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Monday, 27 December 2010

Using the iPad in legal practice — Part 1




1. Part 1 — Setting up
1.1 WiFi + 3G, or just WiFi
1.2 Storage capacity
1.3 Which mobile network
1.4 Online storage
   1.4.1 DropBox
   1.4.2 BoxNet
   1.4.3 SugarSync
   1.4.4 iDisk
1.5 Adobe Acrobat
1.6 Scanner
1.7 File structure and naming convention
1.8 Fax service

Later posts
2. Applications for the iPad
3. Getting information on and off the iPad
4. Using the iPad in Court
5. Other uses and miscellaneous stuff


Back in July I briefly blogged about using the iPad. Now I can’t imagine working without it!

It might be because I use my iPad so much that a few folks have asked me for more detail about how I use it.

I dare say some of you found a shiny new iPad under the tree on Christmas Day, so this seems like an opportune time to share my setup with you.

Of course, this is just my personal setup, not some gospel truth describing the only way to use an iPad, so please don’t think you should slavishly follow what I do. I’m always picking up new ideas about how to use the iPad, and would love to read any suggestions you have.

The iPad provides a fantastic way of accessing all my documents when I’m away from the computer: such as in court! The first thing to do is to set yourself up so you can take advantage of your iPad when you’re out of the office.

Part 1 — Setting up


1.1 WiFi + 3G, or just WiFi


WiFi refers to an internet connection over a wireless network, using a wireless access point to transmit an internet connection over a short distance, say up to 100 metres.

3G refers to the third-generation mobile telephone networks that provide high-speed data services as well as voice transmission.

I have the WiFi + 3G version. Many US blogs recommend buying just the WiFi version. Free public WiFi networks — or ‘hotspots’ — must be common over there. But here in Australia, they‘re still relatively scarce. Get the WiFi + 3G iPad so you can access the internet when you’re on the go.

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1.2 Storage capacity


The iPad uses solid-state storage — also called a flash drive — instead of a spinning magnetic hard-disk drive. It comes in 3 sizes: 16GB, 32GB and 64GB.

Just like you can’t be too rich and too good looking, when it comes to computer devices you can‘t have too much storage and too much speed. I have the 64GB model, so I never have to worry about how much space is available for my documents.

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1.3 Which mobile network


This is a complex question and provokes lengthy debates in online forums. You have three mobile phone networks to choose from: Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone. Virgin re-sells Optus; and 3 has a legacy network sharing agreement with Telstra, but was bought by Vodafone about a year ago and is gradually merging identity.

I’ve tried Vodafone, 3 and Telstra. Now that Telstra’s prices are more competitive, I use a Telstra 3GB-per-month pre-paid service, and find that’s heaps of data for me. (1GB would be a bit tight, and I just want to use my iPad without worrying about how much data is left.) If I kept mainly to the city or big population areas, I’d probably use Vodafone. 3 is only good if you stay in the capital cities, and in my experience, its network is a bit patchy in areas. Optus has good prices, but I don’t know if it still suffers network congestion because it’s so popular. YMMV. (Your mileage may vary.)

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1.4 Online storage


I said before I can access my documents on my iPad when I’m away from the computer. I do this using online or ‘cloud’ storage. (‘Cloud’ is a metaphor for the internet, as data is loaded ‘up’ to and ‘down’ from the ‘cloud’.)

All my documents are stored on my computer, and synchronised with a cloud-service. I have more than 64GB of data on my computer, so I only load onto the iPad those documents I anticipate needing. But if I need something else, I use my iPad’s data connection to access my documents stored in the cloud. I can even download them onto my iPad.

Two other good reasons to use cloud storage are:
  1. Files are synchronised across linked devices. I change a document on my laptop at home, and the changes are replicated on my desktop computer in chambers, and vice versa. And I can access different change versions.
  2. Files are securely backed up. In case of fire, flood or theft, all my files are still backed up and accessible in the cloud. Remember Hurricane Katrina? Apparently many New Orleans lawyers lost all their files, and even now struggle with cases more than 5 years old. What will you do if your only copy of your paper file is lost, destroyed or stolen?
There are many services, but I’ll mention only the main ones I’m familiar with.

1.4.1 DropBox


DropBox is indispensable. You need it. You want it. Just get it. Get a free 2GB account; try it for yourself.

It backs-up and synchronises everything inside a folder named DropBox. I put all my folders in there, rather than under ‘My Documents’. I have two accounts: a 100GB personal account, and a 50GB work account. DropBox uses 128-bit encryption, and its employees can’t see my data without my password.

