General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division

A service of the ABA General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division

Technology eReport

American Bar Association - Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice

March 2008

Vol. 7, No. 1

Features

  • I Have Seen the Future (and It Is Wireless)
    Get a grip on the gadgets that will get you unplugged.
  • Affordable Bridge Software Options »
    Now solos and small firm lawyers can compete with the Goliaths.

 

I Have Seen the Future (and It Is Wireless)

Every year the powers of the world of electronics get together to flex their muscles and show off their newest offerings in the field of consumer electronics. This event takes place each January in Las Vegas, Nevada. Each year the event grows and attracts more people. Sometimes the exhibitors offer revolutionary change. Sometimes the change is only evolutionary change. But they always bring something new to show at the party.

This year’s show made it clear that the future of technology in our lives is largely wireless. More and more devices have wireless functionality. And manufacturers promised still more. The scope of wireless functionality will continue to grow in the next several years. The wireless devices use all manner of communications technologies: RF, Bluetooth, WiFi, and soon WiMax as well. In the not-too-distant future we will have remote control units for almost everything. Home appliances, office equipment, and entertainment devices will all connect wirelessly, and we will control them wirelessly.

Until now wireless gadgets have required wires to recharge batteries, but this will likely change in the near future as well. New technology will allow electronic devices, such as cell phones, cameras, recorders, and the like, to charge by resting in close proximity to a charging station, but having no plug connecting them to the charging station. No more power bricks, no more morass of wires: simply a single plug connecting the charging station to the electrical source. Place one or more devices near the charging station, and the rest will happen wirelessly.

The growth of the Internet will continue to function as an engine, driving communications, information processing, and storage, as well as technological growth. Web-based programs will move to the fore and serve as the basis of much of our computing. Computers will continue to shrink in size and grow in function. They will wirelessly connect to the Internet, allowing complete access to information, programs, and communications at all times and from virtually all places.

We have already seen the start of this evolution. Web-based applications and storage have grown dramatically in availability and function over the last few years. They will continue to grow and do so more rapidly. Web-based applications have the advantage of allowing us to access them anywhere we can reach the Internet. We do not need to work at our personal computers to access the programs: we can access them from almost any computer. Similarly, with the availability of Web-based data storage, our information, stored in cyberspace, remains accessible to us from any location that allows us access to the Internet. With applications and data available through a browser online, we will have the ability to work anywhere that we have Internet access.

Computers will continue to shrink in size and weight. Apple opened the door with its amazing iPhone. Part computer, part telephone, part Internet appliance, it represents a new direction in technological growth. Think about what happens when you combine a device like the iPhone with a wireless virtual full-sized keyboard, Web-based applications, and Internet-accessible data. Alternatively, look at the new Apple Air Book or even the MacBook or Lenovo Thinkpad X61 (larger and clunkier, but with better connectivity than the MacBook Air). Take that package and add a small handheld scanner such as the Planon Docupen 800 or the Iris Pen and a handheld printer such as the recently announced (but not yet released) Planon PrintStick, and a normal briefcase can hold a fully functional office set up. A slightly larger computer case will let you use the Fujitsu ScanSnap 300 (automatic as opposed to manual scanning) and the Canon Pixma iP90v or the HP DeskJet 460 (higher quality inkjet portable color printers as opposed to thermal printing).

The Core 2 Duo processor has become the standard in both desktop and laptop equipment. Some companies have introduced work-alike processors, but they have not come on as strong with this processor type as they have in the past. Some of the desktop machines have already shifted to newer quad-core technology, but for the most part new computers continue to use the Core 2 Duo processors.

More and more of the services put on display at CES relate to the Internet—social networking, advertising, music services, video services, and on and on. The Internet continues to grow in influence in all parts of our life, and the displays at CES make it clear that the electronics industry plans to see that growth continue and increase in pace.

Plan on having an ever-increasing Internet presence and on more clients finding you through the Internet. Searching for attorneys online has developed into one of the great American passtimes. If you do not have a website for your practice, run, do not walk (better yet, Google) to find a host and someone competent to create your website. You can continue to pay for Yellow Page printed ads if you want, but ask yourself this: when was the last time you even saw a phone book? I have not seen one for several years. When I want to find a supplier of services or materials, the first thing I do is go online and check.

Many law firms and sole practitioners have already reached the point of not having a library with books and shelves. Let’s face it: online research is faster, more current, and generally more accurate and complete than doing it “old school.” Besides, if you want to quote language from a decision in a brief, your secretary has to retype it from a printed book. If you use an online research provider, in most cases, you can copy and paste the text and avoid the redundancy of retyping.

I still keep a room full of law books in my office and refer to it as the library. In truth I do it more for show than anything else. I think it makes clients feel more comfortable as they expect to see that in a law office (that may have more significance in consideration of older clients as younger clients may already have a full accommodation to the availability of information online research). In fact, we rarely use the books as we do most of our research online.

If your office does not yet have a wireless network either as the sole source of connectivity or as a supplement to a hard-wired network, expect that it will soon. Wireless connectivity now affords speed and reliability comparable to that of a hard-wired network. Companies such as D-Link, Linksys, and Belkin offer many options for reliable, high-speed wireless connectivity. Expect to have such equipment working for you both in your office and in your home. Also expect it to operate on the “N” protocol or standard. The “N” standard remains draft only, but that has not stopped manufacturers from creating a vast amount of equipment that uses it. Eventually the standard will finalize, but as a practical matter, it does not appear likely that it will radically differ from the current draft standard. Moreover, even if it does, your equipment will continue to work as it did before. It may, however, not work properly with newer equipment (always a risk under any circumstances).

That said, expect to see more and more equipment designed to wirelessly interact with other equipment. You will see and increasing number of wireless hot spots and, in some areas, implementation of WiMax (a form of broad area high-speed wireless connectivity).

