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By Susan Kuchinskas. She covers business and the business of technology for publications that include Scientific American, Portada, and Telematics Update.
Lawyers looking for apps to help with research, writing, and the logistics of litigation have an ever-growing array of options. But some of the most important online tools for general practice may be consumer apps such as Facebook and Twitter – notwithstanding the real concerns about confidentiality and ethics they pose (…).
Consultants and practicing attorneys say consumer apps should be in anyone’s toolbox – and not for posting selfies. Attorneys can find helpful insights and even usable information on their own clients and the opposition by combing social media.
“Any attorney not using Facebook and Twitter [to gather information] is missing an opportunity,” says David Gharakhanian Jr., a partner in GP Law Group in Beverly Hills. For example, in personal injury disputes a claimant posting photos to Facebook showing himself playing sports can weaken his case, or a client boasting online about partying, or bemoaning “another accident,” can indicate a history of driving while intoxicated, or just bad driving.
Though it can be difficult to get social media posts admitted as evidence at trial, Gharakhanian notes that the scope of questioning in depositions can be quite broad, and social media activity can be fair game. “Ultimately, cases come down to credibility,” he says. “If you can question someone’s credibility, you’ve got leverage.”
Of course, for communicating with clients it’s probably best to stay away from social media apps. Besides intruding on an attorney’s personal life, instant messages and social media posts aren’t subject to attorney-client privilege. Family lawyer Evie P. Jeang, managing partner of Ideal Legal Group in Alhambra, says she couldn’t get clients to stop texting and messaging her on Facebook about their cases. So she switched to Privatus, a business-messaging app that uses military-grade encryption to secure communications.
With Privatus, contacts must be invited to connect via the app and then must download it. Subsequently, all their messages to each other are automatically encrypted and can be decrypted only by users with the password.
“If opposing counsel subpoenas your phone or text messages, they can’t read them. Even the Privatus Web server can’t read them,” says Jeang, adding that case law about subpoenaing passwords has not been established yet.
An extra benefit in using the app, says Jeang, is that it shows clients that the firm is taking extra steps to protect their privacy. Plus, it’s cool. “When you tell your client you have an app … it makes them feel special and think that your firm is really modern,” she says.
There’s still a place for pencil and paper – at least an iPad-improved version – says Adam D. H. Grant, a partner in the Encino firm of Alpert, Barr & Grant. Free from Evernote, the app Penultimate turns your tablet into a legal notepad. Lawyers can use a stylus or their fingertip to write notes that can be saved as a PDF or sent as an email. Grant also likes the way his notes can be synched with his calendar and time-stamped. He can also insert photos or draw on his notes and highlight portions.
Grant says the iPad is less obtrusive than a laptop in meetings and in court. “When you are sitting with clients and you pop up your laptop, you are putting up a barrier. If I have my iPad in my lap, I can look at them and I can write.”
Legal Help on the Go
Mobile apps tailored for lawyers make it easy to get vital information on the go. Alphonse Provinziano, principal attorney with the Beverly Hills firm of Provinziano and Associates, says California Crime Finder lets him look up the maximum punishments and the collateral consequences of a plea. It also tells him which elements a prosecutor must prove for a specific charge. He once used it in conference with a district attorney who wanted to charge one of his clients for DUI with an injury.
“Their perspective was, all they had to do was prove my client was driving under the influence and got into an accident,” he says. But using the app, he showed the DA that the charge required proof that his client actually caused the accident. “They were looking at five years, and with Crime Finder we were able to work it out to misdemeanor with no time.”
Courtroom Objections lets you scroll through lists of objections regarding admissibility or the form of a question with sample language and the supporting legal authorities.
PacerMonitor is not associated with the federal court system’s PACER service, but offers free access to a database with Chapter 11 and district court cases, allows lookups on the PACER Case Locator service from any device, and includes free access to millions of cases. In addition, documents purchased via the app are available on all your devices.
Another app, California Courts, includes the State Bar’s attorney directory, the full text of California rules, plus mobile access to PACER. And it will even generate driving directions to federal courthouses in California!
Legal on the Go
Privatus: Encrypted messaging service from Side Four; for iOS7 or later free, $2.99 for pro version.
Penultimate: Drawing and writing app for iPad, from Evernote; free. California Crime Finder: Information on punishments and elements of a charge, from PlacerGroup; for Android and iOS.
Courtroom Objections: Possible objections and sample language, from Anthony Shorter; for iOS only; $2.99.
PacerMonitor: Mobile interface to PACER accounts, plus multi-device access to purchased documents, from PacerMonitor; for Android and iOS; free for users with PACER accounts.
California Courts: Rules of California courts, access to PACER accounts, from KosInteractive; for iOS only; $2.99.
Free Mobile Apps
Valuable tools for law practice
By Kerri Connolly, a freelance journalist based in Oakland
The phrase “there’s an app for that” may conjure images of restaurant reviews, news articles, and strangely addictive games, but these handy little tools aren’t just for playtime. Dozens of apps are designed specifically for attorneys, and others will lend organizational aid to any busy professional. Whether it’s a remote desktop login program for sole practitioners on the move, or one that aids trial lawyers performing jury selection, there’s an app for every kind of practice.
This poses its own problem, of course: With just short of a million apps available in both Apple’s App Store and in Google’s Android Marketplace, figuring out which to go with can be daunting. “It’s hard to go through an app store and know what is going to be handy to use and what isn’t,” says Ashley Hallene, a Houston sole practitioner who uses a handful of different apps in her daily practice. Really, the only way to know is to try them out.
