One of the things I love about writing this blog is connecting with readers and finding out how they use the iPad in their mobile workflow. I recently had the pleasure of connecting with reader Andrew Nettleman, a lawyer out of Wilmington North Carolina. I asked if he was interested in putting together a guest post about the tools he uses in his practice and he kindly agreed. While Andrew’s workflow isn’t what I’d put together for myself, I love how he has built something that fits his practice and workflows perfectly. I added a couple links to some of the sites he mentioned to provide a bit more context, otherwise, its all Andrew.
Take it away, Andrew!
The purchase of my iPad was a watershed moment in my ability to effectively practice law. As you will see, mine is a practice on the go and my iPad allows me the freedom and mobility to be both mobile and efficient. I am constantly approached by attorneys who ask me one of two questions: “Does that thing help you at all?” and “What apps are you using?” I hope that this article affirmatively answers the first question and helpfully answers the second. We will begin by discussing the nature of my practice and the tools I use on a daily basis. We will then move into the apps I use and how my iPad allows me to practice on the go.
But for my iPad and my cellphone, I would not be able to effectively practice law and run a law firm. For the purposes of this post, I will not discuss the built in apps (like Mail) that I use daily. I will instead focus on the key apps that I have downloaded and/or purchased.
We opened our firm approximately three years ago. At the time, hosted practice management and client management software was on the bleeding edge of law office tech and I was uncomfortable putting all our confidential client data in the cloud. We therefore chose to go with locally hosted applications, choosing Amicus Attorney and PC Law running on a SBS 2008 local server. These programs necessitated a Windows-based operating environment for our PCs. Once these investments run their life cycle, we will look to fully join the cloud. We recently migrated Exchange from our server and to Office365.com for our email needs. We have saved a ton of money on support costs and haven’t looked back. We use Paperport for file management and Microsoft Lync for secure inter-office IM communication. We have clients located all over the country and use either Lync or Skype for video and web conferencing and Basecamp for client collaboration. We have been utilizing a hosted VOIP solution for telephone and will shortly be migrating to a new local supplier for this service.
A PRACTICE ON THE GO
Our firm is located in a coastal city of about 105,000 people in the smallest county by geographic area in North Carolina. It is very common that I will travel to two or three counties a week and I weekly appear in at least two counties and often three on any given day. Needless to say, I put a lot of miles on my car and I spend a lot of time outside my office. I have also recently been sworn in to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, which covers the eastern area of North Carolina from Raleigh to the coast, and I anticipate traveling even more than I already am to appear in the 5 Federal courthouses in this District, several of which are significantly more than 100 miles away from my office. I tell you all this to illustrate that I don’t spend much time in my office–or even within my home zip code–and it is vital that I be able to work while on the go. The map below shows the locations of all the courthouses I may frequent.
As the Managing Partner of a small firm, I wear a lot of hats. I practice law, I program and monitor our web site, I manage our billing, and I coordinate our marketing and technology adoption. Doing all this and being gone from the office means that productivity on the go is a must.
MY OFFICE ON WHEELS
I have experimented with a number of different mobile combinations and have arrived at the following solution. This combination works well for me, but your mileage may vary (pun!).
I currently use a 1st generation 64GB WiFi and 3G enabled iPad. I purchased my iPad several months after its release and the AT&T model was the only one available at the time. There are several rural areas in eastern NC where AT&T service is spotty at best, and I had to purchase a mobile hotspot through Verizon for coverage in those areas. I anticipate upgrading to a comparable version of the new iPad, probably through Verizon, when the contract on my hotspot runs out towards the end of year. My 1st Gen is beginning to show its age, particularly when attempting to handle some of the newest processor-intensive apps to hit the App Store. The addition of LTE mobile speeds where available is also a major reason I see for the upgrade.
SAMSUNG GALAXY NOTE
An Android-powered smart phone? GASP! There were several reasons for my choice of this phone. If you haven’t seen one in person, you seriously need to stop by an AT&T store and check one out. The stylus function of this phablet (phone + tablet) is incredibly useful for note taking and the extra screen real estate is great when using the phone to read a Kindle Book or utilizing the inbuilt (and free!) Google Maps Navigation app. The vast majority of apps are cross platform compatible with iOS and Android and the benefits of this particular model were many. I will include a screen shot from my Note where appropriate below.
While on the go, I often carry a couple of additional accessories. I use a BlueAnt S4 Bluetooth speaker phone in my car. The S4 will connect to two Bluetooth enabled devices at once and stays connected to my phone and iPad throughout the day. I have a family member and client that is currently living and working in China on a direct 12 hour inversion from the East Coast. If my iPad is connected to my Wifi hotspot I can Skype with him while driving, an enormous cost savings over international cell calls.
