Mobile PhonesMost of us use some form of cell phone. The current generation of smart phones contains feature sets that make them obvious choices for attorneys. Smart phone model availability varies among the providers. As you will want a provider with good coverage in the areas you anticipate using the phone, especially your home area, your choice of provider will dictate your equipment options. If you travel extensively into areas where different providers have better coverage, you may even want to consider a second phone from a different provider to ensure that you have coverage in the areas you travel. Smart phones generally offer most, if not all, of the following features in addition to basic telephony: Internet access, e-mail, still photography, video photography, calendar and contact information, the ability to play music, and a variety of productivity applications. I am very partial to Apple’s iPhone. If you are dedicated to the BlackBerry and want to stay with it, look at the Torch, Storm, and Bold (in that order), depending on the carrier you work with. The old “new kid on the block” is the Android operating system, which has moved up in the ranks very quickly. Many manufacturers have created Android-based phones, and all major carriers have Android phones available. If you want an Android phone, look at the Motorola Droid X or Droid 2, the Samsung Epic 4G, and the HTC Incredible. Microsoft has recently released a new operating system for smart phones, and some manufacturers have produced phones that run on it. There are other operating systems around, but they do not have the support or the richness in features and available applications of Apple’s iOS, the Android OS, or the BlackBerry OS; for that reason, I do not encourage you to use them. The Android system has caught on very fast. I am very partial to the Apple iOS and the Android OS and prefer both of them (in that order) to the BlackBerry OS.
Slates and NetbooksSlates and netbooks are closely related in terms of functionality, although netbooks will generally give you a better platform for word processing and lightweight computer tasks than slates. Slates, on the other hand, generally weigh less, offer more versatility in terms of what they can do, and will do most of the things that netbooks can do at least as well as a netbook can do them. The netbooks offer built-in physical keyboards and generally cost less than the slates. Conversely, they weigh more and are less convenient to use than a slate for most things other than word processing. You have a choice of any number of netbooks that you can get for under $500. Most have 10” displays, full keyboards, WiFi connectivity, and USB ports. Some also have Ethernet ports and internal optical drives, although many have cut the optical drives out of the mix to save on size and weight and keep the price down. If you buy a netbook without an internal optical drive, you will want to buy an external optical drive to use with it. Most netbooks use versions of Windows software (either XP or Windows 7). Check out the software you want to run, as some software has hardware requirements that prevent it from working on a netbook.You undoubtedly know of the amazing success Apple has had with its iPad. Apple has now released the iPad 2, upgrading the processor and adding cameras to the iPad platform. Other manufacturers also have announced a number of new slate products, many of which have already reached the marketplace. The best known of the competitors is the Samsung Galaxy Tab. Some of the other options are smaller than the iPad, lighter than the iPad, or less expensive than the iPad. None compete successfully with the iPad in my opinion, as they do not offer the combination of feature, performance, and available functions, applications, and media that the iPad does. Most of the slates have the ability to connect to an external physical keyboard, but that adds some weight to the package. For example, you can get any number of cases for the iPad with a built-in Bluetooth keyboard, but by the time you put the iPad in the case, you end up carrying a package about as heavy as most netbooks. I’d rather just stick with the iPad, carrying it by itself most of the time and adding a Bluetooth keyboard when necessary. I generally take one with me. I prefer it over my iPhone for most applications, owing to the size of the screen, which makes it much easier to read.
