15 May 2012

iAdvocate: A look at the iPad's most useful legal apps

By Will Manolis, Juris Blogger
Many attorneys, newly minted and veterans alike, are incorporating emerging technologies into their law practices. Whether digitizing records and/or performing e-discovery to reduce the exorbitant cost of records retrieval and duplication, or conducting the initial client meeting and case triage through Skype, tech-forward lawyers are tightening their metaphorical belts and recapturing some valuable time.

Image Courtesy Virginia Lawyers Weekly
Aside from adopting interoffice cost-saving technologies, many are realizing the indispensible benefits of tablets and other mobile devices. With the third-generation iPad having been on the market for a month now (and Apple still making money hand-over-fist), I thought it appropriate to apprise you of what the world’s most valuable company can do for you. While Apple may not be jumping at the opportunity to foster a mutually beneficial relationship with you (read: its ridiculously soaring stock), it does give you the “privilege” of using its products.

Although the coverage of this article may be applied to most tablets, for our purposes, I will focus on the iPad. Why? Well, devotions aside, I personally believe that all things considered, the iPad is superior in most respects. I base my opinion on ease of use, clarity of the user interface, and the multitude of quality legal apps specifically designed for the iPad. In my experiences, Apple products “just work,” which should prove to be an indispensable quality in the technological perils of trial practice. And being firmly enamored in the Apple ecosystem, I find it axiomatic to persist therein.

Of those practicing, I believe litigators will realize the most gains from incorporating the iPad into their professional repertoire, but all specialties could benefit. With relatively little capital, and some research, anyone can establish their own virtual law practice.

Productivity Apps

Dropbox (Free) Dropbox is a web-based file hosting service, and it makes accessing files from your home or office computer a cinch. Unlike other similar file hosting products, Dropbox has been designed with mobile devices in mind. You may store up to 2 gigabytes for free; however, larger file storage space is available in 50 GB [$99.00/year] and 100 GB [$199.00/year] capacities. Another great feature of this service is the new Dropbox for Teams, offering 1 terabyte (1000 GBs!) or more to be shared amongst several users. The capability to share files, photos, and documents seamlessly between computers and mobile devices eliminates the need for e-mailing files between colleagues, or for sending them to yourself. Google and other companies offer similar cloud-based functionality in their apps offerings; however, I believe Dropbox does it best. Also, many other supplemental file sharing, storage, and document viewing programs incorporate Dropbox into their design.

Scanner Pro by Readdle ($6.99) I recently became aware of this app, and it was love at first scan. The 5-megapixel camera on the new iPad and iPhone 4/4S allows for high resolution document scanning on-the-fly. With Scanner Pro you can digitize anything on paper to a PDF and e-mail it. It also allows for uploading to Dropbox, Evernote, or other cloud-based storage managers. Readdle also make a document managing app called ReaddleDocs ($4.99), similar to Dropbox or Evernote. ReaddleDocs gives users the ability to annotate PDF forms and other documents, which works well for marking depositions and transcripts. 

Penultimate ($0.99) Unsheathe your capacitive touch writing instrument (or finger) and scribble away—Penultimate is my favorite handwriting app and a steal for 99 cents. Plain, lined, and graph papers are available to use, and you can organize your notes and draw some things by individual virtual notebooks. After impeaching a witness, or adding the finishing touches to your doodle, send the page to Dropbox, Evernote, or via e-mail. Yeah, yeah, I know, Paper by FiftyThree is much prettier.

LogMeIn (Free) I swear I just stumble upon my favorite apps. This app allows a user to wake and remotely connect to an available network computer anywhere, and the free version is feature-rich (Pro will cost $69.95/year per computer). As long as the computer you’re trying to access is powered on and connected to the Internet, you can access your machine as if you were sitting right in front of it. LogMeIn users can do so through another computer, iPhone, iPad, or other devices. This works great if you forgot to print a file at the office, or bookmark a vital browser tab. The Pro version allows for high definition video streaming, file transfers, and remote printing. The added features may speak to you, but I find there are other utilities that enable the features offered in Pro, but for a one-time fee, or even free. This is great for the attorney using a desktop, or anyone who doesn't feel like lugging around a laptop bag.

