ROAD WARRIOR: Retooling the Mobile Lawyer

Vol. 31 No. 4

By

Jeffrey Allen (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.

A number of years ago I wrote a column about the tool kit I created to facilitate my mobility as an attorney and how I used it—kind of a “let’s unpack the briefcase and see what’s in it” piece. As a result of the positive reception it received and requests that I regularly get from attorneys to provide current information about mobility tools, I have made it a practice to reprise and update the column every several years to reflect the evolution of technology and my implementation of the new technology into my mobility tool kit. The kit seems to evolve progressively more rapidly now than it did in its early years owing, in large part, to the fact that technology appears to advance in geometric rather than arithmetic proportions. One of the really nice things about the trends I have noticed respecting my mobile tool kit is the fact that the size and weight of the kit continue to decrease almost as rapidly as the power of the included tools increases.

Mobility in the Bad Old Days

When I first started practicing law during the last millennium (okay, I got my license in 1973; I am not that old), working outside the office seriously handicapped an attorney. In those days, when a lawyer left the office, the lawyer left most of the then-current technology (such as it was) behind, along with the support staff.

In those days, lawyers found it challenging to do serious work outside the office, other than interviewing clients and witnesses, taking depositions, or appearing in court. As I often tried to work outside the office, even then, I built a tool kit of sorts to help me with that work. The tools I could take with me when I first started out did not represent what today we would consider advanced technology (although many of them came from what we later came to call the “bleeding edge” of that time).

For those of you not yet born when I started practicing law, you may have learned that there was (really) a time when we did not have tablets or even computers, smartphones or even cell phones. Mobile phones in those days meant carrying a small radio station in the trunk of your car and sharing a few lines with everyone else using the system in a large metropolitan area (for example, San Francisco had three lines). These were “party lines.” For those of you young enough to think that “party line” means the official position of an organization, this is not what I am talking about. A party line was one concurrently accessible by many people, all of whom could listen to the conversation and even participate in it (think of it as an unplanned conference call). To make matters worse, you could not tell if a line (channel) was free except by listening for conversation on it. So much for confidentiality. . . .

Out with the Old, in with the New

Through the more than 40 years I have practiced law, law practice technology has dramatically improved. The evolution of technology has not only made it possible for attorneys to work more efficiently in traditional law office settings, it has also freed lawyers from the necessity of working in traditional law office settings. It has opened the door to virtual offices, telecommuting, and easily working out of a home—in a hotel while out of town for business, pleasure, or both, and, more recently, in planes, trains, and automobiles (and ships) while traveling from one place to another. Today’s technology has enabled attorneys to work efficiently and effectively almost anywhere in the world.

To avoid confusion, I do want to define a term for you. “Law practice technology,” as I use it, encompasses all technology that impacts the practice of law in and out of the formal or traditional office. I distinguish between “law practice” and “law office” technology (the latter relates to the technology used to facilitate practice in an office setting and not on the road).

When I last reprised this topic in 2011, the concept of “cloud computing” had just started to break through. In the last several years, it has grown tremendously in availability and acceptance, changing many things about the way we practice law, both in and out of the office. I will talk more about the cloud later, as it impacts much of what a mobile lawyer can do today.

Over the years I experimented with and discarded a vast collection of technology. Perhaps, if I had saved all of it, I could have started my own Museum of Evolving Technology. I still have more of it than I should stored in my basement.

Your practice, proclivities, and preferences may cause you to want many of the same tools I currently use or, perhaps, some I have eschewed or even some I used and since discarded. Often the choice of tools from many in a given category simply comes down to personal preference. I will tell you about the categories of tools I use and my own preferences for models and manufacturers (as of the writing of this column). Recognize that the odds favor some of these things changing by the time you read this column, as new and better technology comes out regularly and often. Please note that I do not suggest that you need to replace all your technology every other day, week, month, or even year. Some of you may find that technology I have discarded in favor of newer innovations still works just fine for you. There is something to be said for the adage: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” On the other hand, sometimes getting an upgrade makes things work better. I will leave it to you to decide when and how to upgrade your mobile technology. For whatever it may be worth, I will tell you, however, that I have nothing in my mobile technology tool kit older than four years except for me, some briefcases, and a number of fountain pens (I collect pens). I find that when it comes to electronics, three or four years represents a normal useful life for me (except for smartphones and tablets, which I tend to replace more often). This does not mean that the devices stop working; it means that, after this time period, newer and better technology has likely come out that will offer features that I find attractive and want to have. In fact, much of my “outdated” technology gets a second life with others. Some devices will wear out in this time period (some even sooner), depending on use patterns. Some devices will continue to work long after this time period, but by using them, you lose the opportunity of additional efficiencies and conveniences from upgraded devices.

