Gadgets That Lawyers Cannot Live Without

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by Carole Levitt J.D., M.L.S. & Mark Rosch

What cool tech tools are attorneys and their staff using these days? It depends on whom one asks. From solos to large law firms, the favorites run the gamut of available hardware and software. When we asked various lawyers to choose only their most important gadget or program, some were unable to limit themselves.

While all enthused over their favorites, Harold M. Goldner, a Philadelphia attorney (http://www.goldnerlaw.com), is so attached to his Palm Pilot that he says, “I’d be in therapy if anything happened to my Palm m515, and I’d be out of business without my HP 3100.” (The HP 3100 is a multi-function printer.) Alan Schroeder of the Wal-Mart Realty Group also touts the Palm as one of the favorites of the legal department, which has about 200 attorneys (including real estate, litigation, and employment law attorneys) and about as many support staff. Schroeder relates, “I use it all the time for note-taking during meetings, including strategy, personnel, and interviewing. I also calendar just about everything on it.” The Palm m515 costs $299 at Palm’s Web site (www.palm.com). Newer Palm models such as the Zire begin as low as $71.99 at Amazon.com.

Goldner, who says he would be out of business without his HP 3100, may be sorry to hear that the 3100 has been replaced by the 3320 ($629). The 3100 (and the 3320) are multi-function laserjet printers that allow users to scan, fax, copy, and print. Goldner explains, “In conjunction with Adobe Acrobat, I’m able to scan anything I want, OCR it, and then (with Time Matters) link it to my case files.” He also uses the 3100 with Stamps.com to print his own postage and bar-coded envelopes. The printer works with standard number 10 envelopes as well as the slightly smaller number 9 envelopes enclosed for clients to use for return mail.

Goldner admits that he has problems with the unit’s vertical paper feed, but he is willing to put up with it because “it is still cheaper than using the suite’s main copier, for which I pay 9 cents a copy.” He also prints his own checks on the 3100 using Versa-check and prints onto the checks by using Quickbooks. Noting that the 3100 will take basically “anything I throw at it,” he says, however, it will not accept an envelope in WordPerfect 9.

While Goldner would be in therapy without his Palm, Ross L. Kodner, a Wisconsin attorney and legal technology expert (www.microlaw.com), would never go back to a Palm after using a Kyocera 6035 Smartphone. The Kyocera serves as a Palm, a cell phone, and a Blackberry all in one. Kodner can look up a number in the unit’s address book, make a phone call, calendar a meeting, access the Internet (to surf the Web and send and receive e-mail), and compose a Word-compatible document. The phone also syncs with Time Matters. Ross finds the Kyocera to be an “incredibly sturdy device, with a great speakerphone to boot.” This all-in-one costs roughly $199 after rebates. Even though Kodner claims to “love it,” in the next breath he says he is ready to trade it in for the new Kyocera 7135 “as soon as I can get my hands on it.” This new model costs roughly $550 after rebates and features a folding keyboard, expansion slot, USB and serial connections (making it more like a portable computer), more memory (16 MB), and a color screen—all features that may be indispensable to your law practice.

Although an external modem is not as high-tech as the Kyocera phone, Joel Bennett (http://firms.findlaw.com/joelpbennett), an attorney in Washington, D.C., turned his Nokia phone into an external modem to check e-mail and surf the Web while traveling. The $100 setup from Verizon included an upgrade on the cell, software, and a cable to connect the cell phone to his Toshiba notebook’s serial port. With this setup, Bennett can use the Internet from his hotel room and avoid hotel phone charges.

The Blackberry, although limited in its uses in comparison to the Kyocera or Palm, is still favored by Charles S. Caulkins, a labor attorney in the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, office of Fisher & Phillips (http://www.laborlawyers.com) and Thomas B. Fleming, director of information resources management at Jeffer, Mangels in Los Angeles (www.jmbm.com). Caulkins touts the Blackberry for its “rapid response capability and easy process to take care of e-mails when out of the office.” He also likes the convenient Rolodex feature. Fleming likes the Blackberry for its access to e-mail, calendar (updated remotely), and the Contacts, Tasks, and Memo pad features. Fleming says, “It is very easy to carry, about the size of a pack of cards. I carry it almost everywhere. I am able to read and send emails any-where… including on the bus. At my previous law firm, Piper & Rudnick, we all had laptops, which I thought would be better than the Blackberry, but I have found the Blackberry much more portable and I am able to get more work done on the fly.”

