBook (4.6 pounds) offers the smallest and lightest option ( www.apple.com). All of the computers mentioned above come with small screens (12” or less). All come with internal hard drives and either include optical drives (CD or DVD) or work with them as an external USB attachment. Most such computers come with WiFi (wireless 802.11b/g) capabilities. With the exception of the Apple 12” PowerBook, all of them will also accept a PCMCIA card allowing easy integration of additional components.

If you want or need more power than these ultra-lightweight computers offer, you can opt for a heavier but more powerful laptop (in the 5- to 7-pound range). This class of computers generally comes with faster processors, larger screens (14” to 15.4”), larger hard drives, and more built-in features. Computers in this class should all come with built-in CD or DVD drives. Most will come with DVD-capable drives and will read and write to CDs and at least read DVDs.

While any of these laptops could in theory replace your desktop machine, the class of computers usually referred to as “desktop replacements” weighs in at 7 to 9 pounds, includes all of the features of those discussed in the preceding paragraph, and often comes with a high-resolution 17” screen.

If you plan on using one of the smaller and lighter computers in your office as a desktop replacement, you will probably want to supplement it with a larger LCD monitor and a separate keyboard. Note that the smaller and lighter computers generally use “mobile” chips (such as the Pentium M) that give you extended battery life at the expense of power and speed. You may want a faster and more powerful CPU (central processing unit) for desktop use. If you have a separate desktop and laptop computer and use the computer out of the office a lot, you will probably want one of the lightweight or ultra-lightweight versions. If your computer will serve as a desktop replacement most of the time and only travel very occasionally, the larger, heavier, faster, more powerful laptops may prove a wiser choice.

Internet connectivity. The Internet provides us with means of exchanging e-mail and other forms of communications. It also serves as the primary source of legal research material available to attorneys today. For that reason, any laptop we take on the road should have Internet connectivity. Most laptops (and all the ones mentioned in this article) come with built-in Ethernet and accept hard-wired or wireless Ethernet connections. Most come with modems allowing for dial-up connections as well; however, most users prefer a faster connection than dial-up allows. Those computers that do not include modems can work with inexpensive external 56k modems to create dial-up connectivity.

Most of the laptops accept PCMCIA cards, allowing you to add a wireless cell card that can give you Internet connectivity almost anywhere, with DSL speed available in major metropolitan areas. Some of the newest models have this capability built into the laptop so that you need no additional card. A word of advice: If you use more than one laptop, you may prefer to opt for the add-on cellular card instead of the built-in version, as you can move the card from one laptop to another, allowing all of them to share the same cellular account. Using built-in cellular cards will require a separate account for each computer with that capability. I use a Kyocera KPC 650 card ( www.kyocera-wireless.com), as it works very well with both Macintosh and Windows OS laptops. It has provided consistently good reception and it works on Verizon’s EVDO system, which provides speed equivalent to DSL in a number of major metropolitan areas.

Note for Mac users: At the present time, the Apple PowerBook 12” computer neither has cellular capability built in nor accepts PCMCIA cards. Apple 15” and 17” PowerBooks all accept PCMCIA cards. The new MacBook Pros do not accept PCMCIA cards. Instead, they come with an Express Card slot, which could accommodate a cellular air card—if one existed that worked with it. Presumably, at some time in the future that will occur. In the meantime, the only way to make use of such a card with the MacBook Pro is to acquire a device such as the Kyocera KR-1 router, which allows hard-wired or wireless connections to the router enabling Internet connectivity.

Printing. If you need to print, you might want to carry a small portable printer in your tool kit. They are available in the $250+ range, and some of them are quite decent. Canon’s PIXMA iP90 Compact Photo Printer (www.usa.canon.com), one of the best portable printers I have found, can produce up to 16 ppm (pages per minute) in black-and-white and up to 12 ppm in color, with a resolution of up to 4800 x 1200 color dpi (dots per inch). The iP90 works with Windows XP/Me/2000/98 and Mac OS X.

Wireless printers using Bluetooth technology allow you to avoid carrying connecting cables. The HP DeskJet 460wbt Mobile Printer ( www.hp.com) prints up to 17 ppm in black-and-white and 16 ppm in color. The 10”-long Pentax PocketJet 3 Plus ( www.pentaxtech.com) weighs 1 pound and prints up to 3 ppm using thermal printing technology. The printer works with most handheld PCs and computers running Windows, Symbian/EPOC, PocketPC/Windows Mobile, PalmOS, Linux, and Mac OS X.

