New Albany attorney Derrick Wilson is frequently in the courtroom, and when he needs to check on a fact quickly, he turns to his trusty smartphone.
His phone, which runs on the Android operating system, is loaded with applications that help him perform the functions of his job at Mattox & Wilson.
“On DroidLaw, I have the entire Indiana code,” he said. “In a pinch, if you’re trying to find a code on the fly, it’s there.”
Derrick Wilson is one of a growing number of attorneys who have found that mobile devices enable them to be more productive and handle tasks on the go. And with the ability of phones to link to desktops and remotely access documents, the days of lugging bloated attachés to court may be numbered.
“You’ve got to think of your phone now just like a briefcase,” he said.
Task management and reference
DroidLaw is one of many apps designed specifically for lawyers. Its add-ons include specific laws by state, federal regulations, historical documents, and an array of other handy quick-reference tools. But some of the most popular apps among lawyers weren’t necessarily designed with them in mind.
Jeff Goens, cofounder, president, and general counsel for the Carmel-based company, Dialawg, explained the trend he has noticed.
“In my world, and in several of my colleagues’ worlds, a lot of what we’re using on our mobile devices are not necessarily tied to practice,” he said. “A lot of the non-legal apps are particularly interesting today, because they’re helping us manage the business of law, rather than the practice of law.”
Goens – an iPhone user – ranks Tungle as one of his favorite apps. It’s a calendar application that
allows him to easily schedule group meetings. He can send a meeting invitation to multiple recipients, then invitees select all the times that work for them. Tungle then finds the common times that work for all parties.
He said that finance-related applications, billing apps, and time-trackers seem to be quite popular among lawyers, too.
Derrick Wilson said he, and his secretary, appreciate the functionality of Dictadroid. The dictation application allows him to quickly record a draft of a letter, which he then emails to his secretary to prepare. He said it’s the best dictation app he’s used so far. Not all apps are able to accurately transcribe the words someone says.
“I had used others, and I kept getting bad feedback from my secretary,” he said.
Notes and document management
Bill Wilson of the South Bend firm Anderson Agostino & Keller has an iPhone, but he prefers to use his iPad as a work tool. Bigger than a smartphone, but smaller and more lightweight than a laptop, the iPad serves as a notepad and stores many of his clients’ files.
“Literally, I can take a fairly heavy file and legal pad and leave those behind and just take the iPad to the courthouse,” he said.
Several applications exist for iPad users who want to use their devices as a notepad, including Evernote, WritePad Pro, and Penultimate.
Doug Hill of Hill Fulwider McDowell Funk & Matthews serves on medical review panels, hearing proposed medical malpractice cases. He generally takes his iPad to hearings.
“When I’m taking notes at a medical review panel meeting, I do it in Pages, which is an Apple word processor, and then I keep it in Dropbox, and then I can access that anywhere,” Hill said.
Seth Wilson of Hume Smith Geddes Green & Simmons said that the cause of concern for some Dropbox users is who can access their documents.
“As I understand it, from reading their privacy agreements, the big question with Dropbox is ... whether one of their employees can decrypt the information that’s on the servers under a request from law enforcement,” he said.
But Dropbox continues to be a popular feature on many smartphones.
“From a functional standpoint, Dropbox has taken the lead,” Seth Wilson said. “It just works very smoothly, so I think they’re going to be the target of everyone’s animosity.”
Derrick Wilson said that if you do essentially use your phone as a briefcase, you need to think about what could happen if someone steals it.
“There are certain programs that will remotely wipe your phone – those are the kinds of materials you have to have,” he advised.
Bill Wilson is a fan of long “random gibberish” passwords and recommends setting your mobile device to require password activation if it has gone into sleep mode. He said that while retyping his 20-character password after 10 minutes of inactivity may be tedious, it’s a small price to pay to guarantee his clients’ security.
Goens said attorneys should carefully read terms of service for any applications they use – especially those that store data remotely.
The future of mobile lawyering
While many lawyers seem to prefer the iOS, Android is gaining ground overall in the mobile market. In the second quarter of 2011, ratings and business research giant Nielsen reported that of 20,202 smartphone users surveyed, 39 percent were using Android, 28 percent were using iOS, 20 percent were using Blackberry, and the remainder were using Windows Mobile/WP7, Palm/HP WebOS, and Symbian OS.
While it appears Blackberry may be losing ground in the smartphone battle, Goens said he still would not recommend one phone over another.
“I would say to people who are making a purchase decision, you have to think about what’s really right for you,” he said. While he uses an iPhone, he knows that some people will always prefer Blackberry’s tactile keyboard.
Mobile tablets may very well continue to grow in use as tools for lawyers. Bill Wilson has already noticed that trend.
“Here in St. Joe County … I can tick off a number of people that I know that show up to the courthouse or mediations or things with their iPads, using them to take notes or whatever it is that they’re doing. That’s a pretty significant change from just a year ago,” he said.
Derrick Wilson said he thinks it may take a while for the smartphone to catch on as the top tool of the trade.
“I think a lot of people aren’t using their phone as much as they could,” he said. “But then again, this is not going to replace your notebook for now.”•