Being able to create PDF documents and to then e-mail or e-fax them was a favorite of several respondents. Old-fashioned faxing is definitely out of favor. James J. Cunningham, a Cincinnati solo transactional attorney (at Jcunningham@triannic.com), uses a combination of e-fax and PDFs. He explains: “I’ve made myself very popular in deals by telling a business person to fax me (via e-fax) his hand-marked-up document, I ‘PDF’ it and send it to everyone else in the deal. Other people don’t seem to have, or know they have, the ability to do this.” Lisa Marks, director of library services of Foley & Lardner’s Los Angeles office (www.foley.com), certainly knows about the ability to do this. She reports, “I have really been thrilled with the ability to convert docs into PDF and e-mail them.”

Marks notes, “Court document retrieval services are also beginning to use this [method] to send copies of court docs. It’s quicker than Fed Ex and provides better quality than faxes.” Attorney Nancy N. Grekin of McCorriston Miller in Honolulu (www.m4law.com) has another alternative to old-fashioned faxing: “Hands down, my Visioneer StrobePro scanner running PaperPort [is my favorite tech tool]. I have practically eliminated faxing documents…by scanning and attaching as e-mail, and its OCR is great. I scanned my signature, converted it to a bitmap, and can insert it in desktop published letterhead that can be e-mailed, so I’ve eliminated postage with it too. It has a feature with forms that allows you to scan in a form, and it will recognize the lines and let you type on them. It is cool because it costs only $199 and is no bigger than a roll of aluminum foil.” The Visioneer Strobe XP100 is available from Amazon.com for only $176.69.

Electronic discovery is becoming increasingly important, and Jeff Brown, a member of Wright, Robinson, a firm with offices in Richmond, Virginia; Los Angeles; San Francisco; and Washington, D.C., says his favorite tool is software—namely, Daticon’s Virtual Partner (www.daticon.com). It allows for the management, review, and production of electronic documents. According to Russell Jackman (rjesq719@aol.com), an authorized reseller of Daticon products, Daticon’s Discovery OnDemand is even more exciting. It is a stand-alone system that indexes, sorts, and saves documents from up to 256 file formats.

Even small tech tools and free tech tools can help save time and money and increase efficiency and productivity. The USB solid state flash drive (commonly referred to as a thumb drive because of its size) provides a big solution. Cindy Chick, of the Information Services Department at Latham & Watkins, whipped out her USB drive when asked for her favorite tech tool. The drives, used for document storage, are about half the size of a highlighter but have up to 1 GB capacity. For attorneys who transport documents between the office and home PC, the USB drive offers extreme portability. For those who travel with a laptop and worry about having it stolen, loading documents onto the USB drive adds security, because the device can be placed in a pocket or hung around the neck with a lanyard (which is usually included with purchase). To use the USB drive, users simply plug it into most computers with a USB port; for newer operating systems, no drivers are required. The USB drive is a good replacement for the zip disk or files stored on CDs. Prices vary; we know of a 64 MB USB drive that cost $10 after rebates. If there are no stores offering drives with such deep rebates in your area, larger, 128 MB USB drives are currently available for as little as $48.99 from Amazon.

A free tech tool, the Google Toolbar (http://toolbar.google.com) is favored by Ben M. Schorr, director of information services at Damon Key in Honolulu (http://www.hawaiilawyer.com). “For folks who use Google frequently, it’s a fantastic add-on. It sits quietly on your toolbar, lets you quickly search Google from anywhere, gives you quick ways to search within the page or within the site, search Google Groups and its dictionary, and just about anything else you’d want to search. It’ll highlight the search terms you used…and you can even have it take you to the next hit or prior site in your results list.” Some of the attorneys at the 25-member firm probably do not even realize they are using this tool, because Schorr installs it by default on all new firm machines. Schorr notes, “About two-thirds of them have it, and quite a few are actually using it regularly. They rave about it, generally.”

Another of the latest cool high-tech interfaces is a data gatherer that understands spoken English: a human being. Attorneys who subscribe to the virtual reference service provided by LRSIonline (www.lrsionline.net) can have immediate online access to an experienced law librarian for live reference assistance. Subscribers can pose questions to one of the service’s librarians by means of a chat feature. Browsing the Internet (including fee-based databases) with a librarian, an attorney simultaneously views the online resources that the librarian is using to locate the information the attorney seeks. The attorney and the librarian are thus literally on the same Web page. Within minutes of completing the request, a transcript with hyperlinks to all sites visited is sent to the attorney. E-mail reference is also available. A subscription to LRSIonline is based on a rate of $50 per hour, according to Vice President Ray Jassin. His company, Law Library Management, has managed the libraries of hundreds of New York City law firms for more than 20 years. During those years, Jassin saw the need for experienced reference assistance at firms that either had no law librarian on staff or only a part-time librarian.

Lawyers at firms small and large are learning to rely on electronic gadgets to keep informed and make their jobs easier. No longer novelties, small devices have secured a niche in the legal technology marketplace, and software continues to develop new ways of managing the large amounts of data that lawyers must cope with. A lawyer with a particular problem may find that an electronic solution has recently appeared.

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