In truth, although I often traveled with a printer in the past, I rarely do these days. I still keep a portable printer around in case I need it, but if I did not already own one, I likely would not go out and buy one now. Most major hotels have business centers with computers and printers available for a nominal charge. Many other locations also have such services available as well. If I need to print something, I take the file on a USB thumb drive, plug it into the computer, print my documents, and leave.

E-mail. Most of us use e-mail heavily. The importance of e-mail as a communications tool has significantly increased both in and out of the office. E-mail access options have dramatically expanded in the last few years. In addition to carrying a laptop and using it at the hotel, at someone else’s office, at the airport, or with a wireless modem or a cell phone connection, we can now get e-mail through a borrowed computer, cyber cafés, PDAs, and a variety of wireless communications devices. At least one provider, AOL, has created the ability to get e-mail over the telephone. If you just want to get e-mail, you can leave your laptop at home and carry a small wireless communicator (such as a BlackBerry device), saving yourself several pounds of dead weight. Using the RIM 8700 or 7100 (or one of the other telephonically empowered BlackBerry devices), a Treo 650 or 700, or one of the other converged PDA/telephone devices with Internet capabilities will allow you to get your e-mail on the road at virtually any time, day or night. The Treo 700, Palm’s first (and only) Windows Mobile device, offers connectivity at very high speeds, particularly in comparison to other handheld devices, because it utilizes Verizon’s EVDO technology.

Backup/storage/memory. Laptop manufacturers have made computers stronger, more stable, and less fragile. Nevertheless, they still break down from time to time. You should always have backup available in case of such a problem. Small, highly portable, large-capacity (up to 120 GB), high-speed “bootable” hard disks provide excellent backup. You can find many sources for such drives operating on FireWire, USB 2.0, or both. I am particularly partial to drives from Other World Computing ( www.otherworldcomputing.com) and CMS Products ( www.cmsproducts.com). Those vendors have well designed, reliable, and reasonably priced hard disks. CMS sells an 80 GB/5400 RPM FireWire or USB 2.0 drive with its own Bounce-Back backup software for $269. Other World Computing sells its On-The-Go 80 GB/5400 RPM drive alone for $149.99 with a USB 2.0 connection, $159.99 with a FireWire 400 connection, and $169.99 with both a USB 2.0 and a FireWire 400 connection.

Small flash memory drives are good for storage of several gigabytes; prices for up to 4 GB are reasonable (most recently $129 for a USB 2.0, 4 GB flash drive). Larger drives up to 8 GB have been much discussed, but I’ve not seen them on the market yet, and price estimates remain fairly high. Once they come out, expect that the cost for the smaller drives will drop further. Flash memory drives have no moving parts, require no energy to retain memory, and are very resistant to accidental damage. Use them for backup of critical data. With some computers, you can take a larger flash drive and make it bootable for backup and emergency use.

Note for Mac users: Macintosh computers will not boot to an external USB drive. Accordingly, if you wish to make a bootable flash drive, you must use a FireWire flash drive. At present only one company makes such a drive: Kanguru ( www.kanguru.com). Kanguru sells the drive (called a Fire Flash drive) in a kit with a docking station that allows you to move the FireWire connection to the front of a computer. The FireWire drives come in sizes up to 4 GB as well, but they cost considerably more than the USB 2.0 flash drives. The Fire Flash currently sells for $439. The 2 GB size sells for just over $300, still more than three times the cost of the USB 2.0 drives.

Presentations. Attorneys have more and more reasons to use multimedia presentations in connection with their work. Use in a courtroom generally requires at least a 2,500-lumen projector (3,000 is better); most other uses (such as presentations to clients or in connection with a mediation or arbitration proceeding) need only about 1,500 lumens. You can find small, lightweight projectors in the 1,500- to 2,000-lumen range for $1,200 to $3,000. Generally DLP projectors weigh less, cost less, and take up less space than their LCD counterparts. HP makes my favorite small, portable, general-purpose projector, the $1,500, 1,500-lumen, 7.9” x 6.5” x 2.4”, 2.4 pound mp2210. It is underpowered for courtroom use but ideal for use in arbitration, mediation, or other meetings typically held in smaller rooms.

