How to Carry Your Office in the Palm of Your Hand
With the right gear you can fit practically your entire office into the palm of your hand. Most lawyers know what BlackBerrys and equivalent smart phones are, but the vast majority ignores the amazing possibilities inherent in these devices. Most use only the basics that come bundled with the device, such as phone, e-mail, calendar, and contacts. A BlackBerry, though, is really a computer. True, makers don’t provide you with everything you need to really use your smart phone like a PC, but third parties have created amazing applications that can accomplish any task. Here are some pointers on getting what you need.
Tips for getting the right gear. Think of a smart phone as a cell phone that includes the general functions of a personal digital assistant (PDA) for checking e-mail and keeping track of calendars and contact information. The most well known smart phones run operating systems from Palm, Microsoft (Windows Mobile), RIM (BlackBerry), and Apple (for the iPhone). Each device has its pros and cons, so before purchasing one take a few moments to contemplate why you need the device. Will you be using it for web browsing, wireless e-mail, text messaging, document editing, video playing, or something else? Also consider what options it offers in terms of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, keyboard, and memory cards.
You can add storage capacity to most smart phones by inserting a secure digital (SD) memory card. The original, standard SD memory card is about the size of a postage stamp, but today there are miniSD and microSD cards that are as small as a fingernail. These memory cards can store audio, pictures, and documents, which all can be transferred to your desktop computer with a USB memory card reader or moved straight from your smart phone through a USB cable or wirelessly via Bluetooth.
Bluetooth headsets wirelessly “pair” with your smart phone so that you can talk hands-free while you’re moving around your office or elsewhere. They’re also much safer for driving. Double-check to make sure the Bluetooth headset you are buying is compatible with your particular smart phone.
Although most smart phones have tiny keyboards built into the device, it’s tiresome to type lengthy e-mails on them. For greater ease, buy a folding, portable, full-size keyboard that connects wirelessly to your smart phone via Bluetooth or infrared. If everything is set up correctly, you simply unfold the keyboard, prop up your smart phone next to it, and start typing.
Most smart phones drain battery power quickly and require a recharge every night. To reduce the need to recharge, consider purchasing a second battery for your smart phone so you can swap out batteries when necessary. Some smart phones will accept bulkier “extended” batteries that keep the device ticking for a longer time, but you might be better off just purchasing an extra power cable to keep at the office or a car charger for your daily commute. Also consider a USB charger so that you can charge directly from your laptop when a wall outlet is not available.
Tips for successful software selection. Most lawyers have a tough time getting through the day without their critical office software suite—and with the right software, you can have them on your smart phone, too. One good choice for BlackBerry users is the eOffice suite from Dynoplex ( www.dynoplex.com), which allows you to work with a range of document and image formats. It comes bundled with most of Dynoplex’s software for the more-than-reasonable price of $99. It basically recreates the classic Windows Explorer so you can deal with documents and folders. It even permits you to access an online database where you can archive your documents. You also can modify attachments received by e-mail and then return them to the sender with comments and additions.
Remote access to your desktop is a must for the mobile lawyer. There are a range of product options, but if you don’t have the time to learn how to use new software, try Shape Service’s RDM+ ( www.shapeservices.com), a remote-access client that helps you connect to your desktop from your BlackBerry in real time. It has an easy-to-use interface. In fact, if someone is working at your computer while you’re working remotely, you will see what that person does, and vice versa.
Most lawyers still like to dictate documents, either using older tape recorders or newer digital models. If you want to dictate on the road without carrying two or three different machines in your suitcase, try VR+ (also from Shape Services). It transforms your BlackBerry into a digital dictation machine. Simply press the Record button and dictate your letter, then e-mail it to your assistant for transcription (or use one of the many online secretarial services). It is well integrated into the e-mail client, so you can use it to reply to e-mails, too. And voice recognition users out there will be pleased to learn that the recording quality is sufficient for having Dragon NaturallySpeaking ( www.nuance.com) transcribe your recordings in seconds.
It’s very helpful to be able to send and receive faxes via e-mail to your smart phone when you’re out of the office. One option is the online service eFax ( www.efax.com), which is terrific for what it does. A cheaper solution for the BlackBerry, however, is the previously mentioned eOffice, which also offers fax capabilities. By the way, if you have trouble reading documents on your smart phone’s little screen, here’s a tip: Use the fax capabilities to send the document you want to a fax machine near you for a printed copy. Also, scanR ( www.scanr.com) is a nice, free solution for those with a camera on their phone. You simply take a picture, then send it to one of scanR’s e-mail addresses and include the recipient’s fax number in the subject line or body of the message.
If you want to save a few voice minutes and have an unlimited data plan, you should get your hands on mobile VoIP software. There are many solutions out there, geared to different types of mobile handhelds and operating systems. One good choice that works with many of the major devices is iSkoot ( www.iskoot.com). It offers easy access to your Skype account, with most of its features.
Beware the dangers of web-based applications. In the web 2.0 age, there are plenty of free applications to help you when you’re on the road, and many of them work fine with smart phones. However, always read the terms and conditions before using web-based applications—and be particularly cautious when privileged material is involved. Big Brother or someone else could be watching you. For example, Google Mobile offers e-mail, calendar, RSS feeds, search capabilities, and even picture support for smart phones, but remember that the Google servers read everything that goes through your account . . . so be careful.
Now with that said, you’ll find that with the right hardware and software (and a little common sense), it is easy to take your office on the road in the palm of your hand, get some work done, and have some fun—all at the same time.
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- This article is an abridged and edited version of one that originally appeared on page 32 of Law Practice, March 2008 (34:2).
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Brett Burney is the principal of Burney Consultants, providing e-discovery and technology consulting services to legal professionals; he may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Dominic Jaar is a commercial litigator and in-house counsel at Bell Canada, where he is in charge of e-discovery and litigation technologies; he may be reached at email@example.com.