Years of experience in mobile lawyering gave rise to what I call, tongue in cheek, “Allen’s First Law of Mobility,” which states: “Tools make you mobile by helping you work efficiently and effectively on the road, but the more that you carry with you, the less mobile you become.” I cannot emphasize the importance of that concept strongly enough. Every physical tool, no mater how small, takes up space. Every physical tool, no matter how light, adds weight. Note that I have limited the last two sentences to “physical” tools. I have done that to recognize that the newest evolution in mobility for attorneys relates to tools that have no physical characteristics. They have neither physical size nor weight, yet they substantially enhance mobility. These tools live in the cloud. Yes, we still need physical tools to access the cloud-based tools, and these physical tools have both physical size and weight. But the cloud-based tools make us far more efficient out of the office, and the physical tools required to use them have shrunk in size, weight, and price in recent years.

In choosing equipment with an eye toward mobility, you face some trade-offs. The most frequent trade-offs are size and weight for power, cost for power, and cost for size and weight. Advancing technology has made our decisions easier, however. Our electronic devices, such as computers, tablets, and smartphones, have grown substantially more powerful in every respect while becoming lighter in weight, smaller in size, and lower in price (in terms of real dollars) than their predecessors. Mobile phones evolved into cell phones. Cell phones, PDAs, and cameras had a ménage à trois and begat conjoined PDA devices, and conjoined PDAs begat smartphones, which grow in power, speed, and functionality (but not weight) every several months. Luggable computers begat laptops, laptops begat ultrabooks, and ultrabooks merged with smartphones and begat tablets. Okay, that’s enough begetting!

Since the last iteration of this column, the classifications of hardware have not changed dramatically, but the components in my kit are almost completely different. My own complete mobility collection includes a couple of laptop computers, a cellular mobile hot spot (a cellular communications device enabling broadband-speed Internet connectivity in most major metropolitan areas in the United States), a digital light processing (DLP) projector, smartphones, portable scanners, portable printers, global positioning system (GPS) devices, storage devices (portable hard disks and USB flash drives), a document camera, digital still and movie cameras, digital voice recorders, an iPad, a Kindle, an iPod touch, portable speakers, noise-canceling earphones, portable surge protectors, extension cords, a locking security cable, and a variety of FireWire, USB, Ethernet, and video and HDMI cables and connectors. I never try to pack my entire arsenal in any one trip, as I cannot imagine needing all of it at the same time, but some parts of it travel with me almost everywhere.

Smartphones

Most of us use some form of cell phone. The current generation of smartphones contains feature sets that make them obvious choices for attorneys. Smartphone model availability varies among providers. You will want a provider with good coverage where you anticipate using the phone; your choice of provider will influence your equipment options. If you travel extensively into areas where different providers have better coverage, you may want to consider a second phone from a different provider. The last time I wrote about my mobile tool kit, the iPhone (apple.com) was a new kid on the block, but I was already partial to it. I still use an iPhone (the 5s) as my primary smartphone, but the new Android smartphones from Samsung have considerably more capability than the earlier versions. In the last few years, Palm has virtually disappeared, and the once-ubiquitous BlackBerry is trying to avoid extinction. The Android phones have taken off in popularity and, in fact, my backup smartphone is a Samsung Galaxy S4 (samsung.com) that uses the Android OS. The next generation of the Galaxy (the S5) has come out, but I have not yet decided that I need to upgrade to it. My next choice would also be from Samsung, the Note 3 (another Android device). There are a number of other good Android devices available, but for my money, if I wanted an Android phone, I would go with Samsung’s Galaxy S4 or S5 or the Note 3.