Earphones/headsets. You will find your use of the music or video capabilities of your technology significantly enhanced by the addition of high-quality earphones or headsets. If you are flying or in an otherwise noisy environment, noise cancellation or isolation technology will also prove helpful. The Bose QuietComfort 2 headphones ( www.bose.com) fold into a relatively small package and provide high-quality sound as well as excellent noise cancellation. If you do not want to use the headset form and prefer the earphone, Etymotics’ ER4 and ER6 ( www.etymotic.com), Shure’s E2c, E3c, E4c, and E5c ( www.shure.com), and XtremeMac’s FS1 (www.xtrememac.com) all offer exceptionally good quality earphones using sound isolation technologies. The earphones can work with your computer or your iPod or other MP3 player. Some manufacturers, such as Shure, make combination devices that can also serve as telephone headsets.

Relaxation. We all need to take some time off. Heavy travel days limit opportunities for recreation. Computer games, music on a CD, and a DVD movie offer the means of bringing your own entertainment with you. Games for the Palm devices have become readily available and can be entertaining. The well-equipped laptop can play both music CDs and DVD movies. It can also run computer games. If you really want to cut weight and have no issue regarding the cost, you can get very nice, portable DVD players complete with LCD screens that will easily fit in a briefcase or even a coat pocket. And of course, you can always get one of the almost ubiquitous iPod devices (or another form of digital music player), which can accommodate music, audiobooks, data, and now even still pictures and video. If you want, you can also get a microphone for the iPod, allowing you to use it as a digital recorder to record a meeting or interview.

Miscellany. In addition to the main pieces of hardware I have identified, I usually carry at least one extension cord, a power surge protector, a laser pointer, FireWire and USB cables, an Ethernet cable, a telephone cable, and chargers. In lieu of the assorted power bricks that my gear requires, I will often carry an IGO adaptor ( www.igo.com) that will power and charge almost all of my technology via AC, DC, or airline power ports. Each of the IGO packages comes with a single power connector and has a variety of attachments to allow interconnectivity with most major computers, PDA devices, and cell phones. The IGO will charge the computer and one smaller device concurrently. I also carry a Bluetooth telephone earphone (I am very partial to the lightweight and comfortable Jabra JX10, www.jabra.com) and a wired earphone for my telephone, in case the battery runs down on the Bluetooth earphone. Carrying some extra batteries will also prove helpful. I usually take one or more extra batteries for my laptop and one for the phone as well.

Moving your gear. No self-respecting collector of technology can get by with one briefcase. Basically, you get to choose between cases you carry and cases with wheels. Within both categories you get size and feature variation. In the class of cases you carry, you also get choices about how: in your hand, over your shoulder, or as a backpack. Some cases carry in more than one way. For example, one of my favorite cases—Wenger’s $129 Patriot Case—has a shoulder strap, a handle, and wheels. The computer section of that bag is removable, allowing you to carry the computer and a few accessories or pull the bag out to make room for other things when you need the space. Costco sells a similar Wenger bag for $69. I have packed that bag with as much as two laptops (with AC adaptors and extra batteries), files, an iPod, a Treo 650, a BlackBerry, a digital recorder, a digital camera, a projector, miscellaneous USB and FireWire connection cables, a computer lock and cable, and some files.

Check out the well-designed and reasonably priced computer sleeves, camera bags, and iPod cases from Waterfield Designs ( www.sfbags.com). I am particularly partial to their Cozmo and Cargo bags. If you want to carry a relatively small amount of technology, look at RoadWired’s Pod ( www.roadwired.com). I packed a Treo 650, an iPod, a digital camera, extra batteries, extra memory cards, and a map inside one and still had room for more. RoadWired “super-sized” its Pod to create Podzilla. If you want one of the better and more expensive dedicated computer bags, look at the Victorinox (Swiss Army) Architecture line. The bags are somewhat pricey but are well designed and padded to protect computers and accommodate a considerable amount of gear. Targus ( www.targus.com) has come out with a collection of reasonably priced and well-designed rolling computer bags.

The technology that comes with me on trips often expands to fill available space. When I start with a large case, I end up packing more than when I start with a small case, whether I need it or not. Using a smaller case causes me to think more carefully about what I really need, and taking just what you will need makes traveling easier. Decide what you need to have and use a case that comfortably accommodates the gear. Remember the first law of mobility and use it as a guide.

 

Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California. A frequent speaker on technology topics, he is the special issue editor of GPSolo’s Technology & Practice Guide and editor-in-chief of the Technology eReport. He also teaches business law in the graduate and undergraduate divisions of the Business School of the University of Phoenix. He can be reached at jallenlawtek@aol.com.

 

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