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GPSolo Magazine

GPSolo May/June 2023: Public Service: How Lawyers Can Help the Community

The Mobile Lawyer’s Tool Kit for 2023

Jeffrey M Allen


  • Today’s tool kit weighs less than it did 20 years ago and offers greater speed, power, and flexibility.
  • The author’s tool kit includes such items as an iPhone, an iPad, a Kindle, a MacBook Air, a cellular hotspot, and power banks.
  • When going to a trial or hearing, the author also includes items to address potential technological failures or breakdowns, including backups for items in his regular kit.
The Mobile Lawyer’s Tool Kit for 2023
knape via Getty Images

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In the 20 years I have written this column, I have made it a practice to talk about what I refer to as my “mobile lawyer’s tool kit” every several years. As it has been quite a while since I have done this, and the world of technology has continued to evolve, I thought I should go over the current tool kit I use when traveling. When I decided to write this column, I went back and looked at some of the earlier tool kit columns and reminded myself how fast technology has advanced and how much different the tool kit looks now as compared to 20 years ago. For that matter, the entire concept of functioning as a road warrior has dramatically changed in the last 20 years.

I started practicing law in 1973. We had very limited technology to support a road warrior attorney. We had telephones (landlines), automobiles, photocopiers, tape recorders that used full-sized cassettes, and ballpoint pens. The tool kit consisted of a notebook (the paper kind), a pen, and change for pay phones (yes, we really had pay phones in those days). When we traveled for work (i.e., to court or a deposition), we took a paper file with us. Depending on the file’s size, we might have taken only a part of it with us. Amazingly, due to the weight of the paper file, the tools we traveled with often weighed as much or even more than the tool kit I use now. Working on the road offered numerous challenges in comparison to working in a fully equipped brick-and-mortar office, and I liked to refer to myself and others similarly situated as living and working on the bleeding edge of technology.

Over the last 50 years the practice of law as a road warrior has dramatically modernized due to the evolution and adoption of more and more modern technology. Today, attorneys can practice law as effectively and efficiently out of the office as in it. As a result of the evolution and adoption of technology, more and more attorneys have become road warriors, and many practice without a full-time brick-and-mortar office. In the last several years, the imposition of limits on travel due to the COVID pandemic forced most lawyers to work outside the office at least part of the time. As lawyers discovered that they could work efficiently from locations outside a brick-and-mortar office, many decided that they liked that freedom, and I think it more likely than not that going forward they will not want to give up that freedom and return to working full time in a formal office.

Interestingly, the current iteration of the tool kit, together with a bag to carry it, weighs less than my first luggable portable computer. It also weighs less than the kit weighed 15 to 20 years ago and gives me much greater speed, power, and flexibility.

I used to recommend getting a wheeled case to facilitate moving your tool kit around; while that remains a good idea, my personal tool kit has lost enough weight to make this unnecessary, and I have moved to a smaller messenger bag except when I am going to a hearing or sometimes a deposition.

Despite the move toward almost everything being in electronic media form, I have not yet completely escaped the need for paper for some things in those contexts; additionally, I will add a few things for a trial or hearing to ensure that I can address technology failures or breakdowns. For example, I will bring to hearings a second iPad Pro, a second laptop, and a projector, none of which would normally appear in my travel kit. If the court or other hearing venue does not provide a projector, I will also bring a second as a backup. I also add an Apple TV box to the kit and the cables necessary to enable me to create a wireless environment for my iPad. And I pack extra cables and extension cords. Interestingly, notwithstanding that I have always functioned in the role of early adopter respecting technology, I remain sufficiently old-school that I also pack a legal pad and a couple of fountain pens in my case. I use them less and less these days, but it just does not feel right to go to court without them.

The kit that I take to trial takes up more space than my old travel kit and requires a second wheeled case for the backup technology. That’s a small price to pay for protecting my trial presentation and preventing disaster. Remember, the bottom-line rule about technology is that it will fail—often, if not usually, at an inopportune moment. If you use technology to help you present your case at a trial or hearing, you should always have a reliable backup plan to protect you and your client.