LaptopsIf you choose to use a laptop (other than a netbook), you will need to decide on the balance of size, weight, power, features, cost, and platform that works best for you. For those of you who prefer the Windows platform, the list of well-known and reliable manufacturers of built-for-Windows hardware includes: Lenovo, Sony, Fujitsu, Asus, Toshiba, and Dell. For those who prefer the Mac, Apple’s 13” MacBook Air offers an excellent combination of light weight, reasonable size, and acceptable power. The 13” MacBook Pro weighs in at a little more than its cousin the MacBook Air, but you get a chunk more power for the extra weight. Apple has just upgraded the 13” MacBook Pro, making it available with an Intel Core i7 processor.If you want or need more power than the lightweight computers offer, you can opt for a heavier, but more powerful, laptop (in the 5-pound to 7-pound range). This class of computers generally comes with faster processors (the Intel i7 has found its way into more and more of them), larger screens (14”–15.2”), larger hard disks, and more built-in features. While any of the laptops can function as a desktop replacement, the class of computers usually referred to as “desktop replacement” weighs in at the 7-pound to 9-pound range and often come with high-resolution 17” screens. All the manufacturers referenced above also offer laptops in both of these classes.Whatever computer(s) you choose, expect that they will have USB 2.0 or 3.0 ports (3.0 provides much faster speeds than 2.0 but has only recently started showing up in computer specifications). You will also want the ability to connect to networks both through hard-wired Ethernet and WiFi (802.11n). Most laptops (all but the ultra-lights) will come with internal DVD-capable optical drives. Some of the ultra-lights give up the internal optical drive to allow the lighter weight and smaller configuration. If you go that route, you should plan to get an external drive to enable easy loading of software and transfer of data as well as the ability to read and play CD and DVD disks. The external drive should cost you less than $100.I have preferred the Apple Macintosh computers and the Mac OS for some time. If you practice as a solo or in a small firm, I particularly recommend you explore the Mac, as it runs with fewer problems, and the Mac OS X has greater stability than any other option I have found. As a result, you can run a Mac-based office without an IT department or, in many cases, with little or no outside consultant help. If you have programs that you absolutely must run in your practice that only work on Windows, that still presents no problem: Ever since Apple switched to Intel processors, Macintosh computers have had the ability to run Windows and Windows-based software as well or better than most built-for-Windows computers.If you want to use the Windows OS, I recommend that you go to Windows 7. Windows Vista and XP both remain viable options, but Windows 7 presents a better collection of features, power, and efficiency in a relatively stable environment. Vista tends to demand too many resources and XP has simply gotten old, while Windows 7 offers more user-friendly features. You can run Windows directly on a MacBook Pro or indirectly through the use of virtual computers running the Windows OS under the Mac OS. You can generally get a built-for-Windows laptop that cannot run the Mac OS X or Mac software for less money than the Mac computers.If you plan to use one of the smaller and lighter computers for mobility and also in your office as a desktop replacement, you will want to supplement it with a larger LCD monitor and a separate keyboard. Note that the smaller and lighter computers generally use lower-powered chips, trading power and speed for extended battery life. You may want a faster and more powerful CPU for desktop use. If you plan on getting a laptop computer that 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.
Backup/Storage/MemoryLaptop 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 1.5 terabytes, or TB), high-speed hard disks that you can make bootable provide excellent backup. You can find many sources for such drives operating on FireWire, USB 2.0, and now USB 3.0. Western Digital and Seagate are among the most popular, and you can find both at reasonable prices online or at places such as Costco. The last time I was at Costco, I found a 1 TB pocket-sized Western Digital USB 2.0 drive for $99 and a 1.5 TB USB 3.0 for $119.Small USB flash memory drives represent another good way to maintain a physical backup of critical data. Prices for up to 32 GB have become very reasonable. The 64 GB drives remain a bit pricey but have come down of late. The 128 GB drives (the largest I have seen in stores) remain very expensive, but the 64 GB and the 128 GB drives should drop in price when the 256 GB drives become readily available. Flash memory drives have no moving parts, require no energy to retain memory, and resist damage very well. Use them to back up critical data or for simple convenience. I have a very small USB flash drive that lives on my key chain, weighs next to nothing, and holds 8 GB of data. I just bought a 16 GB version of the same drive that is only about 15 percent larger physically than the 8 GB version. These drives work quite well for transferring data from one computer to another or getting a copy of a file from a colleague quickly and easily.
I strongly recommend that you carry one with you.No matter what else you do for backup, if you are using multiple computers, traveling internationally, or just want an additional backup for safety, consider using an online backup service. Many of these services also allow you to transfer data files too large for e-mail as well as to store data. I have found Dropbox an excellent choice. It allows me to store files, transfer them from one computer to another, and to share selected files with specifically identified individuals. You can get a free account with 2 GB of storage capacity and try out the program. If 2 GB satisfies your needs, you don’t need to pay for the service. If not, you can get a 50 GB or a 100 GB account for a fee of $9.99 and $19.99 per month, respectively (discounted if you buy it a year at a time).
ScannersHaving a scanner in your office greatly facilitates your mobility. It can easily and quickly convert paper documents into electronic files that you can load into your computers, slates, even many smart phones for review or use on the road. Although generally you will want a desktop (or larger) scanner for your office, and so will not be able to carry it out of the office in your mobility kit, such a scanner remains an important part of the mobility tool collection as it makes you more mobile by feeding content into the tools that do go on the road with you. You will want a scanner with an automatic document feeder capable of handling a reasonable quantity of documents. If you have a small office or want a scanner for your home office, check out the Fujitsu ScanSnap line. Their S1500 (S1500M for the Macintosh) works well and represents a great buy. I use it as a desktop scanner in my home office, and I used its predecessor versions at my law office for some time, until I got a more powerful scanner to accommodate our increasing needs for scanning in the office.Depending on what you are doing, you may want to take a scanner with you on the road. You can find good portable scanners that take up little space and pack well. Fujitsu’s new ScanSnap S1100 gives you a small scanner suitable for travel or use in a courtroom or at an arbitration or a deposition. You can get even smaller handheld manual scanners that travel lighter than the S1100. They are suitable for very light scanning on the go, but not much else. I have found, however, that it is even easier to use one of the scanning apps in my iPhone for the same purpose as a handheld scanner.
