Law Practice Magazine
ABA TECHSHOW TECHNOLOGY TIPS ISSUE
Technology offers a plethora of solutions that make working remotely a reality. And these days you don’t even need to endure the hassle of toting a laptop computer when you’re on the road. With the right gear you can fit practically your entire office into the palm of your hand.
Most lawyers today know what BlackBerrys and equivalent smartphones are, but the vast majority ignore the possibilities inherent in these devices. Most use only the basics that come bundled with the device: phone, e-mail, calendar, contacts, a game or two and maybe some cheesy ringtones. A BlackBerry, though, is -really a computer! True, RIM and other smartphone makers don’t provide you with everything you need to really use your smartphone like a PC, but third parties have created amazing applications that do the deed. Here are pointers on getting what you need.
1. The Smartphone Think of a smartphone as a cell phone that includes the general functions of a personal digital assistant (PDA) for checking e-mail and keeping track of calendars and contact information. The most well-known smartphones run operating systems from Palm, Microsoft (Windows Mobile), RIM (BlackBerry), and most recently Apple (for the iPhone). Each device has its pros and cons, so before purchasing one—whether it’s your first or an upgrade—take a few moments to contemplate why you need the device. Will you use it for Web browsing, wireless e-mail, text messaging, editing documents, watching videos or something else? Also consider what options it offers in terms of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, keyboard and memory cards.
2. Memory Cards You can add storage capacity to most smartphones by inserting a Secure Digital (SD) memory card. The original, standard SD memory card is about the size of a postage stamp, but today there are miniSD and microSD cards that are as small as your pinkie fingernail. These memory cards can store audio, pictures and documents, which can all be transferred to your desktop computer with a USB memory card reader or moved straight from your smartphone with a USB cable or Bluetooth.
3. Bluetooth Headsets Bluetooth headsets wirelessly “pair” with your smartphone so that you can talk hands-free while you’re moving around your office or elsewhere. They’re also much safer for driving, of course, since you don’t have to hold a phone to your ear when your hands should be on the steering wheel. Just double-check to make sure the Bluetooth headset you are buying is compatible with your particular smartphone. There are myriad options on the market today.
4. Portable Keyboards Although most smartphones have tiny keyboards built right into the device, it’s tiresome to type lengthy e-mails on them. For greater ease, buy a folding, portable “full-size”keyboard that connects wirelessly to your smartphone via Bluetooth or infrared. If everything is set up correctly, you simply unfold the keyboard, prop up your smartphone next to it, and start typing like you do with a computer.
5. Battery Power Most smartphones drain battery power quickly and require a recharge every night. To reduce the need to recharge, consider purchasing a second battery for your smartphone, so you can swap out batteries when necessary. Some smartphones will also handle bulky “extended” batteries that keep the device ticking for a longer time. But you might be better off just purchasing an extra power cable to keep at the office or a car charger for your daily commute. Also consider a USB charger so that you can charge directly from your laptop when a wall outlet may not be available.
1. Mobile Office Suite Most lawyers would have a pretty tough time getting through the day without the critical applications in their office suite—and with the right software, you can have them on your smartphone, too. You are not limited to just viewing documents either. You can edit and save e-mails, word processing documents, spreadsheets, presentations, PDF files and so forth.
One good choice for BlackBerry users is the eOffice suite from Dynoplex, which allows you to work with a range of document and image formats. It comes bundled with most of Dynoplex’s software (like eFile, -Masterdoc, eSpell and eZcase) for the super-reasonable price of $99. It basically re-creates the classic Windows Explorer so you can deal with documents and folders. It even permits you to access an online database where you can archive your documents. You can also modify attachments received by e-mail, and then return them to the sender with comments and additions. If you have a Palm-based smartphone, consider the DocumentsToGo office suite from - DataViz. Version 10 now supports Office 2007 files.
2. Remote Desktop Software Remote access to your desktop is a must for the mobile lawyer. There are a range of product options, but if you don’t have the time to learn how to use new software, try Shape Service’s RDM+, a remote-access client that
helps you connect to your desktop from your BlackBerry in real-time. It has an easy-to-use interface. In fact, if someone is working at your computer while you’re working remotely, you will see what that person does, and vice versa. eOffice permits you to remotely access your computer files as well. One caveat: Remember that a BlackBerry screen is very small (particularly if you’re accustomed to working with dual screens).
3. Dictation Software Most lawyers still like to dictate documents, either using older tape recorders or newer digital ones. If you want to dictate on the road without carrying two or three different machines in your suitcase, try VR+ (also from Shape Services). It transforms your BlackBerry into a digital dictaphone. You simply need to press the Record button and dictate your letter, and then—voilà—you can e-mail it to your assistant for transcription. It is well integrated into the e-mail client, so you can use it to reply to e-mails, too. This is particularly helpful with longer messages that you otherwise would spend an hour typing with two thumbs.
And voice recognition users out there will be pleased to learn that the recording quality is sufficient for having Dragon NaturallySpeaking transcribe your recordings in seconds.
4. Fax Capability It’s very helpful to be able to send and receive faxes via e-mail to your smartphone when you’re out of the office. (And in the province of Quebec, where one of the authors practices, the only legal means to serve documents on opposing counsel is by fax, so a remote solution for those last-minute pleadings can be critical.) One option is the online service eFax, which is terrific for what it does. A cheaper solution for the BlackBerry, however, is the previously mentioned eOffice, which also offers fax capabilities. By the way, if you have trouble reading documents on your smartphone’s little screen, here’s a special tip: Use the fax capabilities to send the document you want to a fax machine near you for a printed copy.
Also, ScanR is a nice free solution for those with a camera on their phone. You simply take a picture (make sure it is focused), then send it to one of ScanR’s e-mail addresses and include the recipient’s fax number in the Subject line or body of the message.
5. Telephony Services If you want to save a few voice minutes, and have an unlimited data plan, you should get your hands on mobile VoIP software. There are many solutions out there, geared to different types of mobile handhelds and operating systems. One good choice that works with many of the major devices is iSkoot. It offers easy access to your Skype -account, with most of its features.
In the Web 2.0 age, there are plenty of free applications to help you when you’re on the road, and many of them work fine with smartphones. However, always read the terms and conditions before using Web-based apps—and be particularly cautious when privileged material is involved. Big Brother or someone else could be watching you. For example, Google Mobile offers e-mail, calendar, RSS feeds, search capabilities and even picture support for smartphones, but remember that the Google servers read everything that goes through your account … so be careful!
Now with that said, you’ll find that with the right hardware and software (and a little common sense), it is easy to take your office on the road in the palm of your hand, get some work done, and have some fun—all at the same time.
Brett Burney is the principal of Burney Consultants, providing technology consulting services to legal professionals. He was previously Legal Technology Support Coordinator at the law firm Thompson Hine.