DropBox allows me to set up share folders. I grant access to specified people to that share folder, and we can all see and access the files. No email size limits, and no problems with version control of our documents!

DropBox also has public share folders. Any documents in there are available to the world.

1.4.2 BoxNet


BoxNet. Similar to DropBox, but with a heavier emphasis on sharing documents. I also have a BoxNet account.

1.4.3 SugarSync


SugarSync. Also similar to DropBox, but allows the user to select any folder to backup. It doesn’t link quite as easily to some of the iPad applications I’ll discuss in later posts, which is probably the only reason why I prefer DropBox over this great service. Yup, I have a SugarSync account too.

1.4.4 iDisk


iDisk is online storage provided as part of Apple’s MobileMe service. It should work like the other services, but in my experience it is painfully slow to the point of being unusable. Everything else in MobileMe works just great, so I keep this subscription for my calendar, address book and email synchronisation.

Before using cloud-storage, you should make sure the service you chose will satisfy any obligations of privilege or confidentiality that apply to you.

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1.5 Adobe Acrobat


Aside from iTunes to activate the iPad when you first get it, you don‘t need other software on your computer to use the iPad.

But if you want to get the most use with your documents on it, having Adobe Acrobat helps. A lot. There are cheaper programs that do some of what Acrobat does, but not everything. If you want to do everything that Microsoft Office can do, you have to spend the cash buying MS Office. So too if you want to do everything Acrobat can do, you need to buy Acrobat. Oh, and I don’t mean Acrobat Reader: I’m talking about the full version of Adobe Acrobat Professional.

With Acrobat I can convert Word documents and webpages to PDF; combine files; add bookmarks, sticky notes and highlights to documents; insert annotations; OCR (optical character recognition) documents scanned as images, and virtual faxes, and turn them into searchable documents; and add security restrictions to documents.

If you want to know more about using Acrobat in legal practice, check out:

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1.6 Scanner


I have two scanners to turn all the paper I get into electronic documents. That way I can store my briefs in the cloud, and only carry on my iPad those that I need. If for some reason I need access to a brief not on my iPad, I get it instantly through my DropBox.

The Fujitsu ScanSnaps are highly recommended. I have two.

The S1500M desktop is a sheet-feed scanner that scans both sides of a document in one pass. It holds up to 50 sheets.

The S300M portable scanner unfolds to take up to 10 A4 sheets at a time, and also scans both sides of a document in a single pass. It can run off USB or AC power. I do take it to court occasionally. Once, when briefed at court, I used it to scan parts of the only copy of a police brief (with permission) at a courthouse with no copying facilities. Once it was converted to PDF I put the brief together electronically with Acrobat on my laptop, bookmarked it, and transferred it to my iPad! Instant disclosure!

If you shop around, you can buy both scanners from online retailers cheaper than the RRP.

And if you have a scanner, with software like Paperless or Neat Receipts you can digitise all your receipts and get rid of that shoebox!

Last, if you do use a scanner, buy a stamp that reads “scanned”. Scan paper as it comes in, and if you need to keep it rather than return it or shred it (ideal), stamp it as scanned so the next time you see it you know it’s done.

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1.7 File structure and naming convention


It’s important your file structure and naming convention helps you locate files quickly and easily. If you use a commercial document management system, then that system will name and file your files for you.

Otherwise, it’s up to you how to name and arrange your files.

Two common conventions for naming files are:
  • Starting with a date e.g. [document date] [description]
  • Starting with the type of document e.g. [Document Type][Receiving Party][Subject][Original Document Date] or some similar format

I use the first naming style, using the appearance date I’m briefed for e.g. yyyy_mm_dd FAMILYNAME Given name — [brief type].pdf.

Here’s a screenshot of my work DropBox, showing my folder structure, and some of my briefs.


These file names automatically sort in date order. If I do forget where a file is, I can search for it by file name or — because the files are OCR’d — by a word or phrase in the file.

Getting the structure right and choosing a naming system that works for you is important. I spent more time deciding on this than any other aspect of setting up my computer and iPad. A few resources you might find helpful are:

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1.8 Fax service


Last, not strictly something just for the iPad but useful nonetheless, a virtual fax service allows me to send and receive faxes by email as PDFs. No fax machine or paper required. Great for getting faxes at court without the fees some of them charge!

I use Ozefax, but only because I get so few faxes. The VicBar offers a service through Fax2Mail (also see here), which is better value if you send and receive a lot of faxes.

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Next up, apps for the iPad and how to get data on and off it.

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