Internet AccessThe Internet provides us with means of exchanging e-mail and other forms of communications. It also serves as the primary venue for legal research available to attorneys today. For that reason, any laptop we take on the road needs to have Internet connectivity. Most laptops will allow Internet access via a hard-wired Ethernet or a WiFi connection or both. Both of these options represent a limitation that requires you to have a physical connection or a WiFi hot spot available.You can escape this limitation via cellular broadband connectivity for your mobility devices. All the major providers have cellular modems for computers or cellular-based WiFi hot spots/routers to provide cellular access to WiFi-enabled devices or both. Some of the newest laptops have this capability built in. If you use more than one laptop, however, I recommend that you choose an add-on cellular modem or hot spot instead of the built-in version because you can move the modem from one laptop to another, allowing them all to share the same cellular account. Using built-in cellular requires a separate account (and a separate monthly fee) for each device.If you go with the cellular modem, choose one that connects through USB, as virtually all laptops have USB ports these days. Consider getting a cellular wireless hot spot as some devices do not have a physical Ethernet port and require WiFi to access the Internet. I use a MiFi wireless hot spot; it works very well with all my laptops as well as my iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. I generally get good reception on the Verizon 3G system, which provides speeds roughly equivalent to DSL in most major metropolitan areas. Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and some of the smaller providers have started marketing 4G fairly recently in very limited markets. While none of the so-called 4G systems offer true 4G speed, they do allow faster upload and download times than 3G. It will take several years for the providers to develop 4G networks with coverage comparable to what we currently have with 3G. All of the so-called 4G devices with which I am familiar work with 3G as well, giving you the best of both worlds.
Digital RecordersIf you plan to use a recorder for on-the-go dictation, I strongly recommend that you go with one of the recording devices specifically designed to handle dictation. You could make do with a standard (and much less costly) digital recorder, but I do not recommend that. I find it annoying to use a push-button system for rewinding and correction when dictating. The sliding thumb switch on the built-for-dictation recorders works better and makes these devices worth the extra cost. The top-of-the-line portable dictation devices are so good you can use them in and out of the office, thereby making the expense more easily justified and also making you more efficient as you do not need to change equipment when you leave the office. I especially like the Olympus DS-5000 and have used it for several years. I prefer this device as it works well with both the Mac and the Windows platforms. If you never plan on using a Mac, the Philips LFH 9600 works just as well as the Olympus on the Windows platform. In fact, I find is a little more comfortable to hold than the Olympus. The Philips does not work as well with Macintosh computers—the Macs have a hard time recognizing the Philips when it is connected. I find the Philips works best with the Mac when you remove the media card and use a card reader on the Mac, but even that has not proven completely reliable. Both of these recorders list in the $500 range, but you can generally find them for a bit less online.If you have reason to record depositions or conferences, you can use a dictation device such as the two listed above, but you might prefer to get a second digital recorder specifically designed for such purposes. If so, you will want to look at the following very portable recorders: Marantz PMD620, Olympus DM 4, and Roland R-09HR. None of these are suitable for dictation work, but all are excellent options for recording depositions, meetings, classes, or conferences, and in my opinion they work better for these uses than the recorders designed for dictation (in large part owing to the use of a different microphone system). The Marantz PMD620 costs $379 and the other two about $100 less. The Marantz PMD620 appears to be more of an industrial-strength workhorse than the other two, although the other two have performed very solidly and reliably for me.
ProjectorsProjectors fall into one of two major categories: LCD or DLP. Historically DLP (digital light processing) projectors have drawn less power, taken up less space, run cooler, and cost less, while LCD (liquid crystal display) projectors have offered better color rendition. The development of the DLP projectors caused the LCD projector manufacturers to figure out how to reduce their products’ pricing, size, and weight, thereby reducing the gap. In turn, the DLP projector manufacturers have improved color rendition over the last few years, further reducing the gap in performance. The bottom line is that you should be happy with either, but most of the smaller, lighter, and less expensive projectors use the DLP technology.The better known brands include Canon, HP, Mitsubishi, Casio, Optoma, and InFocus. Casio makes my personal favorite projector and the one that lives in my collection, the XJ-A255V. Casio bills its very light and small projectors as ecologically superior, reflecting both features in the name of its “Green Slim” line of DLP projectors. The wireless 3,000-lumen XJ-A255V lists for $1,599.99, weighs 5 pounds, and measures 11.69” x 8.26” x 1.69”. It fits in most computer bags, and you can get it into a larger computer bag with one of the newer, more slender laptop computers. The XJ-A255V also allows you to put your presentation on a USB flash drive and play it directly through the projector without having to go through a computer.Casio has 12 projectors in its Green Slim line, with different feature sets and your choice of 3,000, 2,500, or 2,000 lumens. The list prices range from $799 for the most basic 2,000-lumen projector to $1,599.99 for its top-of-the line XJ-A255V.