She recommends that users keep it simple: Start by looking for apps that focus on one or two key functions. A good rule of thumb, Hallene says, is to ask: Is this something that enhances productivity? What you want is a tool that helps you work more efficiently, eliminating that “dead time” in your routine.
Don’t download a lot of apps at once, she cautions. Be discerning about where it is you want to be more efficient, be it in organization, communication, research, or other areas. When you find an app you like, says Hallene, “look at how you can incorporate that into your practice so you have pieces of a system that work together.”
Here are a handful that may be useful.
Apps for Lawyers
Cost: $19.99 iPad, $9.99 Android, and $4.99 Windows 8 tablets
One of the most popular apps for the voir dire process, iJuror is a leading asset in jury selection and analysis. Within its customizable layout, users can add information for dozens of potential jurors with the tap of a finger. Juror profiles are easy to set up, and users can create rankings and rate responses to questions. You can exchange the information with colleagues via Bluetooth, sync it to shared devices in real time, and configure the app to match the courtroom setup.
Cost: Limited version free for individuals. Multiple-user plans start at $14.99 a month.
Devices: iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch and Android
This electronic signature app is a time-saving tool from Adobe that electronically converts documents that need to be signed into a PDF file. They can then be emailed to recipients, who can sign them as a Web form using special keystrokes on their computer, a legal and binding form of signature. Karl Kronenberger, of San Francisco-based Kronenberger Rosenfeld, says EchoSign has revolutionized the way his firm receives documents from clients. But traditionalists need not worry: Users who prefer to sign hard copies still have the option to print, hand sign, and fax the forms back, if they prefer. For his part, Kronenberger likes the Web form method. “Sometimes it takes days to get people to sign documents and fax them to us. With EchoSign, documents go out and within minutes I can have them signed by both parties.”
Devices: iPhone/iPad/Mac. Not available for Android.
A superior case tool that gets consistently high marks, TrialPad is a trial organization and presen-tation app with rich functionality. During a trial, it enables users to access files, store and play media, and mark up or highlight evidence. TrialPad can import almost any cloud-accessible documents, from email to iTunes. It allows lawyers to classify key or crucial parts of a presentation, and can help organize transcripts and exhibits. This tool set comes at a price, but may be worth the money for litigators who want a leg up.
Devices: iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch. Not available for Android.
With this Apple program, users can create and exhibit slide shows á la Microsoft’s original PowerPoint software. “Since I’m in the business of doing trial and mediation presentations, the hands-down favorite for me is now Keynote for iPad,” says user Morgan C. Smith, founder and president of Oakland’s Cogent Legal. The simple interface makes it easy to create, organize, and even animate slides for a sleek, professional presentation, and Smith notes that Keynote “works beautifully with multimedia videos and images.” A separate app called Keynote Remote allows users to control a presentation stored on one device, such as a desktop, with another, like an iPhone or iPod Touch. Smith uses both versions: “I can control Keynote on the laptop and see the presenter notes on the iPhone.” Apple says Keynote will soon sync to the cloud, letting users access their presentations online from any computer through an Apple account.
Devices: iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch. Not available for Android.
This robust PDF reader, file organizer, and sync tool packs a ton of versatility into a single app. GoodReader merges the file management, editing, and sharing processes, so you can mark up a case, convert the files, and share them wirelessly – to an FTP server, your DropBox account, or to GoogleDocs for offline viewing. One ardent fan is Jeff Richardson, a New Orleans-based attorney with Adams and Reese who handles class action suits and appellate litigation. “I use GoodReader to store pleadings, exhibits, and other documents for my cases so that I have the documents at my fingertips all the time,” says Richardson, who also reviews apps for Mac devices on his website iPhoneJD.com. But GoodReader isn’t yet available for non-Apple devices, and designers say its iOS infrastructure can’t be adapted for the Android market.
Devices: iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch and Android
For taking audio notes on the go, Dragon Dictation is great to have. It transcribes voice commands and renders text with a high degree of accuracy. (To make corrections, users simply tap a finger on a word on the touch screen.) The app also has communication and social media features, allowing you to compose emails or text messages through voice-only commands. The voice-command technology does have some flaws, but then again, it’s free!
Cost: Free; a pro version is $69.95 per year or $14.99 per month per year.
Devices: iPhone/iPad and Android
It happens all the time: You’re out at a meeting and the one file you need is sitting on your hard drive back at the office. But with LogMeIn (the PC version is called LogMeIn Ignition) tech-savvy attorneys can get access to their files remotely from anywhere. Hallene says she frequently uses this app when she’s traveling or working from home. “If I need to send myself a file that I don’t have access to, as long as I have the Internet set up … it works. I can quickly get in and out.”
A Few Other Gems
Another versatile electronic note-taking and annotation tool for transcripts, it helps cut down the paper trail cluttering up your office and briefcase. ($89.99)
Lets you snap a photo and instantly turn the picture of a document into an editable PDF file. ($1.99)
With this handy little networking program, users can convert a photo of a business card into a digital phone or email contact. (Free)
This app gives anyone with a digital Westlaw subscription instant access to enormous volumes of legal research and information. (Free)
Helps you track what you do for clients, manage projects, issue invoices, and account for billable hours. ($1.99)