The Long, Unwinding Road:
How Mobile Lawyers Survive the Miles

By Ross Kodner and Tom Rowe

 


It’s one thing to talk about the liberating advantages of mobile lawyering and all the gadgets and gizmos that can enable any success-driven lawyer to strive to achieve the 7x24 workweek. Mobile lawyers, equipped with an army of electronics ranging from laptops to PDAs to RIM pagers, smartphones, pagers, and the inevitable Jabra headset, are increasingly more apparent in courthouses, in airport lounges, and at the table next you at Starbucks. However, although that side of wireless networking with the double-shot, extra foam, skim caramel macchiato might look glamorous, real legal road warriors know the appearance is all just a fantasy.

For those who are the perennial earners of their preferred airlines highest elite status levels, it’s well understood that life on the road, away from home, family, consistent broadband Net connections, and something other than half bags of airline peanuts is rough. Really rough, actually.

So we felt it was time to expose the truth about the rigors of legal life on the road, from our perspective, two consultants whose travels and client projects have us crisscrossing the continent and the globe, earning more frequent flier miles than any reasonable people could use in a lifetime. This is all about our quest for quality of life on the road—being a platinum elite traveler and somehow managing to have a life in the process.

Both of us are “recovering lawyers” turned legal technology consultants. Our practices literally take us weekly, if not sometimes daily, to the far corners of North America and sometimes beyond. We probably spend more time in airport lounges than we do in our own homes. Our quest is to seek some sense of comfort, some way to have a semblance of a life while on the road. We have learned, after hundreds of thousands of flight miles of experience, that there are a collection of gadgets and tips that can really help inject desirability back into the wandering life of the legal road warrior.

What follows are some of these tools and tips. Collectively, these digital versions of Prozac help us keep our sanity, not to mention that “can do” demeanor that makes for a successful legal technology consultant.

Tom’s Sanity Maintenance Tools and Tips

Creative Nomad Jukebox. This device holds 20 gigabytes of MP3s. I use this to keep annoying people from talking to me on planes. I know that a 43-year-old looks goofy with a set of earphones on, but it is a lifesaver. I often felt I had a sign on my forehead that said, “Hi, please tell me all about you and your family because I care.” Now it says, “Hey, I’m a rad 43-year-old jamming to the Barry Manilow. Leave me alone.” Just kidding about the Barry Manilow (kind of). Check out the Nomad in its various iterations at www.americas.creative.com/products/category.asp?category=2&maincategory=2.

Sony SRS-T77 speakers. The perfect companion for the Jukebox. I am cranking “Angry” by Matchbox Twenty through this remarkable device as I type in Oklahoma City. Weighs about 8 ounces, and is the size of two CD jewel cases stacked on top of one another. I can listen to my tunes in my hotel room and not look goofy. These are a bit tough to find, but a trip to Sony’s website should turn help you strike sonic gold ( www.sonystyle.com/is-bin/INTERSHOP.enfinity/eCS/Store/-/-/-/SY_DisplayProductInformation-Start?ProductSKU=SRST77&CategoryName=acc_PersonalSpeakers).

Toshiba Portege 2000s. I use a portable training lab that has eight of these. These laptops weigh 2.8 pounds and are about 3/4 of an inch thick. I think I’ve heard Ross refer to them as “svelte.” They sport power-frugal Intel Pentium III 750 mobile processors with built-in WiFi 802.11b wireless Ethernet networking. Very cool and light, which is especially important when you are lugging eight of them in a portable vault around the country. Although I use a heavier Dell Inspiron 4150 for my production laptop, if I don’t need the extra power, carrying the Portege 2000 is a dream.

Getting data back and forth between the eight laptops in my mobile training lab was all the incentive I needed to look into all the new devices to transfer data quickly, cheaply, and above all, easily. Because the Toshiba Porteges didn’t have internal CD-ROM drives, I had to look for alternatives. I started with a 5 gigabyte PC Card hard drive that I got for about $200 (both Toshiba and Kingston Technologies offer these devices). Can you believe that? Five gigs on a Type II PC Card crammed into all of about a 1/16 of an inch of thickness, and for just $200. The PC Card hard drive is great for installs and larger data transfer needs. Then I got a 256 meg USB Flash Drive . This is one of those USB devices that is about the size of a set of nail clippers, and holds 256 megs of RAM. For WinME and above, you simply pop it onto the USB port and it gets registered as a “Drive” in “My Computer” in a couple seconds. Then you can you can copy data to and from it as you would with any hard drive, CD, or floppy disk. I had problems with the first two I bought: I went mail-order and cheap, and paid for it. On my third attempt I took my laptop to CompUSA and told them I wasn’t leaving until they gave me one that I could see worked. Turns out their store brand at about $149 works great. Finally, the Porteges have an SD (secure digital) card slot that can handle up to 512 meg SD Cards . I have one of these chips to exchange data between them if needed. It amazes me to see the large amount of data that you can store on a device that is literally the size of a quarter.