Tablets

In the last several years we have entered what Steve Jobs called a “post-PC world.” Three years ago, the iPad was still a novelty. Today it has grown into a primary mobility tool. A changing world has seen many attorneys leave their laptops at the office and travel with a tablet instead. Since the iPad came out in April 2010, it has grown in power, capabilities, and resolution while shrinking in weight and staying at the same basic price. The release of a 128 GB iPad and iPad mini doubled the storage capacity of the device, making it even more flexible and useful. Although you can choose from among a number of different tablets, my opinion of the tablet world comes down to the fact that you have the iPad Air and the iPad mini with Retina display as co-kings of the hill and the others as pretenders to the throne. I do not suggest that other manufacturers do not make good tablets. Several do, and you can get a good tablet from Samsung or Google or Amazon, to name a few. (I have not had the opportunity to work with Microsoft’s Surface, so I refrain from commenting on it, other than to say, I do not use it.) Sometimes the non-Apple tablets can outperform an iPad at one or another task. Taken as a whole, however, I have not found any other tablet that, in my opinion, does as many things as the iPad does, as well as the iPad does them. I do not suggest that Apple cannot make a better iPad. I would bet substantial sums of money that the next generation will improve on the current generation of iPads (and that Apple already had figured out much of what it would do with the next generation by the time it released the current generation). One of the most significant differences among the tablets, the availability of apps (programs that enhance the functionality of the hardware), will likely make a significant difference in the way people see the iPad as compared to other tablets for some time to come. None of the other vendors has anything close to the scope and breadth of Apple’s iTunes App Store.

Although third-party vendors provided work-arounds, one of the biggest issues many of us have had with the iPad was the fact that there was no Microsoft Office for the device. That all changed in March 2014, when Microsoft released its free Office Apps for the iPad. With these apps, you can read any document created in a recent iteration of Office. If you have a subscription to Microsoft 365, however, you can also create and modify Office documents on the iPad. I have spent some time using the apps and have concluded that while they do not work as well on the iPad as Office works on the computer (for me), they are very functional and make the iPad/iPad mini an even better and more powerful tool.

For those of you who do not like using the virtual keyboard offered by the iPad, you can easily pair any one of many available Bluetooth keyboards with your iPad and use it instead. Unfortunately, the iPad still has no way of using a mouse, no matter how much you may want to do so.

Reviewing the apps available for the iPad exceeds the scope of this column. You can browse the App Store in iTunes for more information about available programs. You can also read one of the many books that have come out on the subject (including, of course, the one written by Ashley Hallene and me, entitled iPad for Lawyers, Thomson Reuters, 2013).

Laptops

More and more people have simply stopped carrying around laptops—or even the smaller lighter version called “ultrabooks” (or the MacBook Air)—opting instead for an iPad or an iPad mini. I am very sympathetic to that perspective, as I am among the ranks of those who often use the iPad instead of a laptop. For some tasks, however, primarily for extensive writing and for legal research, I still prefer a laptop, keyboard, and touchpad or mouse. That said, I do prefer things to be light and small when I have to carry them around. As a result, I have replaced my 13” MacBook Air with the 11” version. I give up some real estate but very little functionality, particularly because I opted to upgrade the laptop to the version with an Intel Core i7 processor. The newest iterations have introduced a new battery technology, providing even longer usability between charges.

As many of you know and others likely would have guessed by now, 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 strongly recommend that you explore the Mac, as its OS X runs with fewer problems than the Windows OS, and the Mac OS X has greater stability than any other option I have found. As a result, you can often 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, this still presents no problem for the Mac user. 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 am partial to the Lenovo ThinkPad laptops (lenovo.com). Alternatively, you can use Apple hardware and run it in a Windows structure, too. If you want to go with Windows, I recommend Windows 7. Windows 8 has not really impressed me yet. Windows 7 presents a good collection of features, power, and efficiency in a relatively stable environment. Vista never really caught on, and XP has simply gotten too old (Microsoft no longer supports XP with security upgrades). You can run Windows on a built-for-Windows machine, directly on a Mac, or indirectly on a Mac through the use of virtual computers running Windows under the Mac OS. Another argument for the Mac: Although you can run Windows on Mac hardware, you cannot run Mac OS X on any built-for-Windows PC.

Backup/Storage/Memory

Laptop manufacturers have made computers stronger, more stable, and less fragile. Nevertheless, they still break down from time to time. Sometimes the breakdown relates to a hardware malfunction, other times to a software issue. You should always have backup available in case of such a problem. Having a backup protects you, your clients, and your practice. Small, highly portable, large-capacity, high-speed hard disks provide excellent backup. You can find many sources for such drives operating on USB 3.0 (a much faster option than USB 2.0). Western Digital (wdc.com) and Seagate (seagate.com) are among the most popular, and you can find both at reasonable prices online or at places such as Costco. Note that if you have a computer that only uses USB 2.0 and you get a USB 3.0 device, it will operate at the slower USB 2.0 speeds. To get the advantage of USB 3.0 speed, you need both a USB 3.0 computer and a USB storage device. Although somewhat pricey by comparison to traditional hard drives with moving platters, several manufacturers have started producing external SSDs (solid-state drives). The SSDs use flash memory and work faster and generally more reliably than those with moving parts. They also have a greater resistance to damage.

