Not an iPad lawyer
by Daniel Robinson
Well, dear readers, two posts are enough time to waffle on vaguely before getting down to the brute practicalities. Be assured that if these posts were actually submissions, and I were actually in a court instead of tapping out these fairly informal missives to the ether, it would have happened much earlier in the day.
Actually, let’s take the court analogy further. Here’s some imaginary transcript from Paperless Chambers v Status Quo, assuming that I had indeed waffled:
MR ROBINSON: Welcome to the maiden post of the Paperless Chambers project … endless rolling articled clerks made weak and lame … teacher of master teachers to teach the master teachers’ teaching of the teacher of teachers’ teaching … everyone will do it differently … my mum cutting the seals off milk bottles … needs to be just as efficient, or more efficient, than the alternative …
HER HONOUR: Is this just another blog about lawyers using iPads in court? Because iPads are wickedly cool, and in fact I have one here in front of me, as does your opposing counsel, but in the end there are still 20 volumes of court book for the defendant to lug around, 20 volumes of their own plus 20 for the witness that the plaintiff has to lug around, 20 more for my associate to drag up and down the steep dungeon-like stairs out the back of the courtroom, and another 20 that no-one really knows why they are here, but someone brought them along anyway. Not to mention the looseleafs, folders of authorities, and whatever those eight boxes over there are…
MR ROBINSON: Actually, it is my submission that the iPad, at its current stage of development, is not all that useful for most lawyers.
HER HONOUR: Mr Jobs, please do not interject. This is not your matter, sit down. Mr Robinson.
MR ROBINSON: I’m not criticising the iPad. I also think that it’s the most awe-inspiring piece of technology to come out since that blocky stealth bomber jet that, as a child in the 80s, I thought was the very definition of our blocky high-tech future, and I salute Mr Jobs in general for finally bringing simplicity and beauty to IT. I do want one as much as any other apple-eyed acolyte. My best friend is an iPad developer (check it out). And when I do buy one, I will probably use it in my work. Who knows – in five years time, it may be able to elegantly do almost everything I could want it to and more. It’s just that when you think about what a lawyer needs to do, and what the iPad is currently able to do, there are only a few things that it does as well as or better than the alternative, a whole heap of things that it can do with less efficiency, and plenty that it just can’t do at all.
The thing is that the iPad isn’t designed to be first and foremost a professional tool, at least not yet, and at least not for lawyers. That’s a niche that I’m sure Mr Jobs hasn’t ignored, but he hasn’t really targeted it specifically. It was a decision he no doubt made by appraising the market out there, and seeing hordes of people desperately wanting a good content-consumption tablet on the one hand, and on the other, enterprises that use Lotus Notes for email (and nothing else) for no better reason than they bought it a decade ago and it’s too expensive to switch and retrain. Lawyering is a business, and one with fairly specialised IT needs, and at least at this stage in time, whatever solution you find on the iPad to those lawyering needs is likely to have a cobbled together feel. A bit awkward, not quite what you were after, gaps here and there, and likely less convenient than whatever you were doing before. Which is great for enthusiasts who don’t mind a bit of messing around and a steep learning curve, but not really what I’m all about. And, it seems, not what most lawyers are about.
So, without being so presumptuous as to review a product that I don’t even own, here are some of the main thought bubbles that frothed into my head when thinking about iPad lawyering, following my key pattern: what do I need to do, how do I do it on the iPad, and how does it compare to doing it without an iPad?
Email, calendar and generic office management stuff: Everyone needs this, and as far as I can see, the iPad does it well. Digital data has a flexibility and search capacity that you can’t get from bits of paper. This in itself may well be reason enough to carry one around.
Trial presentation: There are a few specific apps for this and it could well be an elegant presentation tool for certain trials, and document-light jury trials in particular. There’s even an app for recording observations of the jury in minute detail, which I found incredibly intriguing: “Your Honour, I wish to make an application to discharge the jury. By tracking juror number 5’s eye movements with my iPad, I have discovered that the juror is in fact sketching this unflattering picture of my witness.”
Quick research: An unexpected issue thrown in by the judge, a case you remember in the back of your head but didn’t expect to use… the iPad is probably the best way to jump on Jade or Austlii and get that little bit of information you didn’t know you’d need in time for reply submissions. This is probably the number one thing that barristers, and juniors appearing with a silk in particular, are doing with their iPads in court (a more cynical observer might say ‘Facebook’! But I’m not cynical).
In court document management: No matter how magical the interface and how nimble of finger you are, I seriously doubt that you can get everything you need in front of you when you need it on a 25cm screen. You could certainly use it in place of one or two things – legislation especially, and if in a particular hearing your iPad is nothing more than your copy of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth), well, you’ve saved 1,463 pages of printing right there, and about 16.8kg of carbon emissions. But for document-heavy cases, that’s a drop in the ocean.
Out of court document management: While wasted seconds may not matter so much as they would in court, the iPad still presents problems for lawyers working with documents generally. Essentially, it doesn’t play well in the existing legal IT ecosystem. You can find ways to handle annotated PDFs and Word documents, but they are work-arounds. You can manage documents as files in a PC-style folder system, but it’s a work-around – the iPad is deliberately designed to be app-centric rather than file-centric. Always more MacGyver than Inspector Gadget.
Working from the airport, the bus, a cafe, cinema, the dinner table, a trek in the Alps, etc: I must say I don’t get this. I can do a bit of work in long waits at the airport or an interstate rail trip, but who actually does work from a cafe? People who are less easily distracted than me, I suppose. If this is something you are looking for, the iPad is great. As for me, I work in court, chambers, the library, and home. The cafe is just for a quick coffee before work, while staring aimlessly at the clouds of cigarette smoke and exhaust fumes.
So, that’s all I really have to say for now about iPad lawyering. I’ll leave the rest to lawyers who actually use one, a good list of which you can find here. A quick Google search didn’t unearth anything Australia-specific, but if you’re an Australian lawyer who has blawgged about your iPad, or who has anything to say about it, comments are open.
An especially useful guide to kitting up your iPad for legal work, especially document management, can be found here. I think it also nicely illustrates my contention that lawyers wanting to seriously use the iPad now will have to pull a MacGyver and cobble together a lot of work-arounds. Which is fine if you’re into that sort of thing. If you’re not, you may prefer the different lightbulbs above my head in the next series of posts.
Update 13/9/11 – My attention was drawn today to another detailed guide on kitting up your iPad for legal work, written moreover by a Victorian barrister, Kyle McDonald:
1. Setting up
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