For mouse control in tight spaces, I have a wired Atek optical mouse that is about the size of a small cigarette lighter. I tried some wireless mice, but I found myself in too many situations where I was getting interference and erratic operation. I do carry a Targus wireless, optical mouse that is great when it works. Being untethered is nice. I only wish I could always rely on it.

On the projector front, I was pleasantly surprised at the quality you can get for such a good price. I decided to go with a BenQ LPD projecto r that weighs about 3.8 pounds, resolution of 1024 x 768, 1100 lumens, and a crystal-clear display image. They had a promotion for a free second lamp (a $400 value), and I paid about $2,400 for the projector. Just a few years ago, that powerful a projector would have cost thousands more and would have weighed more than double the BenQ’s payload. BenQ, I believe is what used to be Acer’s projection division, renamed or spun off.

When it comes to carrying all this gear around, I insist on wheels. For too long I tilted to the left for a few days after returning from a trip. With the amount of gear that I carry, the shoulder pain was simply too much to not go with wheeled bags. My mainstay over the past few years was a Targus bag that looked much like the ubiquitous wheeled carry-on suitcases so many travelers have these days. The problem was that it didn’t fit under an airplane seat. This meant that I had to try to get on the plane as early as possible to make sure I had room for my bag. Gate checking your computer because there is no more room in the overhead bin is maddening. Because I like to be the last person on the plane, I recently switched to a couple briefcase sized rolling laptop bags . When I need to carry a laptop and a projector, I use a Samsonite wheeled bag that has room for a laptop, projector, and all the accessories one needs for a day’s presentation. For some reason you can’t find it on the Samsonite website, but a Google search for “Samsonite 931175’ will find plenty of vendors who sell this outstanding bag. I have seen more people dragging this bag around airports than any other computer bag. If I am feeling a little stylish, I’m pulling my U.S. Luggage bag. This leather bag comes in tan, which takes some of the “geek” out of dragging a laptop around an airport, and can accommodate the amount of gear that most road warriors need. It truly stands out from all the other black corduroy bags that I see. Dozens of people have asked me where I got it. Details can be found at www.usluggage.com/product/D529.htm.

Now, if only Verizon would release the new Kyocera 7135 SmartPhone , I will have all the toys I
want, er, need, for at least the next few weeks.

Ross’s Mobile Quality of Life Gadgets and Tips
I have the same kind of SD card slot in my Toshiba Satellite Pro 6100 laptop. Note that it is not MMC (multimedia card)-compatible as some SD card slots are. I use mine constantly—for “spot backup” on one SD card, and on another, my photo album. I find this the perfect digital alternative to frayed family pics in the wallet. On a third SD card, I keep my MP3 files. I’ve been around this stuff for almost 25 years now, and I still have to say that every time I look at one of the little postage stamp-sized SD cards, I shake my head in amazement of this technomagic. eCost.com and TigerDirect.com seem to always have the best prices on CompactFlash and SD cards . Last I saw they had 128 meg SD cards for about $35 (major brand name SanDisk cards).

As for the USB flash drive arena (I’ve been mildly obsessed by these, in the quest for the most interesting ones for the gadget programs I do, as well as the best approach to quick transfer of patch files, update software, and so forth to and from client systems): one standout is the ThumbDrive Secure from Trek ( www.thumbdrive.com/secure.htm). They also have a model called the ThumbDrive Touch that goes the next level in security, using a biometric thumbprint pad built in, which is very cool ( www.thumbdrive.com/prd_info.htm). The appeal of these is that anything stored on them is automatically encrypted and requires a password for access. This is a good option for sensitive stuff like employee reviews and so forth. Next, and my current favorite, is the Kanguru MicroDrive + from Interactive Media at www.kanguru.com/microdriveplus.html. (These are the people who have long made those Kanguru removable hard drive systems you see all the time in the TigerDirect catalog.) What’s cool about the MicroDrive is that in addition to the built-in memory (either 32, 64,128, or 256 meg), there’s an SD card slot on it so you can plug in up to another 256 meg. I don’t really need it since I have an SD card slot built into my laptop, but actual objectively defined “need” has never been a factor that’s discouraged me from buying gadgets.

As for MP3s, I generally listen to them from my laptop, because when I’m flying the laptop is usually open and on anyway. For headphones, though, I went dual-purpose with a set of Sony’s folding active noise-canceling phones . Normally, they’re just a nice pair of great-sounding folding headphones. But flip the little switch, and like those high-priced $300 Bose units, they send an active noise-canceling signal that effectively cancels out that unbelievably irritating and subtly mentally draining drone of airplane engines (and also screaming infants, droning seatmates, and so forth). These are under $80: info at http://tinyurl.com/4953 (and if you haven’t checked out www.TinyURL.com, do so: I use it virtually every day to shorten those absurd 900 character long URLs often generated by product vendor web pages. Thanks to David Whelan, Director of the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center for this web tip).