Small USB flash memory drives represent another good way to maintain a physical backup of critical data. Prices for up to 64 GB have become very reasonable. The 128 GB drives remain a bit pricey but have come down of late. The 256 GB drives (the largest I have seen in stores) remain very expensive. 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. These drives work well for transferring data from one computer to another or getting a copy of a file from a colleague quickly and easily. Most of these devices are still limited to USB 2.0, but more and more USB 3.0 versions have recently become available.

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. Another option is to set up your own cloud. (I will talk more about that below.)

Scanners

Having a good 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 computer, tablet, smartphones, or an external USB memory device for review or use on the road. 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 mobile tool kit. I use a very powerful Kyocera multi-function device (color printer, scanner, copier, and fax machine; usa.kyoceradocumentsolutions.com) in my office, as we do a significant amount of scanning. If you want to get a good, reasonably priced dedicated scanner, look at the Fujitsu iX500 (fujitsu.com/us). For a sole practitioner or an office with lesser scanning needs, that is an ideal solution. I used its predecessor in my office for some time. I like the iX500 better, owing in no small part to its wireless capabilities. I keep one in my office at home. If you look for a new scanner, you will want one with relatively high speed capabilities that does duplex scanning (i.e., scans both sides of a two-sided page).

It was not that long ago that I considered a small portable dedicated scanner an essential piece of equipment for my mobility kit. I have moved away from that, recognizing that, in fact, most of the time, I have relatively little need for such a device. On those rare occasions that I find I need to scan something, I simply use my iPhone (or occasionally an iPad) and a scanning app that helps give me a better image. I have found this so satisfactory a solution that I have not carried a portable scanner with me (other than to court for a trial) in several years. If you find yourself in need of a dedicated portable scanner, however, you can find good portable scanners that take up little space and pack well. Fujitsu’s ScanSnap S1100 gives you a small scanner suitable for travel or use in a courtroom or at arbitration or a deposition.

Digital Recorders

If 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 less costly) digital recorder, but I do not recommend that. 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 and for normal dictation as well as for dictation for voice recognition software. I especially like the Olympus DS-7000 (olympusamerica.com) and have used it and its predecessor, the DS-5000, for several years. I like this device a lot as it works well with both the Mac and the Windows platforms. If you do relatively little dictation but want to have something available on an occasional basis, you can use many smartphones to record dictation, and they work okay, but they lack the convenient controls of a professional dictation device. Several apps support this usage and facilitate using the phone as a dictation device.

If you want to record meetings or conferences, you can use a dictation device, but you might prefer to get a digital recorder designed for such uses. General-use recorders will have different microphone and control systems than professional dictation machines. You may want to look at the following very portable recorders: Marantz PMD620, Olympus DM-620, and Roland R-05 (rolandus.com). 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. Internet prices on these recorders range from $149 to $429. If you have relatively little need for such a device, you can use (surprise) most smartphones as recording devices, and they work okay for occasional use.

Projectors

Projectors fall into one of two major categories: LCD or DLP. Historically, DLP 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. More recently, that gap in performance and price appears to have diminished. The bottom line is that you should be happy with either, but most of the smaller, lighter, and less expensive projectors use DLP technology, and that makes the DLP projectors more popular.

Better known brands include Canon (usa.canon.com), HP (hp.com), Mitsubishi (mitsubishielectric.com), Casio (casio-usa.com), and InFocus (infocus.com). Casio makes my personal favorite projector and the one that lives in my collection. I have found Casio’s wireless 3,000-lumen XJ-A256 online for less than $1,200. It weighs five pounds and fits in most computer bags along with one of the newer, more slender laptop computers. If you plan on taking one with you to court, look for at least 3,000 lumens. If you do not plan to take one to court or to use it in a large room, you can get by with a smaller projector.

Document Cameras

Document 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. I don’t usually travel with one, but I do take them with me to court or to do a presentation, unless one is provided for my use.