Another Internet-related service that has an increasing number of providers relates to information storage and backup of data. I have no doubt that you have heard many people advise you of the importance of backup procedures to ensure that you do not have any significant data loss or down time in the likely event of an equipment failure or crash. In the ”old“ days people backed up to tape storage systems and hoped against hope that the system would work in the event of a failure or crash of the main system. These days more and more people have shifted to hard disk-based backup storage, either in their office or “off campus” or both. Many online storage sites have emerged, and more and more will offer you their services. Online sites have both advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, they have large capacities and generally charge reasonably for the use of portions of that capacity. You will not lose information stored this way in a common disaster with the loss of the information in your office as a result of a catastrophe such as a fire, flood, hurricane, or earthquake. On the minus side, you have potential security concerns and the question of access to the data if the host company fails financially.

We recently have seen the creation of Internet-based social networking services for everyone from school kids to professionals. Expect to see more of the same as Internet accessibility expands to virtually everyone and virtually every place. Your telephone service may already have long distance through an Internet-based provider using voice over Internet protocol (VOIP). Many providers offer such services at very reasonable rates. Calling across the continent or across the ocean (or oceans) has become very reasonably priced. If you have not tried VOIP, you should. It offers very clear and reliable connections at very reasonable costs. Many people in their personal and business life now use VOIP and connect video to it for videoconference calling. Probably the least expensive way to try VOIP is to download and install Skype on your computer and then start making calls. It costs you nothing to call another Skype user anywhere. They do charge a fee to process calls from Skype to non-Skype connections or conversely (called Skype Out and Skype In). Some of the more sophisticated VOIP systems do not even require the use of a computer. You can connect the VOIP equipment to your cable modem or DSL and then connect a phone to it and start dialing.

The telephone industry and the Internet have grown more closely intertwined in another way as well. Many of the offerings at CES related to Internet media content delivered to consumers through “smart phones.” A few years ago the term “smart phone” came out to refer to a breed of telephones (such as the Palm Treo) that did more than simply make phone calls. The smart phones had contact lists and calendars and sometimes cameras and then Internet connectivity. Today’s smart phones make yesterday’s smart phones look dumb by comparison. The top smart phones displayed have full Internet capabilities, handle email well, do text messaging, have reasonably functional cameras, download and play MP3 files (music, audio books, etc.), and download and play Podcasts and video files (including television broadcasts, movies, etc.). And let’s not forget that many of them also contain (GPS) capabilities to ensure that you will not get lost while listening to your music.

Speaking of GPS, I lost count of the number of new vendors offering various iterations of GPS devices at CES. Damned near everyone had a new GPS device or some form of converged device that included GPS capabilities. Many of the GPS devices have received the bonus of extra features making them multifunction devices too. In addition to smart phones with GPS capabilities, we now have GPS devices that play music and show 3-D as well as 2-D images of the terrain and streets on your route. Some devices also function as hands-free kits for your cell phones using Bluetooth technology. Plug them into your car, pair the phone and the device, and enjoy your conversation while you get turn-by-turn directions (visually and audibly in most cases) from your color-screen GPS device.

Closely related to the marriage of cell phones and GPS is the ability to locate you (or at least your phone) in the event of an emergency. The only problem is that it may also allow you to be located in a nonemergency situation where you would prefer not to have people able to locate you . . .

Expect to see continued growth of flat screen televisions using plasma and LCD technologies. Screens will continue to increase in size and decrease in cost. Televisions will only function digitally in the near future. In 2009 broadcasters will move to exclusively digital content. If you do not already have a digital television, you will need to plan to get new equipment, either in the form of a new television set, or at least some form of adaptor. Likely you will end up happier if you get the new television as, in addition to shifting to digital broadcasting, more and more television has started moving to HD (high definition) broadcasting as well.

If you have not had the chance to experience HD television, go to a TV store and look at it. The quality HD offers shows significant improvement over standard digital. When you look at HD sets, note that the earlier sets came out with a 720P standard and the newer sets have increased the definition to 1080P. While you may not see a significant difference in a small set (below 40"), you will see it in larger screens. Expect to see discounting of 720P sets. Newer sets also have started to come with a much faster refresh rate (120 Hz as opposed to 60 Hz). The faster refresh rate will provide better quality display of action.

This year’s CES saw the introduction of several uses for OLED (organic light emitting diode) technology, including one 27" Sony television. Expect to see more of the OLED technology, which offers significant advantages to both LCD plasma screens. As OLED screens do not require backlighting and draw relatively little power, expect to see more use of the OLED technology in computer displays and battery-powered devices.

While you look at the HD screens and decide which one to get, check out some of the audio augmentation you can acquire from speaker manufacturers. The home theater setups available range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars in cost. (You can find systems that will let you spend even more if you work at it). The home systems generally include a subwoofer and additional speakers (three front channel and two back channel speakers). The surround sound definitely brings the sound on DVDs to life.

Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the law firm of Graves & Allen with a general practice that, since 1973, has emphasized negotiation, structuring, and documentation of real estate acquisitions, loans and other business transactions, receiverships, related litigation, and bankruptcy. Graves & Allen is a small firm in Oakland, California. Mr. Allen also works extensively as an arbitrator and a mediator. He serves as the editor of the Technology eReport and the Technology & Practice Guide issues of GPSOLO magazine. He regularly presents at substantive law and technology-oriented programs for lawyers and writes for several legal trade magazines. In addition to being licensed as an attorney in California, Jeffrey has been admitted as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales. He holds faculty positions at California State University of the East Bay and the University of Phoenix. You can contact Jeffrey via e-mail at .

© Copyright 2008, American Bar Association.