This is the second post in my series on practicing appellate law from the road. The introductory post is available here.
Effective mobile lawyering requires some up-front preparation. The hardware you’ll take with you is a threshold consideration.
A laptop, tablet, and smartphone are the key tools for practicing remotely. The hardware needed to practice from the road depends to some degree on the depth of the work you’ll be doing.
If you intend to prepare a full-on brief, a laptop with all of your standard software will probably be necessary. Laptops are so powerful these days and external monitors are so common that there’s really no reason to have a desktop computer in the office anymore. Hauling your everyday computer around with you will increase your ease of use and comfort level. But some may not want to make that commitment.
Tablets are more convenient to carry around than laptops. They are suitable for reading emails and PDFs, internet research, and relatively light document drafting or revision. The iOS and Android versions of the most popular word processing programs continue to improve, however, so more substantive legal work may be accomplished on a tablet than ever before. Tablets are the sweet spot for appellate road warriors who want to do some work but don’t want to drag their laptops with them while traveling.
A smartphone is obviously the most convenient device to take with you and requires little advance preparation to make productive. From the road, you can easily monitor email, make and receive calls, surf the internet, and read certain documents. But unless your eyes are sharp and you are an excellent thumb typist, a smartphone is not the best device on which to do much substantive drafting or revision.
Other Key Tools
Several tools beyond a laptop, tablet, and smartphone will help you work successfully from the road. Consider picking up these items before you take off.
If you’re transporting your laptop and other devices, it’s best to have a good carrying case. If most of your traveling is local trips to courthouses and conference rooms, then a nice briefcase is probably best.
But if you’re traveling by plane, you’ll want something that is rugged and fits easily under a seat or in the overhead compartment. And it should have enough capacity to store all of the accessories you’ll need.
If you will work in noisy environments such as in coffee shops or on airplanes, you’ll appreciate having a nice pair of headphones. The best ones to get are the noise-canceling kind.
Noise-canceling headphones don’t eliminate all external sound, but rather minimize external sound. They are best at minimizing regular kinds of sound such as the hum of jet engines or the background conversational noise in a coffee shop.
Dramatically reducing external noise makes it easier to concentrate when you’re working in a public place.
For ultimate versatility, I recommend Apple AirPods. These wireless headphones connect to your devices via Bluetooth. Although they are not noise-canceling, they are great for watching video or listening to music, and they allow you to talk on your smartphone hands-free without the rest of the world hearing the entire conversation. The charging storage case is a neat feature.
External Battery Charger
Since your smartphone is now so crucial to your productivity while out of the office, you need to make sure it doesn’t run out of battery power. That means you’ll need an easy-to-carry external charger.
The bigger battery chargers will hold enough juice to fully charge a dead phone up to three times. But those are usually too big to carry easily. So we recommend something light and small, such as the Mophie Powerstation Plus Mini (now $44.99 on Amazon). Comparable models like the Anker PowerCore II Slim 10000 ($33.99 on Amazon) are also a good choice.
Typing on a tablet is only marginally better than thumb-typing on a smartphone. Fortunately, several good, compact external keyboards are available that more closely approximate the typing experience on your laptop, increasing accuracy and ease of use. Some tablet protective cases have keyboards built into them, reducing the number of accessories needed to work effectively from the road.
Other Common Accessories
Be sure to pack the chargers for your laptop, tablet, and smartphone, and bring USB charging cables. And if you use an Apple Pencil or other stylus with your tablet, don’t leave it behind.
If you’re traveling out of the country, you’ll face steep charges for phone calls and cellular internet access. One solution is to buy a special data plan from your cellular provider. A better solution is to buy a SIM card that you can swap out for your phone’s SIM card.
The data packages will be much cheaper usually. And it will be easier to buy more data if you need to. Finding the best option will require a bit of research. Try searching for “International SIM card” to find something that appeals to you.
If you need GPS service to find your way around, having a lower rate SIM card will be crucial. You won’t be able to receive phone calls made to regular cell-phone number if you replace your SIM card. But that may be a worthwhile tradeoff.
Another uncommon accessory is a small tracking device you can put in your laptop bag or in your luggage. Some tracking devices are small and thin enough to fit in a man’s wallet.
The best-known tracking device is the Tile Tracker, which you can find on Amazon for about $20 each. The batteries in these devices only last for a year, but you’ll get a discount when replacing a unit with an expired battery.
Basic Software Tools
You will also need some basic software tools. Many of you likely use them in your practice already.
Microsoft Office’s suite of applications is a necessity. Most firms already provide Microsoft Word to their users. You can also purchase an annual license through the Office365 program for roughly $99 per year. This permits you to install the entire Office Suite (Word, Excel, OneNote, and PowerPoint) on up to five computers (PCs or Macs) and allows you to download the iOS and Android versions of those programs.
You will also need a program that allows you to create, manipulate, and organize PDF documents. Adobe Acrobat Pro, which is available for PCs and Macs, is the standard. Although Acrobat Pro is expensive standing alone, Adobe now offers the software on a subscription basis as part of its Document Cloud service. The subscription includes other nice features, such as the ability to send and track documents and receive signatures securely.
Alternatives include PDF Expert (Mac) (my favorite), PDFpen for Mac, or iSkysoft PDF Editor 6 Professional (Mac and Windows). These are feature-rich and less expensive than Adobe Pro.
When choosing a PDF program, look for the following functionality: creating PDFs, adding and removing pages in PDF documents, signing documents, and making documents searchable through optical character recognition (OCR). This functionality should carry through to the mobile version as well.
That’s a quick look at potential hardware. The next post will discuss another preparation issue: how to set up and manage files so you can access them from the road.
Image courtesy of Flickr by Bruno Cordioli.