Expect to pay $250 and up for a document camera, depending on the configuration and features. Brands to look for include Elmo (elmousa.com), Samsung, and AVer (averusa.com). If you do trial work, you will want one of these in your collection. If you want a really small and portable document camera, look at the Elmo MO-1 or at the HoverCam Mini 5 (the smallest I have found; thehovercam.com).

Earphones/Headsets/Speakers

You 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 (if you still have one). Some manufacturers make combination devices that also can serve as telephone headsets. Brands I have tried and like include Bowers & Wilkins (my current favorite for travel is the Bowers & Wilkins P5; bowers-wilkins.com), Bose (bose.com), Beats by Dr. Dre (beatsbydre.com), Sony (sonystyle.com), Shure (shure.com), and Etymotic (etymotic.com). You might also want to consider a small Bluetooth speaker for use as a speakerphone or in presentations when you have an audio component. You also can use them to listen to your music, when you don’t mind sharing with others. Good small systems to look for include Jawbone’s MINI JAMBOX (jawbone.com), Bose’s SoundLink Mini, and Beats’ Pill (so recently upgraded to the Pill 2.0 that I have not had the opportunity to check out the new model). All list for less than $200. All are good; I like the Bose the best. Recognize that quality sound resides in the ear of the listener, and you should always make sure you like the sound of a speaker before you buy it.

Printing

In the past I often traveled with a portable printer. I rarely travel with a printer these days. I still keep a portable printer around in case I need it (I have not donated the one I have), but if I did not already own one, I don’t think I would go out and buy one now. In fact, I have not replaced mine (or used it) in the last few years and, as a result, it represents some of the oldest technology still in my kit. The newer printers have only one advantage over the one I have: the ability to connect wirelessly. 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. When I go to someone else’s office, if I really need to print something, I can easily e-mail the file or move it to a USB flash drive and have the document printed. If you think that you will need to print and that another printer will not be readily 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.

Internet Access

The Internet provides us with a means of exchanging e-mail and other forms of information and communication in and out of the office. It allows us to stay in continuous communication with our office and move documents and information back and forth. It also serves as the primary venue for legal research available to attorneys today. For that reason, we need Internet connectivity when we travel. Although hard-wired Ethernet connections still exist, we see them less and less. Most of us have gravitated to WiFi connectivity. As a general rule I recommend that you stay off public WiFi networks. In case you wondered about it, the networks on airplanes, on trains, in your hotel, at Starbucks, and in shopping malls all qualify as public networks, even those that charge for admission. I do not like public networks because they pose significant security risks. In some situations, if you need Internet connectivity, you have no choice. Flying on an airplane at 30,000 feet is a prime example of a place where you must deal with the fact that you have to use a public WiFi network if you want Internet connectivity. If you can wait until you land, so much the better. If not, try to limit your exposure in the manners outlined in the next section.

Although cellular modems with USB connections to computers proved quite popular several years ago, they have almost faded out of the picture as more and more people opt for cellular-based WiFi hot spots to provide cellular access to WiFi-enabled devices (including smartphones, tablets, and computers). Most of the cellular hot spots on the market today will allow a maximum of five or ten connections. I have carried one of these devices for several years (I am on my fourth upgrade and now have one that runs on 4G and accommodates up to ten devices). These devices generate their own reasonably secure and password-protected network. Do note that the more devices connected at any given time, the slower the access will be as the devices divide the available bandwidth. That said, I have run my Verizon Jetpack (verizonwireless.com) with my laptop, my iPhone, my iPad, and my wife’s iPad connected with very satisfactory speeds.

One of the most important reasons to make sure you have Internet access on the road these days is that it enables you to access the cloud and information you have stored there as well as to run programs made available to you there. To paraphrase the old commercial slogan: The Internet—never leave home without it!

In the Cloud

As I mentioned earlier, the Internet provides us with the means of transferring information easily, and, if we exercise caution, securely, among our devices to satisfy needs and make our lives more convenient. If you remember to choose your provider with some care, use strong passwords (combinations of upper- and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols) for your accounts, and encrypt (and password protect) confidential data, you can use the cloud with reasonable safety and security. If you find yourself concerned about the terms of service or just want to be particularly careful of how and where you leave your information, you can always set up your own cloud server and store your information there, waiting for you to access it. You can even get devices that will synchronize your data from one storage device to another automatically. I like both the PogoPlug (pogoplug.com) and the Transporter Sync (filetransporter.com) devices and use both. I also use Dropbox (dropbox.com) and Apple’s iCloud because of their convenience, general availability, and the ease with which I can share information with others. I use Dropbox mostly for things outside my practice these days. Dropbox did have some security issues a while back, but they appear to be history now (I still have some issues with the terms of service). If you encrypt your data before storing it in Dropbox, you have pretty much solved the security issue.

