Figuring out what to use in court took a bit of a thinking, but figuring out what to use in chambers is a little easier. The answer, basically, is this: a desktop computer, and a scanner that can effortlessly churn through pages.
Rather than buying another computer, I bought a wireless keyboard, mouse and laptop stand kit. That way there’s no plugging and unplugging (except for the power point, which is pretty much unavoidable unless you bought the perpetual motion model) – I just sit the Iconia on the stand and it transforms by the magical power of wireless into a dual-screen desktop computer. The stand is perfect. The keyboard seems a little clunkier than I’m used to, but I’ll see how it goes and ditch it for a more expensive model if it annoys me too much.
A good sheet-feed scanner is the beating heart of any paperless practice. I will see how I go with what’s already available in chambers for the time being, but it may eventuate that my own scanning needs require my own personal scanning beast to feed. Sam Glover at Lawyerist.com and Jason Beahm at the FindLaw Legal Technology Blog extol the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500, so if/when it comes down to it I would probably start there.
The other difference between chambers and court is that it is in chambers that I will at times (and by ‘at times’ I mean ‘for the greater part of my waking hours’) need to do a whole lot of reading of long documents, cases and textbooks. And that’s the one time when I will reluctantly admit that paperless may hurt a bit. Our eyes aren’t made for backlit screens. You were probably thinking that from the moment you saw the title of this blog. There’s not much I can really say in response to that, except this:
Firstly, if you have to print, print. I will, and I’m styling myself as a paperless evangelist. But really, the key principle is being mindful to only print what you need to, which for some eye-strain cry-babies will be a lot more than it is for the stoic paperless superheroes. Remember too that what you are about to print may be easily retrieved from a library down the corridor.
Secondly, it’s not as bad as it seems. Count the hours your eyes spend in front of the screen and you’ll see that we can actually suffer the white glow for a very long time. It’s not hard to spend as long jumping from one short online article to the other as you’d spend reading the Communist Party Case in one go, and your eyes are barely even weeping vitreous humour from the sockets by the time you’re done.
Thirdly, a lot of computer screen eye-strain misery is as much a cause of poor habits and environment as the simple fact of looking at a screen. Have you adjusted the screen brightness and contrast? It should have been the first thing you did after plugging the computer in for the first time. Here are some other hints, many of which apply equally to reading from paper.
But in the end, if I were asked what one single technological solution I would most want for my paperless chambers if I could have it, my answer would be this: an affordable, versatile, A4-size electronic paper touchscreen reader that will sync nicely with my main working computer. I want to be able to pull up any of my documents onto a non-backlit screen, sit down on a couch or out in Flagstaff Gardens, and read through big chunky texts without my eyeballs bulging out Ren & Stimpy style, annotating as I need to along the way with my finger and/or a stylus.
I can’t do that yet, for a number of reasons. Electronic paper is still new, and difficult and expensive to make, so devices that use it are correspondingly overpriced and subject to multiple shortcomings, like any first-generation technology. E-readers in general aren’t that popular because the e-book industry is a commercial disaster, with all involved parties repeating the exact same mistakes that the music industry did when their product went digital – in essence, doing all they can to rip off, inconvenience and punish their customers, instead of just offering products that are useful, convenient and appropriately priced in a changed marketplace. But these bad times will pass. There’s good reason to think that I will have that elusive gadget within the decade.