As for MP3 players themselves, I think the Creative Nomad and iPod are cool, but I tend to like my gadgets really small. The ones I’m enamored with right now are the iRiver IFP series , the Creative Labs Muvo products and my latest discovery, a 4-in-1 convergent musical wonder. All three have similar form. The best way to describe them is to say they’re sized and roughly shaped like a tube of lipstick. The former is impressive because it’s so well-built and has a great little “joystick” to navigate its LCD display. The Muvo is cool because it also doubles as a USB flash drive—dual purpose (Kanguru makes a similar MP3/USB flash drive unit, but I’ve not tested it hands on yet). It has much smaller capacity than the models with hard drives, but it is much smaller, lighter, and cheaper too, which I think are viable trade offs. iRiver’s slim IFP series has several models with varying capacities that run from about $80 and up. But my top award for the coolest gadget, at least for the next 10 minutes until something more interesting comes along, is the ## 4-in-1 device . Crammed into the same lipstick-tube-sized form factor is a wonder in modern technopackaging, the unit is a 128 MB USB flash drive, an MP3 player, a digital voice recorder, and, as if that weren’t enough for a sub-2oz. gadget, it is also a laser pointer. But that’s not the end of the magic of this device—it was only $79 from www.CompGeeks.com. In fact, as I write this, I’m listening to an MP3 of The Celtic Bagpipes playing “Scotland the Brave.” Don’t think too much about this—just go and get any one of these!

Of course my trusty old Kyocera 6035 Smartphone is my digital safety blanket. It’s become the electronic equivalent of comfort food for me. I can’t imagine going anywhere (even out to the garage) without it. It’s now about 14 months old and showing the signs of intensive use, but I’ve begun to think of its scratches, bruises, little plastic chips missing from multiple drops, as sort of a comforting “digital patina.” Certainly, however, the moment Verizon has the new Kyocera 7135 Smartphone available in my area (and as of this writing, Verizon has begun to rollout the 7135 in the Midatlantic states), the 6035 gets trickled down. I sync my Smartphone with my laptop via the Toshiba’s IR port so all I need when I travel is Kyocera’s AC travel charger, which is pretty small and light: no cable requirement is always a good thing.

Other necessary gadgets on the road for me are:
The mobile version of the Paper LESS Office: Visioneer’s latest Strobe XP100 scanner . It’s their new, superlight USB scanner (about 12 oz and . . . drum roll please . . . no power brick!) Instead of a brick, it draws its power directly from the laptop’s USB port. The Strobe XP100 comes bundled with the current PaperPort 8 and Textbridge software. This smaller, lighter scanner has replaced the slower Antec Attache I had been using in my portable iteration of the Paper LESS Office ( www.visioneer.com).

I’m also now experimenting with Targus MiniUSB Business Card Scanner . This is a purpose-built scanner focused on one role: scanning business cards, recognizing the text on them, and organizing them. I had a Corex Cardscan Executive 600 at one point, but it needed an AC adapter—the road warrior’s kiss of death. The Targus is much smaller at about 6 oz. and is USB powered—not color, but I don’t think I mind. It’s also much cheaper than the Cardscan at under $130. Sure, I could scan my business cards with the Strobe XP100. So why do I bother with this dedicated business card scanner? Why not? It’s really cool.

The next group of gadgets have also become “essential” to me these days:
Kensington’s FlyFan . Part of Kensington’s “Fly” series of USB accessories that started with the FlyLight, this is a small, virtually silent, and surprisingly powerful fan that is at the end of a flexible metal stalk that plugs into the USB port and is powered by it as well. The FlyFan directs a really pleasant flow of air wherever you point it. It achieved lifesaver status during last summer’s heat. Under $25, although I recently purchased another one at an Office Depot for $5 courtesy of a $20 instant checkout rebate!

SIIG USB 2.0 4-port USB mini-hub. There is a dizzying array of small USB hubs available that give you extra USB ports. However, this one is the most road warrior-friendly of any I’ve encountered. Why? Because its form factor lets it slide into an unused stacked pair of my laptop’s Type II PC Card Type slots when not in use. This is, bar none, the best way not to ensure that it doesn’t get lost in the dark depths of my laptop bag. I love this thing and use it constantly to enable all the various USB gizmos I carry around. I stumbled across it at a Fry’s expedition on my last Left Coast trip for about $40 ( www.siig.com/products/usb/features/USB2_MobileHub.html).