Document CamerasDocument cameras go by a number of different names. Some companies refer to them as “presenters.” Many people simply call them “Elmos,” using that brand name to refer generically to document cameras, just as many people use “Kleenex” to refer to tissues, without regard to the brand. Document cameras facilitate the projection of two- and three-dimensional images to a screen in connection with a presentation or at trial. They can be quite handy to have around. They come in a variety of sizes and configurations. You can get small, portable devices that fold up into a compact travel case. You can get larger devices that fold up into a larger briefcase-sized case. You can get them as stand-alones or configured as a part of a projector.Expect to pay $500 and up for a document camera, depending on the configuration and features. Brands to look for include Elmo, Samsung, and Avermedia. If you do trial work, you will want one of these in your collection.
Earphones/HeadsetsYou 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 sound isolation technology will also prove helpful. These devices can work with your computer, iPod or other MP3 player, iPad, or DVD players. Some manufacturers make combination devices that can also serve as telephone headsets. Brands I have tried and like include Bowers & Wilkins (my current favorite for travel is the Bowers & Wilkins P5), Bose, Monster Beats by Dr. Dre, Sony, Shure, and Etymotic.
PrintingIn the past I often traveled with a printer; I rarely travel with a printer 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. In fact, my portable printer is several years old and I have not replaced it (or used it in the last couple of years). 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. I have often found an accommodation in someone else’s office at a deposition or a mediation. So, if I really need to print something, I can easily move the file to a USB flash drive, plug it into one of these computers, print my documents, and leave. Alternatively, I can e-mail the documents to other attorneys who can print them on the printer in their office. If you think, however, that you will need to print and that another printer will not be easily available, you might bring a small portable printer with you. Such printers are available in the $200+ range, and some are quite decent. I am partial to the portable printers offered by Canon and HP.
In the Cloud
Document storage and transfer.I have already told you about Dropbox, one of the best cloud-based storage and transfer tools I have found. You can find a number of similar services available for storage and/or distribution of data, including Box.net, Live Mesh, MobileMe, and Egnyte. Prices and storage amounts vary among the providers.
Calendaring.GoogleCalendars is probably the best known of the cloud calendaring tools, and it connects to a variety of other programs. Apple’s MobileMe also works well, particularly if you have a Mac-based office. Other programs that include calendaring as well as other functions connect via the Internet and can transfer data to your mobile devices. Many case management programs also have the ability to allow online access and/or to sync to many smart phones.
Time and billing.Several cloud-based time and billing systems have come onto the scene in the last few years. The best known appear to be Clio and Rocket Matter. I switched my office to Clio some time ago, and it has proven a reliable tool. I can record my time directly to the Clio database from anywhere I have an Internet connection, even from my iPad or my iPhone. I recently found myself in New York (3,000 miles from my office in California) at the beginning of the month, so I did the billing from New York—and the bills got out the same day. I could never have done that in the old days. Moreover, the billing takes me only a few minutes at the end of each month now.
Word processing.Virtual secretarial services came on the scene some time ago. They have grown much more efficient and easy to use. Using a digital recorder allows me to transfer electronic dictation files to my own office or to a virtual secretarial service for transcription. As the virtual secretarial services often have 24/7 availability and quick turnaround, you can often get documents produced faster through such a service than you could with your own staff. In fact, you may find having a full staff less necessary as a result of using the service (which generally costs less than a full-time secretary).
Videoconferencing.Numerous conferencing applications give you the ability to videoconference on the road. Probably the best known is Skype, but you have a lot of services to choose from. Other inexpensive programs that give you that capability include Yahoo!, iVisit, ooVoo, WebEx, and FaceTime and iChat (both Mac only). Many of the programs cost nothing; some have fees associated with acquisition of the software and/or the conferencing process itself. Most of the programs that have fees allow you to try them out for free. If you only plan to do one-on-one videoconferences, you can get free services from most of the providers. If you want to do multiple-person conferences, you will have to pay for the service. The rates and maximum number of participants vary among providers.
Accessing your office computer.Several programs will let you link directly to your office or home computer over the Internet inexpensively. I use LogMeIn for that purpose. It not only works on laptops, but also on my iPad and my iPhone. Some of the other programs that allow you to remotely access your other computers include GoToMyPC and Back to My Mac.