Wolfram’s Lawyers Professional Assistant ($4.99) If you are familiar with the Wolfram|Alpha “computational knowledge engine” (a scientist’s best friend), you may find Wolfram’s Lawyers Professional Assistant of use. If you don’t feel like dropping the moolah on Black’s Dictionary digital edition, this app includes a dictionary of legal terms. It also has the statute of limitations for each U.S. state and other extension and time limitations. You can calendar events to determine specific filing deadlines, and conduct financial computations, including fee and settlement calculations, and even determine tax and interest rates. It also provides crime rates (specific to offenses) with state and national averages, as well as demographics for population. Apart from giving you the entire feature set, I would recommend this app to any lawyer, real estate broker, or mediator.

WestlawNext I have always preferred using Westlaw over Lexis, and with the advent of WestlawNext, my allegiance has been solidified. Comparing on the basis of an app alone, the LexisAdvance “app” or whatever they are attempting to peddle it as is, well, underwhelming. The WestlawNext app provides most, if not all, the full features of WestlawNext, including the ability to highlight passages, add notes, and folder the results. This is especially great for trial lawyers, who may need to reference opposing counsel’s cited authority, statute, or code, or just to refresh that ever-escaping citation, or body of law. Being able to access WestlawNext on the iPad eliminates the absolute need of using a physical keyboard, which means no incessant key clicking in the courtroom, and one less opportunity to irk your Honor and the support staff. 

Presentation Tools TrialPad ($89.99) “Turn your iPad into a powerful courtroom ally,” or so says the makers of TrialPad. This app was designed with lawyers in mind, and really is a full-fledged trial presentation tool—at $89.99, I would hope. I have not personally used this app, but it comes highly recommended. Using an HDMI, or DVI A/V adapter cable, you can display your iPad on the courtroom projection screen. TrialPad allows for vivid evidence presentation, document annotation for added emphasis, and organizes everything into one accessible digital workplace.

Prezi (Free) If your find yourself charged with presenting at the department’s weekly meetings, or need a visually engaging way to give a slideshow in court, Prezi is for you. I cannot take credit for finding this app, as some colleagues in another course utilized it for a presentation. I was mainly impressed with the fluidity of the interface. Nowadays, everyone’s head is in the “cloud” and this service is nestled comfortably on its very own digital cumulus. I have not had the opportunity to explore it as much as I would like, but I recommend trying it out. The “core” version is free, and may be accessed through the computer, or the iPad app. This is especially useful for students, as they offer an educational discount (which is essentially the middle level package) for free.

Mobile Mouse Pro ($1.99) If you have an iDevice or err… something Android . . . Mobile Mouse Pro turns your device into a mobile remote and trackpad. The plus side is that it works over Wi-Fi, so as long as your host machine and iPad are connected to the same network you can use the device screen without worrying about obstacles or stepping out-of-range. It does have drawbacks; no Wi-Fi, no remote. You can type, swipe, click, or scroll your way through any document, or access any program on the host machine. No need to carry a wireless presenter when I am almost certain you will have your phone within arm’s reach. 

Whew. To one who has never considered a digital practice, the idea can be daunting, and for the later bloomer, its implementation frustrating. But ultimately, it’s counterproductive to stalwart the soon-to-be ending era of forest clearing law practice (sorry, Thomson Reuters, no pocket parts for me). Instead, the modern lawyer should embrace practicing in the digital age by adopting new and emerging tech as part of the everyday. Cutting costs and recapturing personal time is a dream of every practicing lawyer, so leave the tech-repulsing fisticuffs in the 20th century. Technology—it’s supposed to make things easier, remember?

Will Manolis is a third-year evening student and earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Pittsburgh, where he studied English Writing and Political Science. Will is a clerk at the law firm of Portnoy & Quinn, LLC, and (obviously) spends much-too-much time keeping abreast with the tech world, as well as devising an app to sell to Facebook for a billion dollars. Will may be reached at w.j.manolis@gmail.com.