SmartDisk Firelite 30 Gig portable FireWire hard drive, Second Copy software, and SIIG PC Card dual Firewire adapter. This is my mobile full-drive data backup system. The drive is lightning fast and weighs only about 12 ounces. Because it’s Firewire, though, it does need a little AC adapter. My understanding is that there is just not enough juice available through the typical laptop PC Card slot to run Firewire devices. I consider that a minor inconvenience compared to all the advantages of this particular system backup approach. SecondCopy backs up and then keeps me backed up in real-time, which is a great value for under $30 ( www.smartdisk.com, www.siig.com, and www.secondcopy.com).

I still carry all the basics, including a digital/analog modem line tester from IBM (about $30, which ensures that I don’t inadvertently plug my modem cable into a high-voltage digital phone line, frying my laptop, and generally ruining my world in the process) and a Belkin 8-foot retractable CAT5 network cable to plug into the increasingly more common high-speed Net access ports in hotel rooms. A WebSpider 20’ retractable modem cable, Swiss Army CyberKnife 34 (I suggest packing this with your luggage, not in your laptop bag, unless you’re just spoiling for a full body cavity search at the nearest airport metal detector!), a really little screwdriver set, a small flat roll of duct tape designed just for travelers (actually, I could probably skip everything else and just bring the duct tape), the same Targus cordless optical mouse that Tom uses for when I just don’t feel like using my Toshiba’s pointing stick (which is rare, although for those of you with pointing sticks, I advise when you’re wolfing down lunch in yet another airport greasy spoon, don’t even think of trying to use your pointing stick), all in a nifty padded Travelon bag I found in a San Diego luggage store recently (it’s intended to be a toiletry kit, but it makes the perfect mobile gear bag: www.ebags.com/products/index.cfm?ModelID=952 8&bb_id=c11262&ProductList_20_Link=Details&sub_site_id=20).

Laptop cases, of course, are a subject in and of themselves. I obsessively collect them, in an endless quest for the “perfect” bag. I must have a couple dozen on my basement gadget shelves. At present, I’ve cycled back to my trusty Tumi 2640 SafeCase ( www.luggagepros.com/mpb/ 04007004.shtml for a photo). It’s light, really comfortable with near-perfect weight distribution, holds a ton of stuff, and is built like a tank. It’s available for bout $350 in better luggage stores and web merchants, and it’s still the best case I’ve ever bought. My latest Victorinox WebMobilizer Plus comes in a close second for its superb balance between “brief-style” bag and wheeled carry-on, with the really nifty feature that when the handle is pushed back into the case, the roller-blade wheels actually retract back up into little housings in the case. It runs $425 list, but a little bit of haggling at a luggage store actually yielded a much more reasonable $360 and a free leather luggage tag thrown in. I hate to admit it, but one of the better laptop carrying bags I’ve ever found was a $20 wheeled cordura nylon backpack I found at a Target store. With my laptop safely ensconced in an $80 Victorinox C2 padded suspension system laptop sheath , it doesn’t attract the attention of the laptop thieves I suspect are in every airport.

Cameras travel with me relatively often. I’ve become accustomed to the practice of taking pictures of clients’ offices and even my clients. These digipics are then stored in our office’s Time Matters case management system. My digital choice is a Kodak CX4330 . I bought it for a number of reasons, the most important of which were that it has an SD slot for digital film so I can read the cards in my laptop’s SD slot, it has the best user interface I’ve ever seen on a digicam, and finally, the Kodak one-touch docking/hot-syncing function that we use in the office. The fact that it also has a great glass lens, and that it’s a 3.1 Megapixel camera for under $300 that feels good in the hand didn’t hurt either. I also carry Leica’s first APS point-and-shoot model because sometimes I just like real analog pictures (especially black-and-white, now that it’s available in the super-convenient APS format). Both pack in the same CaseLogic case.

So the bottom line is that while the road might be a strenuous, stressful, and often lonely place for legal road warriors, you can leverage your interests in technology to improve the quality of your life, and turn the road once again into a pleasant adventure. Let us know how you find some peace on the road: we’re interested in hearing.


Tom Rowe is a lawyer and the founding principal of Practice Management Partners, Inc. in Cary, North Carolina, where he devotes his time assisting law firms and legal departments in the implementation of the Time Matters case management system. Tom is the former vice-president of sales for Data.TXT, Inc., the publishers of Time Matters case management software. He can be reached at tomrowe@pmpi.us.

Ross Kodner is also a lawyer and founder/president of MicroLaw, Inc. in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Ross spends his time consulting with law firms and legal departments continent-wide assisting them in integrating technology into their practices. He is also the developer of the widely known Paper LESS Office‘ process. Ross can be reached at rkodner@microlaw.com.

Both Ross and Tom are frequent speakers and authors on legal technology topics and both also happen to be recipients of the lifetime achievement award from the Technolawyer Community: the Technolawyer Legal Technology Consultant of the Year (Ross in 1999, Tom in 2000).
 

Back to Top

< /