Using an iPad in Your Practice: Are You Working with a Tool or a Toy?

Volume 37 Number 4

By

Sharon D. Nelson (snelson@senseient.com) and John W. Simek (jsimek@senseient.com) are President and Vice President, respectively, of Sensei Enterprises, Inc., a computer forensics and legal technology firm based in Fairfax, VA. They are coauthors of The 2011 Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guide (ABA, 2011).

All kinds of lawyers are thrilled with their Apple iPads. But there are some who think its current functionality—or lack thereof—isn’t sufficient to make the iPad an effective tool in their practices. Does the truth lie in between?

To begin, even the authors disagree over the question in the title. One (John) thinks the iPad is more of a toy, while the other (Sharon) finds that lawyers can indeed use an iPad effectively in their practices … although, admittedly, playing Angry Birds on the device is downright addictive.

So let’s spin through some cons and pros of this big-selling device here to help you make your own decision.

A Cribsheet on Key Issues to Consider
Any lawyer who wants to get the most from an iPad will first want to check out Apple’s absolutely overwhelming iPad Apps Store (with currently 65,000 apps and more being added every day). There are seemingly countless ones to be found there by searching with the words “law” and “legal” and other, more-specific terms related to your practice needs. However, while most apps are inexpensive (or even free), some of the legal apps cost more than you might think—and boy oh boy, is it easy to just hit the “Buy Now” button and rack up quite a bill. So you really need to do some pre-purchase research first and consult other iPad-using lawyers for recommendations, too. (We’ll give you some resources regarding that later in this column.)

But functionally speaking, much of what a lawyer has to do is not particularly well handled by the iPad. For example, we have yet to find any application that supports Word’s track changes and comments features completely, and there is no file management system on the iPad, either. But there are some workarounds, and even though workarounds aren’t a great thing, they do get the job done.

As you search the web on the iPad, for example, you may be particularly irritated by the device’s inability to display Abobe Flash. The workaround there is a mobile browser called Sky-Fire. And let’s take this example: To review and edit a Word document attached to an email, you’ll need to open the attachment in an app like DataViz’s Documents To Go. Or, if it’s a PDF file, you’ll do the same thing with a program such as iAnnotate.

Moreover, the iPad is so very light and portable—and that feature alone is worth a lot. But is it worth any loss of functionality, or significant “Rube Goldberg” gyrations, to get things done that are native to other computing environments? Unless you have your documents and data stored on the iPad itself, there is actually little functionality if you don’t have connectivity.

Make no mistake, the iPad is extremely dependent on connectivity (Wi-Fi or 3G) if the data isn’t stored on the device. So if you are out there with no Wi-Fi hotspot or 3G access, your cloud services will not be available to you. And another shortfall is printing capability. Okay, if you’re lucky enough to own one of the five or so printer models that support over-the-air printing, there isn’t a problem. However, most folks will have to transfer their iPad data to some other device (or jump through hoops and pray to the printing gods to get some sort of paper output.

In addition, working on the iPad’s keyboard can feel clumsy—while some are better at typing on it than others, for a lot of users it is just too small. A lightweight Bluetooth keyboard is the answer here. Some iPad covers even come with the keypad embedded, and you can find a number of them on Amazon.com.

However, here’s an area where the iPad can really shine despite its shortcomings: Because it’s so light to carry around, it’s great for catching up with your emails or working on your practice management apps—contemporaneously entering time, managing contact lists, making calendar entries and the like—from wherever and whenever you are (like when you’re hanging around in court). In this way, dead time becomes productive time—and things that ethically need to get done right are more likely to get done right. Having seen this in the field, we’re persuaded that the iPad provides an invaluable tool when struggling to keep up with daily tasks.

Alas, it’s impossible to discuss the iPad without discussing security, given how it’s just as insecure as the iPhone, since it runs the same iOS. Just put it in DFU (Device Firmware Upgrade) mode and you can do all sorts of nasty little things because the operating system isn’t fully loaded yet. Researchers have been able to bypass a PIN code on a fully patched iOS device in two minutes. Even with that vulnerability, though, remember that a PIN lock code is better than no lock code.

You also must secure your iPad with a strong passcode. Tom Mighell, the author of the terrific book iPad in One Hour for Lawyers, has detailed instructions on how to do it on his iPad4Lawyers blog at http://ipad4lawyers.squarespace.com. And a hint from us: Use a strong alphanumeric password (passphrases work well) of no less than 12 characters. ‘LawPractice2011!’ will do nicely.

Some Expert-Recommended Apps
And now, with a nod again to Tom Mighell and his book and to fellow attorney Finis Price, the following lists a small sampling of some favorite iPad apps that they’ve shared with us. All of them are available at http://itunes.apple.com/us/app.

  • 1Password generates random passwords and stores and syncs them with iPads, iPhones and desktop browsers.
  • Air Sketch can be used in trial and in depositions to allow witnesses to draw on a picture and simultaneously display it on a projector.
  • BT Chat HD lets you set up a BT chat connection between multiple iPads.
  • Documents To Go is a favorite app to edit Word, Excel and Power-Point files, as well as view PDFs, and view and edit email attachments.
  • DocuSign lets you send, track and sign documents from anywhere.
  • Evidence is an image presentation software for trial lawyers.
  • GoodReader is a very robust PDF reader with encryption features.
  • GoToMeeting and WebEx both allow you to attend online meetings, as well as view anything the meeting organizers choose to share, via your iPad.
  • GV Connect is a best-in-class Google Voice app, with a great and stable GUI.
  • iAnnotate is, as you would guess, for document annotation.
  • Jury Tracker facilitates gathering information and observations about jurors during trial.
  • Notability records audio while you take notes in depositions and syncs the audio playback with your notes.
  • NoteTaker HD is for writing and organizing handwritten notes and diagrams.
  • Office2 lets you create and edit Word and Excel files.
  • OmniFocus is a go-to task management app.
  • Penultimate is for taking notes that are handwritten only.
  • ReaddleDocs is a super-easy document management program for the iPad.
  • Trial Pad is an easy-to-use app for preparing and presenting presentations for trial.
  • WritePad takes your handwritten notes and converts them to typed text.

This is a mere clue into how many apps exist out there—and all with their own adherents. It’s likely, over time, that some clear “winners” will emerge, but for the novice, it’s still helpful to get some expert advice. On the books side, in addition to iPad in One Hour for Lawyers, you might want to check out iPad: Portable Genius by Paul McFedries; Incredible iPad Apps for Dummies by Bob LeVitus and Bryan Chaffin; and iPad: The Missing Manual by J.D. Biersdorfer (and a hat tip to lawyer Ken Curtis for telling us how useful these books were to him).

We’re continually astonished by how many iPads we see being used in courtrooms and at CLE conferences and other lawyerly events. So, while the naysayers can mutter “toy” all they want, it seems that as clumsy as some of its functions may be currently, the iPad is a must-have device in a growing number of lawyers’ technology tool kits.

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