I often also carry an Amazon Basics Bluetooth keyboard for my iPad if I plan on doing any heavy data entry. This keyboard allows me to prepare orders in motions practice from prior templates and email or print the documents without ever leaving the courthouse. If I am not planning on doing intensive data entry, I leave the keyboard in my office to keep my briefcase weight down.
I also have a Laptop and a Kindle Touch that don’t often travel with me. My Laptop is a 17 inch monstrosity that weighs about 12 pounds and is basically a high powered desktop packed into a quasi-mobile frame. It only leaves the comfort of my home or office when I am traveling to a conference or will be away from home for more than a few days. My Kindle lives by my bed and really only leaves the house when I am going to be reading for an extended time period in direct sunlight (such as on the beach) where the iPad’s screen really doesn’t perform well.
CONSIDERATIONS IN PICKING MOBILE APPS
I constantly experiment with new apps for my mobile devices. When choosing apps I look for the following considerations. If I can satisfactorily answer these questions, I will give the app a spin.
Is it Cross-Platform Compatible? (iOS, Android and PC)
Will it make my work more efficient?
Is it easy to get data into and out of the app?
If data lives in the cloud, is it secure?
APPS I LIVE IN
The following are the two apps that I constantly use for the practice of law. I literally couldn’t do my job while on the go without these apps.
Evernote (iTunes link)
I use Evernote every day and more than any other app I own. The basic version of Evernote is free. Evernote is a conglomeration of a word processor, a checklist app, a photo album, a web clipper and a voice memo app. I write posts for my firm’s blog in Evernote. I wrote this article in Evernote across three days and four counties on my PC, my iPad and my phone. I save web pages and online reference materials with the web clipper. I draft almost every document I create from scratch in Evernote, and I often paste documents into the word processor to use as a template to rework for different clients. The killer feature of Evernote in my estimation is that it automatically syncs to all your connected devices in near real time. This means that I can begin to draft a document on my computer in my office before court in the morning and then open the document on my iPad or cellphone while in calendar call or waiting for a witness, victim or officer in court and Evernote has automatically synced my work. I read a number of blogs and websites every day on my mobile devices and can automatically clip URLs or entire web page contents to a new note to refer to later when I have time to review them. Evernote is also incredibly intelligent. If you have a meeting scheduled on your calendar on your mobile device, it will use that data to automatically populate fields in the note. Evernote also has a clipper for Outlook that lets you save contents of emails for later viewing if you wish.
Evernote refers to each new entry as a note and organizes them in Notebooks which you can sort and name. The paid version of Evernote allows you to share specific notes or notebooks with other people and you can determine whether they can only view the notes contained within the notebook or edit them as well. This means that I can share a notebook with my Paralegal. If I finish the draft of a document while I am away from the office, I simply email, text or IM her to let he know the document is ready and she can then copy from Evernote into Word, format and proofread the document, and it is ready for my signature when I return to the office. I have often shared a note in non-editable form with a client to show them a picture, document or the like. The app also provides you with an email address that you can send documents or pictures to that will automatically upload your information.
A non-confidential example: My wife and I are building a house and we have created a shared notebook called “New House”. We keep checklists of questions and concerns we have for the builder, pictures we have taken with our cell phones of products and designs we like, and cost information. This notebook is updated on all our devices and we have a record and a central repository of information that automatically updates. You can see a bulleted list of initial thoughts, followed by checklists of follow up items in the note itself below. I have provided screen shots for all three devices where I use Evernote for comparison purposes.
This is a clip of the Evernote interface in Windows for our New House Notebook. A note is open in the right pane of the app. You can see a bulleted list of initial thoughts, followed by checklists of follow up items in the note itself.
Here is the view of the same notebook on my iPad
Here is the notebook view on my Galaxy Note
I snapped each of these screen shots on my individual devices and saved the screen shots to my Evernote notebook for Blog posts to access anywhere. It really is an incredibly powerful app.
Dropbox (iTunes link)
Dropbox is a cloud-based storage app that has a number of very powerful positives and two glaring negatives. For the moment, I still utilize it extensively on my iPad, but I am currently looking for a viable substitute. The basic version of Dropbox is free and Dropbox also has apps for iOS, Android and PC. You simply save a document on your computer to the Dropbox folder on your PC and it appears on all your devices, much like Evernote. Dropbox allows you to save your documents in their native format and edit them in the same format, if a native editor is available on your device. This feature looks more and more attractive with the rumored release of Office for iPad. Dropbox also integrates with an incredible number of apps, which allows you to save, open and edit virtually any document type on your connected device and automatically sync them to everywhere Dropbox is installed. For instance, my Dropbox account is on my Paralegal’s computer and she can save a PDF document to the folder for my review. I can open the document with PDF Expert (or any other PDF editor and annotation app), make changes, and the changes automatically save back to her computer for printing.