Now let’s get to the question that started this article: What do I normally carry in my travel kit? Before giving you the list of items and an explanation as to why I bring them, I will confess that I often overpack and bring more technology than I need. Why do I do that? Insurance. I don’t want to find myself caught without the necessary technology. I do try to bring alternative technology to give me the benefit of increased flexibility, as I will discuss later.

  1. iPhone 14 Pro. Literally, I never leave home without it. (Actually, I did once, but I realized I did not have it and immediately turned the car around and went back for it.) Sometimes, I leave the house with only the iPhone as it has evolved into an almost-do-everything tool.
  2. iPad. If I am traveling for work, I will bring an iPad Pro, usually the 11-inch size. If I am traveling for pleasure, I often will bring the more diminutive iPad mini. The mini lacks the power and memory capacity of the Pro, but it offers enough to handle video and audio entertainment and educational materials, books and magazines, games, email, web browsing, and light writing tasks. That generally suffices when traveling for pleasure. Additionally, the mini is small enough to fit in my coat or travel-vest pocket if I don’t want to carry a messenger bag. I also bring a keyboard for the iPad to enable me to use it for writing, if necessary.
  3. Kindle. I have used a Kindle Oasis for several years and recently acquired the new Scribe. I like the ability the Scribe offers to make notebooks and keep information other than books, but the Oasis is smaller in size and weight and easily fits in my vest or jacket pocket when I do not want to carry a messenger bag. If I have no plans to read outside, I may leave the Kindle behind as the Kindle app on my iPad works quite well as a reader. In fact, I prefer the app on the iPad for certain things because they read better and easier there than on the Kindle. If I plan to read outside, the Kindle handles that better than the iPad, so I generally bring both.
  4. MacBook Air. I like to use the MacBook Pro for trial as it has more power and capacity, and it works faster than the MacBook Air. For everything else that I do, the MacBook Air has plenty of power. It also weighs less and has a slimmer profile. As a result, when I felt like getting a new laptop, I got the MacBook Air instead of a new Pro and kept my MacBook Pro to continue to use for trials and hearings. In these settings, I carry the MacBook Air as a second computer to use in case of an emergency in the event that my MacBook Pro stops working properly.
  5. Cellular hot spot. I carry my own cellular hot spot to provide an Internet connection for my computer as I do not want to rely on public WiFi for security reasons. It also provides a connection in a hearing if the court’s system fails at any point. You have lots of choices of cellular hot spots. I have a 5G device that works on the Verizon network. I generally don’t need it for the iPad or the iPhone as they have their own connectivity. It provides a backup for them and primary connectivity for the laptop.
  6. Power Banks. I generally pack two in my bag. The first is a small MagSafe power bank sold by Apple to attach to my iPhone and stick in my pocket as a precaution against running out of iPhone battery. For some reason, Apple has not yet made a phone that has sufficient battery power to last me all day (actually, I have not found any phone that can do that, whether made by Apple or another manufacturer). I am what you might call a heavy user. Accordingly, I have to charge my iPhone during the day, and if I am out and about, that means I attach the power bank as an external battery for the iPhone. In case it interests you, HyperShop has a MagSafe wireless battery pack that packs a bit more power and costs less than the Apple battery; it also is somewhat thicker, making it a tighter squeeze in some pockets. I also pack a larger and more powerful power bank in case I need to boost the battery power available in any of my devices. I usually bring one from HyperShop that provides 245 watts of power and can support any and all of my devices as well as recharge the smaller Apple MagSafe battery.

Amazingly, that’s it. My travel kit has slimmed down considerably. I can make it even smaller, as the iPad Pro with a keyboard overlaps significantly with the MacBook Air. While I still prefer to use the MacBook Air for writing, I could easily use the iPad Pro and keyboard or, alternatively, leave the iPad at home and take the MacBook Air. If I do not plan to do much writing, I can leave both at home and take the iPad mini and a Bluetooth keyboard.