Having necessarily been entrenched and isolated for as long as two years due to the COVID pandemic, most lawyers transformed the infrastructure of their law practices into portable computer environments. The nucleus of such a portable law office consists of a business-level, WiFi-enabled, webcam-equipped laptop computer. Beyond this nucleus, the infrastructure can take one of two forms: either a “permanent portable” law office environment that serves as a home base (in a traditional brick-and-mortar office or a home office) from which the lawyer can travel with the laptop but to which the lawyer always returns, or a “temporary” or essentially ad hoc portable law office that can be taken to a coffee shop, a courthouse, or another lawyer’s office.
The two infrastructures are significantly different. A “permanent portable” law office typically includes such interconnected peripherals as a laser printer (preferably color but black-and-white suffices for most situations), a copier, and a desktop scanner (or a space-efficient multifunction device that includes all three functions), along with an external monitor and keyboard, if desired. By contrast, a “temporary portable” law office environment could consist of nothing more than a WiFi-enabled laptop for PDF printing and copying, along with a smartphone for scanning; the latter can be further facilitated by a lightweight, handheld scanner, such as the ScanSnap from Ricoh (previously Fujitsu).
This article presents a simple and cost-effective way to implement the first option—the “permanent portable” infrastructure located in an attorney’s home office and/or traditional brick-and-mortar office. The method disclosed is based on using a generic connection device typically identified as a “hub” (or “port replicator”) obtained from a third-party manufacturer (i.e., a manufacturer other than the laptop vendor). The contemplated connection device has numerous ports to provide USB, USB-C, HDMI, VGA, and Ethernet connections beyond the laptop’s inherent capability—all connections achievable via a single cable. Accordingly, the use of a USB-based hub enables rapid connection and disconnection of multiple peripherals from a laptop—all at once—without having to individually plug and unplug each peripheral. (Of course, if necessary, particular peripherals could be unplugged on an individual basis.)
USB is an abbreviation for “universal serial bus,” constituting an industry standard for digital communications transmitted over short distances. A USB port allows electronic devices to be connected to each other through a USB cable based on this well-established interconnection interface.
Unlike conventional docking stations designed and configured by the laptop manufacturer to be interconnected with a particular laptop model, USB hubs can interconnect any laptop to a wide variety of external devices through a standard USB cable.
A USB hub can be powered or unpowered. A powered USB hub would itself be plugged into an electrical outlet to power the connected peripherals; an unpowered hub draws power from the connected laptop to run the peripheral devices. A powered hub can generally drive more devices than can be driven by an unpowered hub (and can simultaneously operate the peripherals with no drop in performance).
In theory, a connected laptop could also draw power from the hub rather than being plugged into the wall outlet via the laptop’s original equipment manufacturer (OEM) AC power adapter “brick,” but because the hub would be powering both the laptop and all interconnected peripherals, insufficient net power would likely result, and the laptop could fail to operate according to manufacturer’s specifications, possibly invalidating the laptop’s warranty prerequisites. Accordingly, to safeguard the laptop’s warranty protection and concomitant laptop longevity, it’s preferable to rely on the OEM power brick when operating a laptop connected to a USB hub.
An unpowered hub offers greater portability when relying on the laptop’s battery in the absence of an electrical outlet, but remember that the availability of sufficient power persists only as long as the battery remains charged (perhaps supplemented by a backup battery)—being more quickly depleted by power consumed by connected peripherals.
Sample Pricing of USB Hubs
The price range for suitable USB hubs typically varies from $20 to $85, depending on connection capabilities. Consider the following representative sampling of available USB hub connection devices:
The powered Anker 341 provides 85 watts of power for driving a 7-in-1 USB-C hub with 1 HDMI display port, 2 USB 3.0 ports, 2 USB-C ports, 1 SD card reader, and 1 microSD/TF card reader. It is currently priced at $31.49 on Amazon.
The Mokin 6-in-1 Docking Station Dual Monitor hub provides 100 watts of power for driving a USB-C hub with 2 HDMI display ports, 2 USB 2.0 ports, 1 USB 3.0 port, and 1 USB-C port. It’s currently priced at $35.99 directly from Mokin or on Amazon.
The Mokin 9-in-1 USB C Laptop Docking Station includes a dual HDMI adapter having 2 HDMI ports, 2 USB 3.0 ports, 1 USB 2.0 port, 1 gigabit Ethernet port, 1 SD card slot, 1 microSD/TF card reader, 1 USB-C PD charging port, and 100 watts of power input and 87 watts of power output. It is currently priced at $49.99 from Mokin.
The Mokin USB C Hub Adapter for MacBook Pro is a 10-in-1 USB C Thunderbolt 3 adapter dongle that includes 1 HDMI display port, 1 VGA display port, 3 USB 3.0 ports, 1 gigabit Ethernet port, 1 SD card reader, 1 microSD/TF card reader, 1 USB-C PD charging port, a 3.5 mm headphone jack, and 100 watts of power. It is currently priced at $35.09 on Amazon.
The Hiearcool 11-in-1 USB-C Hub is a triple-display Type C adapter compatible with both MacBooks and Windows laptops that includes 2 HDMI display ports, 1 VGA display port, 2 USB 3.0 ports, 2 USB 2.0 ports, 1 gigabit Ethernet port, 1 SD card reader, 1 microSD/TF card reader, and 1 USB-C PD charging port, with 100 watts of power. It is currently priced at $79.99 on Amazon.
The Hiearcool 7-in-1 USB-C Hub is a USB-C adapter for the MacBook Pro. It includes 1 HDMI display port, 2 USB 3.0 ports, 1 SD card reader, 1 microSD/TF card reader, and 1 USB-C PD charging port, with 100 watts of power. It is currently priced at $24.99 on Amazon.
Using a USB-based hub allows you to quickly connect a laptop via an inexpensive and readily portable device. USB hubs promote workspace organization and minimize the clutter caused by clusters of electrical cables and the like. By expeditiously plugging and unplugging numerous peripherals into a configuration consisting of a laptop interconnected with a USB-based hub, you can enable a portable law office to evolve into a fully functional, WiFi-enabled computerized environment—whether at a conventional brick-and-mortar office, at a home office, or both—at modest cost.