ROAD WARRIOR: Getting Started with Mobile Technology

Vol. 31 No. 1

By

Jeffrey Allen (jallenlawtek@aol.com, www.jallenlawtekblog.com) is the principal in the law firm of Graves & Allen in Oakland, California, Editor-in-Chief of GPSolo magazine and GPSolo eReport, and a member of the Board of Editors of the ABA Journal and Experience magazine.

As we have devoted this issue of GPSolo to getting started and setting up your office, it seems only fitting that the “Road Warrior” column should focus on getting yourself set up as a mobile lawyer. Initially, I want to dispel the misconception that many attorneys have about mobile lawyering. Back in the day, “mobile lawyer” referred to a relatively small percentage of attorneys who dared to endeavor to do work outside of their office, despite the handicaps associated with such an effort. Today, most attorneys will, at times, practice outside of their office environment. Even those who do not think of themselves as working outside of the office nevertheless talk to their clients on cell phones and read and respond to e-mail on smartphones or tablets. To the extent that they practice out of their office, such attorneys have mobile aspects to their practice and benefit from the use of mobile technology.

Practice outside of the normal office environment poses many challenges to attorneys, but modern technology continues to evolve to create greater levels of support for this practice. This article will not endeavor to deal with all aspects of mobile technology for attorneys. Rather, it will focus on the basic tools you will want to explore in setting up your office (or in making yourself more efficient on the road). For those of you interested in a more detailed examination of mobile technology for attorneys, I will reprise in an upcoming issue a piece that I wrote some time ago and update every several years to reflect changing technology. That column will explore the mobile lawyer’s tool kit and deal with serious road warrior activity.

Smartphones

You likely already have the first tool you need for mobile lawyering. It all starts with a smartphone. Every attorney should have one these days. When it comes to smartphones, you have many choices. The universe of smartphones changes regularly, but the reality is that most of us can get by just fine with last year’s model (although many of us prefer not to do that). Historically, the wireless phone providers set up their discount system to tie people into two-year contracts whenever possible, banking on the fact that most people would want to turn their phones over every other year to avail themselves of the newest features. More recently, wireless providers have moved to alternative structures, allowing people to get a new phone every year, without the discounted purchase price up front. These arrangements tend to make the phones cost more, as the companies do not subsidize the purchase of the hardware. You can do the math and decide whether you want to go with a new phone every two years or every year. Some people hold on to their phones for three or four years, making the annual cost of ownership even less. Although there is nothing wrong with this approach in theory, it is a fact that the older the hardware, the less satisfactorily it performs as a general rule. This results from changes in operating systems and the evolution of applications (those programs that make smartphones really smart) to meet the requirements and take advantage of the features of the newer and generally more powerful hardware and the upgraded operating systems.

When it comes to selecting a smartphone, you have a few basic choices to make that will dictate what hardware you can select. First and most importantly, you need to select a provider. Wireless providers are not created equal. They each have strengths and weaknesses (notwithstanding what they say in their ads). You will want the provider that works best where you normally use your phone. If there are two (or more) providers that work equally well, as there are in some large urban areas, then, lucky you, you get more choices.

Once you have selected your provider, you need to decide whether you want to get an iOS (Apple iPhone) device, an Android phone, a BlackBerry, or a Windows phone. There are still a few other available operating systems, but you probably do not want to deal with them. Although BlackBerry ruled the roost for many years and was the “go-to” system in most law offices, that world has changed, and BlackBerry has taken a back seat to both the iOS and the Android systems. Despite Microsoft’s involvement and the popularity of the Windows system on computers, the Windows Mobile OS has never achieved a high level of popularity in the world of smartphones. The newest iteration, the Windows Phone 8, has not proven significantly more popular than its predecessors. For some perspective on the popularity of mobile phone operating systems, consider:

The selection of the operating system has ramifications beyond just the phone you use. It will affect the interaction of your devices and the movement of your information among the devices. It may also impact the choices you make respecting other devices and systems as well. Although this column does not have space for a full review of each operating system, I will share with you that I prefer the iOS, with Android a pretty close second. BlackBerry’s new OS comes in third, and Windows trails the pack. The most significant factor in my preference for the iOS is the iTunes App Store (apple.com/itunes) and the amazing collection of software applications (apps) it offers. The Google Play Store (play.google.com; Android’s equivalent to the App Store) has grown dramatically in scope recently, but it still trails far behind. BlackBerry and Windows have far less available functionality than Android or iOS devices.