Some of the uses of the cloud these days include:

  • Document storage and transfer. I have already told you about Dropbox, one of the best cloud-based storage and transfer tools I have found. A number of similar services are available for storage and/or distribution of data, including Box (box.com). Prices and storage amounts vary among the providers.
  • Calendaring. Google Calendars is probably the best known of the cloud calendaring tools, and it connects to a variety of other programs. Apple’s iCloud 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 smartphones.
  • 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 (goclio.com) and Rocket Matter (rocketmatter.com). 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. The program, sold on a subscription basis as SaaS (software as a service), works easily and efficiently. Since I switched to Clio, billing takes me only a few minutes at the end of each month, and I have acquired the ability to bill from anywhere I have an Internet connection. I have, in fact, done the billing on the road, thousands of miles from my office, and had the bills out the same day.
  • Word processing. Many of us, particularly in small and solo practice environments, handle much of our own word processing. Doing this task with a program resident on the computer or tablet and then sending the finished document back to the office for printing and mailing (or sending a PDF via e-mail) has become both simple and effective. Both Microsoft Office and WordPerfect (corel.com) have web-based versions of software that you can access through a tablet or, in the case of Microsoft Office 365, from virtually any Internet-connected device.
  • Virtual staff. 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 (skype.com), but you have a lot of services to choose from. Other inexpensive programs that give you that capability include Yahoo! (yahoo.com), iVisit (ivisit.com), ooVoo (oovoo.com), WebEx (webex.com), and FaceTime and iChat (both Mac/iOS 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 (logmein.com) and Back to My Mac (through iCloud) for that purpose. A number of other programs, including GoToMyPC (gotomypc.com), allow you to remotely access your other computers.

Miscellany

In addition to the appropriate selection of the main pieces of hardware I have identified, I usually carry at least one extension cord, a power surge protector, a laser pointer, and Lightning and USB cables. Although the power bricks that came with my most recent gear are considerably smaller and lighter than those I had in the past, I usually do not carry them with me (except when I bring my laptop and carry the one that came with it). Instead, I generally carry a small power strip with two USB ports built into it that I can use to charge virtually all my devices. Be sure to note that some devices require higher amperage to charge, so if you have a tablet, you will want at least one port to generate 2.1 amps. I also carry a Bluetooth telephone earphone and a wired earphone for my telephone in case the battery runs down on the Bluetooth earphone. I am partial to the Bluetooth earphones from Bose, Jabra (jabra.com), BlueAnt (myblueant.com), and Motorola (motorola.com).

I generally also take a Kindle Paperwhite (amazon.com) with me when I travel, even though I have Kindle apps on my iPhone, iPad, and laptop. The Kindle works better than the other devices in bright sunlight.

I sometimes take a digital still and/or video camera, although often I use my iPhone for both purposes instead. Nevertheless, there are times when I want better image quality. For a good digital still camera, look at the Canon, Sony, and Nikon (nikon.com) lines. Pick one that meets your needs in terms of size and features. Favor optical zooms over digital as they preserve image quality better. Also favor cameras recording to removable media cards as you can easily transfer their data to other devices. For still photography, I think you will find anything over 8 megapixels perfectly satisfactory for most purposes (although you can certainly get more megapixels on dedicated cameras these days), and the lower-megapixel cameras will generally cost less than higher-megapixel cameras with the same features. Camera models frequently change; consider getting a recently replaced model, as vendors often discount them heavily to get rid of them when new models come out. Although most digital still cameras take movies and most video cameras do stills, the simple fact is that few still cameras take movies as well as most movie cameras and most movie cameras do not take stills comparable to those taken by good movie cameras. My favorite manufacturers for digital video cameras include Canon, Sony, and JVC (jvc.com). If you rarely take videos, you can probably make due with the movie features of a good digital still camera or the video capabilities of your smartphone or tablet.

In the not-too-distant past, I took a stand-alone GPS device with me (usually made by Garmin, garmin.com) whenever I planned on renting a car during my travels. These days, I don’t even remember where I put the GPS device, as I generally leave it home and use a GPS app on my iPhone. I will take a holder to mount it in the car and a DC charger to keep it charged as I have found that using the iPhone as a GPS device tends to burn the battery charge fairly rapidly.

