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One Lawyer's Tech Toolbox

By Donna Mallard | May 2, 2015

Expert Advice

May 2, 2015

One Lawyer's Tech Toolbox

A litigator reveals his six favorite tech products.

As a litigator focused on technology-heavy cases, I couldn't live without certain tools that help me do my job. But most of them can benefit almost any lawyer in any practice area. Here are my half-dozen favorites, in no particular order.

A very, very large monitor. Your monitor probably isn't big enough. This is a lesson I learned years ago from one of my clients, Google: The company gives every engineer a 30-inch monitor, or two 24-inch monitors, as their default minimum configuration. You can work more efficiently with an oversized monitor-for example, displaying two or three documents at once, or keeping a couple of Westlaw windows fully visible while you draft that brief, or even leaving your timekeeping software always visible. There are a lot of good monitors on the market; I use a 30-inch Samsung. Cost: About $900.

A very, very small smartphone cable. I always carry around a four-inch iPhone cable so I can connect my phone to my laptop for Internet tethering-letting my laptop access the Internet via the phone's Internet connection. This achieves the same end as carrying around a portable "hot spot," but without having to tote around (and remember to bring) the hot spot. This solution has the added benefit of keeping your phone well charged.

It's astonishing what can be done with a laptop and a mobile Internet connection: From the backseat of a New York taxicab, I've collaborated on final edits to a brief in real time with an associate back at my office in San Francisco, and I've filed a new matter in federal court from a café on the Mendocino coast. Tethering magically turns any café without Wi-Fi into a café with Wi-Fi. And having Internet access everywhere can be unexpectedly handy-it's an unobtrusive way to search the Web while taking a deposition, for example. Of course, tethering works for cell phones that aren't iPhones; I've been doing it for more than ten years, so your phone probably can. Cost: $15.

Microsoft SharePoint. SharePoint is Microsoft's document-management system. It can run from the cloud through Microsoft's Office 365 service or on your firm's own server. SharePoint's big advantage: Multiple team members, using regular Microsoft Word (2010 or newer), can concurrently edit the same electronic document. No more having to hand everyone's edits to a staff member to be entered; no more conflicting versions circulating by email; no more phone calls or office-to-office hollering to see if your partner has closed out the brief yet. SharePoint locks the paragraph each person is working on, so conflicts basically don't happen.

We thought it would be a disaster (when a partner makes late-in-the-game edits that mess up the Table of Authorities and the like), but it results in less filing-day chaos rather than more. SharePoint may not work for everybody, but it works pretty well for us. And in a pinch, you can access it from your smartphone (to send the current draft of the brief to your client when nobody's left in the office and you're boarding a flight). Cost: $20 per user per month for Microsoft's hosted service; prices vary widely for on-premises setups.

A modern conference-calling service. Have you ever been on a big conference call that's disrupted by a bunch of noise when somebody's in the car or at the airport? Would you be happy to never again hear the words "Who just joined?" You might consider a modern conference-call service with a Web interface.

We use TurboBridge. It works like a normal conference-call service but also provides the call's host with a control panel to see who's on the call (by caller ID) and who's talking, and to mute or disconnect participants. Cost: about $5 per conference line per month.

Good travel apps. A couple of key smartphone apps are critical to making my business travel more efficient and less infuriating. TripIt (free) lets you (or your assistant) forward all of your travel confirmation emails to, where everything gets organized into a single itinerary that you can see through the TripIt app. (You can also have it show up as a calendar in Outlook or on your phone.) FlightStats (free) comes in handy when it looks like a flight might be delayed: It provides the anticipated runway takeoff and landing times from the FAA, which sometimes tell a different (and frequently more accurate) story than you'd get from the airline's gate departure and arrival times. LoungeBuddy (free) knows the rules for getting into all the airport lounges; for any given airport it can tell you which lounges you can access based on your itinerary, airline status levels, credit cards, and lounge memberships.

Legal apps. You may have noticed that I haven't mentioned any specifically "legal" apps or technologies-most just aren't that good or useful. But some come in handy. A modern time-entry interface, like the ones offered by Harvest and iTimeKeep, can make timekeeping less of a chore. And sometimes in a pinch it's good to have statutes and rules in searchable form on my phone; I like Codification ($0.99) for the U.S. Code, and LawStack (free, with paid-for add-ons) for everything else.

Plenty of aspects of lawyering are poorly suited to automation, but any way technology may be able to help is worth giving a try. The suggestions above have worked wonders for me.

Joseph C. Gratz, a partner with Durie Tangri in San Francisco, litigates complex matters involving emerging technology. He teaches cyberlaw at UC Hastings College of the Law.


Donna Mallard

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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