One thing you should note about the Android system: The most current iteration goes by the appellation “Jelly Bean.” Many Android devices come with older Android operating system versions. I like Jelly Bean the best. Earlier systems work well, but you will not get the most current feature set without Jelly Bean, and you cannot always successfully upgrade Android devices purchased with earlier systems to the most recent iteration of Android. You should also be aware that many providers modify the Android OS to work with their devices in different ways. Samsung is one of those that does, and if you get a Samsung device running Jelly Bean, it will run the Samsung version of Jelly Bean, not a pure, unadulterated version. As Samsung has done a good job with its modifications, I have no issue with it, but I did want to make sure you knew about it.

Because we use multiple devices to control, access, and use our data, the programs/applications you prefer to use for mail, calendaring, and contact management will also impact the decisions you make regarding an operating system. All the systems are (nominally) platform agnostic when it comes to computers, but in my experience iOS works best with Apple’s OS X desktop system, Windows Mobile 8 works best with the desktop Windows system, Android systems work well with OS X but better with Windows, and BlackBerry works okay with Apple but noticeably better with Windows.

Once you have chosen the operating system, you need to select your smartphone. You have a large number of phones available to you, but your choice of provider and operating system will help reduce the number of choices. I do not have space to provide a full review of various models in this column. I intend to provide those in future issues of the GPSolo eReport. To provide you with some guidance, I will share with you that when it comes to the iOS, I prefer the new iPhone 5s (apple.com) to the other options. With respect to the Android OS, my first choice is Samsung’s Galaxy S4 (samsung.com), followed by the Samsung Note II. On the BlackBerry OS, I would opt for the Z10 or the Q10 (us.blackberry.com). If you opt for Windows 8, look at the Nokia Lumia 920 on AT&T or the 928 on Verizon (nokia.com). All the phones I have identified are at or near the top of the line. Fortunately, you have financing and subsidized purchase options for most if not all the phones, as long as you are willing to get a phone restricted to a particular carrier and a one- or two-year contract. If you find yourself on a budget that precludes a top-of-the-line phone, you can get by just fine with a lesser phone (for example, the iPhone 5c or the Samsung Galaxy S3) that is not the top or current model, but is still available.

Laptop or Tablet or Both?

After you get a smartphone, the next question is whether to get a tablet. Many attorneys have chosen to use the tablet as a primary travel tool instead of a laptop. Others have opted for the laptop. In the best of both worlds, you will have both, but if your budget precludes that, I recommend you go with a lightweight laptop or ultrabook. On the Apple platform, the MacBook Air makes a great choice. On the Windows side, I would opt for the Lenovo ThinkPad X-1 (lenovo.com), although you have a lot of very decent built-for-Windows machines to choose from. Ideally, you will get a computer with an Intel i7 processor and at least 8 GB of RAM. Although other operating systems exist, in my opinion you are best advised to go with Apple’s OS X version 9 (Mavericks) or 8 (Mountain Lion) or, if you opt for Windows, Windows 7. Windows 8 has been reported as stable and it is interesting to play with; I am not, however, yet comfortable with it in a business environment.

If you pick Apple’s OS X, you must choose Apple hardware, as no other hardware will run it. If you choose Windows, you can run it on a variety of hardware from multiple suppliers, including Apple. The Apple Macintosh computers will allow you to run the Mac OS, Windows, or both at the same time. If price is a consideration, you can save a little money by getting an Intel i5 processor or a lesser computer on the Windows platform. In making your choice of operating systems, consider the software you need or want to run. Some programs will run only on the Mac, others only on Windows, others on both, and yet others come over the Internet as “Software as a Service” (SaaS) offerings. SaaS generally comes in subscription form and works through a browser. Most SaaS software works on both the Apple and the Windows OS.