One last piece of increasingly vital equipment that has found its way into my kit deserves mention before I close. I find that the way I use my smartphones and tablets burns battery charges pretty rapidly. I could change settings to prolong battery life (and occasionally have done so), but I don’t like the trade-off of sacrificing utility. As I often do not have the time or a place to charge my devices by plugging them into a socket during the day, I have taken to carrying a power source with me. You can find any number of external batteries that will power and charge smartphones, tablets, music players, speakers, and other devices using a USB or Apple connection. You can find them in different sizes, ranging from the size of a pack of gum to the size of a brick. I have acquired several of them over the years in a variety of sizes. I usually carry one about the size of a deck of cards or slightly bigger with me during the day. I also carry two USB cables to connect to it, one with Apple’s Lightning connector and the other with a micro-USB connector as those two cables can charge virtually all my devices (note that you can also get by with a single cable by getting a USB-Lightning adapter for $19). Best choices for an external battery in my opinion are free standing (as opposed to built into a case), with two USB outlets, at least one of which is 2.1 amps for charging an iPad. My favorites include the HyperJuice Expand (hypershop.com), mophie’s powerstation (mophie.com), and the very small Tumi Mobile Power Pack (tumi.com). I generally prefer the Tumi for daily use and the larger HyperJuice or mophie for travel. Note that the Expand allows you to build various combinations of charging blocks.

The Basics

My iPhone comes with me almost everywhere. Most of the time I also have my iPad mini. About half the time I will bring a Bluetooth keyboard for the mini to facilitate word processing and e-mail, but often I will just use the virtual keyboard, particularly if I anticipate a light typing load. Depending on what I am doing, my basic travel kit often includes my MacBook Air and a digital voice recorder. I also take a Bluetooth earphone for my iPhone and a headset for listening to movies, music, CLE, or other educational materials on my iPad. If I am just going to a deposition locally, I may take only my iPhone and iPad or MacBook Air; if I am flying somewhere, I will likely also take my Kindle, a headset, and, if I am flying a long distance and want to watch a movie or three, I may choose to take the iPad Air as opposed to the mini. If I am going to trial, I will generally include a small scanner, a projector, a laser pointer, and a document camera for presentation. My kit always includes a multiple-plug extension cord with an adapter to accommodate ungrounded outlets, cables to connect devices to the USB port on my computer for use or charging, either a USB flash drive or a small hard disk (or both) for backup purposes, and my cellular WiFi hot spot. Other things get added as needed, depending on what I am doing or where I am going.

The technology that comes with me tends to expand to fill available space in my bag. Using a smaller case causes me to think more carefully about what I really need. I recommend that you have several different-sized cases to accommodate different purposes. When I just take my basics (iPhone and iPad mini), a small cross-body bag or messenger bag works perfectly. You have your choice of many computer-friendly bags, cases, and backpacks. I have tried many of them out over the years and have settled on some favorites. When I want an inexpensive bag for general use, I am very partial to some of the bags I have found in the STM line (stmbags.com). When I want a nicer (and more expensive) bag, I look at the Tumi Alpha Bravo line and to Briggs & Riley (briggs-riley.com). As a general rule, I prefer Tumi bags made out of ballistic nylon and Briggs & Riley leather bags, although both offer very well designed and well made bags from both materials. Years ago I acquired several outstanding leather bags from Coach (coach.com); they do not make the same quality leather bags any longer, in my opinion. Occasionally, I find a bag I like at Coach, even now, but I consider them too over-priced and usually wait until I find them at one of the Coach outlets stores. Although most of them are not designed for computers, they work fine with computers and tablets, if you first put the electronics in a protective envelope. I recently attended a meeting in Las Vegas and stopped off at the Coach outlet store and got a very nice leather cross-body sling backpack designed to work with tablet-sized electronics (although I found that my 11” MacBook Air also fits in it).

More and more I find that I travel with a small computer backpack or a cross-body or messenger bag, owing to their versatility and ease of handling. When I go to trial, the additional equipment that I take pushes me toward a wheeled computer bag. I find that wheeled cases and backpack-style cases make travel easier when you have a heavier load to tote. I am very partial to the Tumi Alpha Bravo wheeled computer bags. Remember the corollary to Allen’s First Law of Mobility: “Decide what you need to have and use a case that accommodates that gear in a package you can comfortably transport.”

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