There are two major drawbacks to Dropbox. The first is that your documents must be saved to a specific folder before you can access them from your device. This means that if the document doesn’t “live” in that folder, I have to email, IM or text my paralegal and ask her to put the document in the Dropbox folder before I can access it. You can increase your storage on Dropbox and could theoretically keep all your client’s files in your Dropbox folder, but this would be expensive and leads to the second concern. The second drawback is that Dropbox security has been breached once before. The breach was apparently not widespread and like most companies Dropbox security is probably better because of it, but the prior breach is a concern.
Because of these two drawbacks, I have begun to look to other services for cloud-based storage. SugarSync looks like a product that might satisfy my needs, and I am experimenting with it now. I would love to hear feedback from anyone who has used it in the comments below.
APPS I USE FREQUENTLY
These are apps I often use for work, but that aren’t as mission critical as the above.
Lync (iTunes link)
As I said above, Lync is a secure IM application that we use in our office. It comes included with our office365.com plan. Lync functions much like any other IM product on your iPad, but conversations are automatically saved to your email account and accessible on your PC through Outlook. Lync allows me to securely communicate with my firm from anywhere as if I was in my office and is my default communication medium while on the road. I often use it to communicate with my paralegal to get her to put documents in my Dropbox folder or the like.
Quickoffice Pro HD (iTunes link)
I use Quickoffice for editing Office applications. This app is the best I have found in terms of cost and functionality. You sometimes end up with formatting irregularities when opening documents you have edited with Quickoffice in Word. Quickoffice also integrates with Dropbox and other cloud storage services for ease of access to documents.
PDF Expert (iTunes link)
For the longest time I used GoodReader for PDF review and annotation, but PDF Expert has won me over. This app allows you to read and annotate PDFs, draw and add notes and fill in PDF forms. That is probably enough said. It also integrates with Dropbox, Google Docs and other iOS apps. I don’t do a ton of PDF editing while on the go, but I use PDF Expert when I do.
Analytics <(a href="http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/analytics-app/id303689911?mt=8">iTunes link)
Analytics is the app I utilize to monitor my Google Analytics web traffic and site performance while on the go. Analytics uses the Google API to access your account data and display graphs and reports of web metrics. This is often my first line of defense to determine if there is a problem with my site. You can develop custom report on the Google website that will display in Analytics and I use this to monitor my Adowrds campaigns as well.
GPS Drive HD (iTunes link)
If I am not using my Galaxy Note and Google Navigation, I use GPS Drive HD to get from Point A to Point B.
Audible (iTunes link)
I love to read, but don’t have much time for pleasure reading. I use Audible, which is an Amazon-owned company, to purchase and listen to audio books. Audible is a tiered monthly subscription service that allows you to download so many books per month. I find audio books make the time go faster while in the car and help me to relax and not overly dwell on cases and problems.
Kindle (iTunes link)
When I do get to read for pleasure, I use my Kindle app on my iPad, my phone or my Kindle Touch. The major legal publishers have also started producing documents in Kindle format and I recently purchased North Carolina Criminal Law and Procedure from Lexis for my Kindle. I refer to it frequently and find the search function to be highly useful when I need a statute at my fingertips.
Basecamp Mobile a web app, not a native iOS app. This means that you visit the webpage from your mobile device and can save a link to your iPad desktop. We use Basecamp to communicate with our clients in complex litigation cases and the service allows everyone with access to upload, download and save revisions to documents. This is particularly helpful in litigation when your client is not in the area and you need to get them documents for their review and input. It consolidates files in a central repository and tracks and saves revisions. You can set notification preferences and there will no longer be 43 different versions of documents living in individual email accounts.
I hope that the above use case for my iPad-based practice on the go will be helpful to those of you who already incorporate an iPad into your practice flow and to those of you who are contemplating adding an iPad and are wondering if the addition will prove to be a valuable one. I would love to hear feedback on my app choices and suggestions for mission critical apps in the comments below.
Andrew Nettleman is the Managing Partner of The Nettleman Law Firm, PLLC, a criminal defense and family law firm located in Wilmington, NC. Andrew’s practice is primarily focused in the areas of Criminal Defense, Debt Defense and Unemployment Appeals. You can follow him on Twitter @HeelEsq or contact him via his firm’s contact page.
Have a workflow utilizing the iPad that you’d like to share? Drop me a line!