If budget constraints preclude having two computers, you can use a laptop as your primary computer, but you will probably want to get a larger external monitor for your desktop if you do; larger monitors make it easier and more comfortable for most of us to work on the computer for long time periods. If you opt for a single laptop doing double-duty, you will want to make some compromises. You will want a laptop with more power than most ultrabooks. That will mean you have a larger and heavier computer for travel. You will want a larger hard disk for the office and more ports than most ultrabooks have for USB and other connections. Having two computers provides many advantages, so if you can afford to do it, you should. That way, you can stay with the lighter and smaller laptop as a second computer and get a larger and more powerful desktop as your primary computer. The main advantages of this approach are that you get to travel with the lighter computer and you have an immediate backup to keep your office running if your primary computer fails for any reason.

If your budget allows, think about getting a tablet in addition to a laptop. The tablet has advantages over both smartphones and laptops, but it is not quite as flexible as a laptop, which is why I recommended the laptop if you could get only one. Most tablets have a 7” to 8” or a 9” to 10” form factor. They offer lightweight and extremely powerful options for work and recreation at home, work, or on the road. Most tablets work on a version of the Android operating system or Apple’s iOS, although Microsoft has also joined the party with an array of Windows-based tablets. The iOS devices all come from Apple. Android tablets, like smartphones, come from many manufacturers, with Samsung accounting for the biggest share. When it comes to tablets, Apple still dominates the market with its iPad and iPad mini. According to a report from International Data Corporation (IDC; May 1, 2013, tinyurl.com/d7d3tux), Apple has about 40 percent of the market; the Samsung tablet family runs a distant second (just under 18 percent) with its various Android OS tablet offerings.

As with smartphones, I prefer the iOS to the Android systems for tablets and, again, largely owing to the apps available to the tablet user on the various platforms. Apple’s new iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina display are my present tablets of choice. I have little familiarity with the Windows tablets and won’t comment on them other than to say that they have had a relatively small impact on tablet sales (1.8 percent, according to the report from IDC).

Scanners

You will want a scanner to facilitate your mobility, as it allows you to convert large and heavy paper files into weightless electronic ones that you can easily carry on your laptop or an external hard drive or thumb drive or store in the cloud for ready access on the road. For most offices a Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 (fujitsu.com/us) makes an excellent choice as it takes up relatively little space, has proven reliable, scans relatively quickly (25 pages per minute), works well with both Apple’s OS X and Windows computers, and has a good collection of features (including a 50-sheet automatic document feeder, the ability to scan both sides of a two-sided document concurrently, and wireless connectivity). Fujitsu makes other very good scanners in the ScanSnap line, including some very portable ones, if you find it necessary or desirable to carry one with you. Other manufacturers also make very good scanners for you to consider.

Projectors

The next piece of basic equipment for you to consider is a projector, which you can use for presentations in arbitrations, mediations, or trials. If you do not do those things in your normal practice, you probably don’t need a projector. If you do, you will want to have your own. Projectors have become smaller, lighter, more powerful, and less expensive in the last ten years. You will want a projector with at least 2,000 lumens and preferably 3,000 lumens (if you are going to use it in court, you will need 3,000). Lumens represent the brightness of the projector. The number of lumens translates into how easily the viewer can see the image in a larger and brighter room. You can find a number of lightweight (five pounds or less) 2,000–3,000 lumen projectors in the range of $1,200 to $1,500. I am particularly partial to the Casio slim line of projectors (casioprojector.com): XJ-A241/246 (2,500 lumens) or XJ-A251/256 (3,000 lumens).

Printers

In times gone by many mobile attorneys (including yours truly) carried a mobile printer with them on the road. Most of us have stopped doing that, as it has proven unnecessary more recently. It has become very easy to transfer a file to someone else’s computer for printing or to use a printer in someone else’s office, in a hotel business center, or at one of the many office service companies. I have not carried a printer with me for at least the last ten years and have only occasionally found it more than a minor inconvenience. If you decide you want one, check out the offerings from Canon (usa.canon.com) and HP (hp.com).

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