This is the second installment in my multi-part series about basic apps to turn your iPad into a serviceable work machine. We aren’t tackling special needs here, just the basics. Last time we considered file storage and access. This time we’re looking at apps to help with the stock in trade for many lawyers: writing.
Writing. Lets get one thing out of the way right now: Microsoft Word isn’t a writing tool, it is a formatting tool. When you need to write – and I mean seriously get words out of your head and down on paper (or into electrons) – any “features” not having solely to do with the act of writing are just distractions. The tools in today’s post are just about writing. Everything captured with these apps can be pasted into a Word doc when the time comes for formatting. Until then, use these apps to crank out the words.
Since you are writing on your iPad, it probably means you are from behind your desktop: coffee shop, park, hotel, conference room, whatever. In all likelihood, what you draft on the iPad isn’t the version being sent to the client or filed in court.
There are lots of great apps coming out in is area, but four top my recommended list. Right now the app getting the most use on my iPad is PlainText (iTunes link). In fact, I’m drafting is post in PlainText right now. PlainText is a basic text editor that works with Dropbox (I told you to get Dropbox). The interface is clean and straightforward: files on the left third and drafting window on the right two-thirds. The drafting window can be expanded fill the screen eliminating everything but your text. The interface has an appealing ivory color – like high quality linen paper – which is easier on the eyes than a white background. All your files are stored in your Dropbox for later use. Plaintext also works with TextExpander (iTunes link) (which I’ve talked about before). Best of all, PlainText is absolutely free.
A close second to PlainText is Simplenote (iTunes link). Rather than syncing files with Dropbox, Simplenote syncs with a web service giving you to access your files from from any browser. Simplenote contains a number of other features including the ability to send text directly out of the app in an email, tagging, versioning, and search. Have cases or statutesnyou use frequently? Paste each into a separate text files so you can search across them easily. The really distinguishing feature of Simplenote is the ability to share files with others for simultaneous collaboration via the web. Simple note also works with TextExpander. The Simplenote app and web service are both free.
Two other Dropbox based sync options worth considering. Many people like Second Gear Software’s Elements (iTunes link). Elements has more features than PlainText (including search) but does not have the collaboration tools like Simplenote. One distinguishing feature of Elements is the ability to preview Markdown text and HTML (which is probably meaningless except for those few lawyers that need to write for the web). Elements is $4.99.
A new app in this area for me is Information Architects Writer (iTunes link). Writer is another Dropbox sync text editor with a few unique features. Writer probably does the best job of all the apps I’ve listed here in terms of creating the best environment for writing. What you notice immediately when using the app is a beautiful monospaced font that was custom created and optimized for use on the iPad. While most everything printed in the legal world is in some variant of Times Roman, such fonts do not perform well on screen (after a few hours in front of a screen with a well designed font, you will see what a difference it can make). Writer also offers a focus mode that blurs out all but the last few lines of text so you are not distracted and drawn backwards into your previous work. The final notable feature about Writer is an extra row of buttons added to the iPad’s virtual keyboard. These extra keys facilitate navigation and certain frequently used punctuation marks. Writer is $4.99.
I currently have all of these apps on my iPad. The app getting the most use for drafting (first versions of correspondence, contracts) is Writer. The interface, font and focus mode are all helpful to my writing process. When I write for this blog, I like the ability to preview my HTML or markdown, so Elements is great for its ability to preview that type of formatting. I’ve used a 37Signals Writeboard for my other collaborative drafting projects, but I plan to try this feature in Simplenote next time I have an opportunity. I use PlainText for note taking in client meetings. In these situations, I’m more in transcription mode than drafting mode, rarely even looking at the screen. So, the minimal feature set of PlainText is appropriate in this case.
Those are my writing recommendations for a lawyer on the iPad. Next time I’ll be looking at calculators. Fascinating stuff, I know, but Apple didn’t include a calculator with the iPad and there are times where even lawyers need to add things up.