By Jim Calloway
Applications for smart phones have been a hot topic for a while now. Smart phones now typically include e-mail, Internet access, a GPS, and other services, but the apps make the smart phones shine. I cannot pretend objectivity here as I love my iPhone, but it is clear the apps are now huge for every phone platform.
Let’s discuss some apps that every lawyer should consider loading on his or her phone. To increase readability (the concept, not the app), I am not going to include many links. You should be able to locate any of these by searching your phone’s app store or using a search engine for your phone OS, the app name, and the word “app.” Some of the most useful apps for lawyers are not legal-specific apps.
Almost everyone’s favorite app is Dropbox, which is available on all phone platforms. This app allows you to store documents and other computer files in an online document repository. Yes, these documents are “in the cloud.” By itself, that’s not huge. But here’s why it is so powerful. Dropbox users install Dropbox on several machines, for example, a desktop, a laptop, a smart phone, and an iPad. On the computers, there will be a folder under Documents called Dropbox. Saving a document to that folder means that a synchronized copy of that document will be available on all the devices. No more e-mailing a document home to work on it at home! Best of all, this is free for the first 2 GB of storage. You can increase your free storage by referring colleagues using the special referral link or you can get more space for a fee (e.g., 50 GB for $100/yr., 100 GB for $200/yr.). There is no way I would want to carry hundreds of documents on my phone. Dropbox lets me link to hundreds of my documents that I can pull up on my phone in a few seconds (www.dropbox.com).
Although I am learning to type into my phone, that is not my first inclination. I want to talk into my phone. One of the most powerful applications for mobile phone users is being able to do quick Google searches from your phone by voice using the Google Mobile app. This is handy in numerous ways, like giving the name and location of a business to get its web page with a phone number to dial or a map from your location to that location (Android, Blackberry, iPhone, and more).
Fastcase only has an app for the iPhone platform, but it is quite powerful and is free, for the time being. Fastcase lets you research case law from all 50 states (back to at least 1950) and federal courts. It also has many collections of state statutes and the U.S. Code. You have to love free legal research on your phone (www.fastcase.com/iphone). Note: If you are in a state with a bar-sponsored Fastcase member benefit, generally you will have to set up a new, different account for the app.
If you want more legal research on your phone, check out LawStack by Tekk Innovations LLC (iPhone—basic is free, some stacks are fee-based). This app is a handy legal research tool that comes pre-loaded with the following: U.S. Constitution; Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
(Dec. 1, 2009); Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure (Dec. 1, 2009); Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure (Dec. 1, 2009); Federal Rules of Evidence (Dec. 1, 2009); and Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure
(Dec. 1, 2009). Users can add other items to their stacks (some are free, some are fee-based). These include: Code of Federal Regulations; U.S. Code; California Codes; Florida Codes; Texas Codes; and New York Codes.
Dragon Dictation (www.dragonmobileapps.com) is only for the iPhone (free for now), but Blackberry users can enjoy a similar product, Dragon for E-Mail. This is a game-changer in the way a smart phone can be used. Instead of typing into the phone, you dictate and those speech recognition experts from Nuance convert it to text for free. You can then edit the results, copy them to your clipboard, or insert them into a text message or e-mail. Some people can text like a speed typist, but for the rest of us, if the reply to the e-mail or the message to the lawyer is more than a sentence or two, this is probably a quicker process. It is surprisingly accurate. I fear that this is an app/service people will be willing to pay for and just hope Nuance does not have that in mind for short-term.
Documents to Go will interest lawyers and legal staff who want to attempt to do real work with documents on their phone or an iPad. It lets one create, edit, and view Microsoft Word and Excel files. Those who want to do this will probably spring for a Bluetooth keyboard as well. Documents to Go is available for a wide range of mobile devices. You can check for your phone model at http://www.dataviz.com/products/documentstogo, but it is most likely there. This product has gotten rave reviews from many sources, although there always seem to be a few negative comments from disappointed users posted on their site. There is a $9.99 version, but most lawyers and staff will opt for the Premium edition at $16.99, which adds PowerPoint editing and some other advanced features.
Scanning with the phone is going to be very useful for lawyers. Using the camera in the phone to take a photo of a document and convert it into a PDF file has countless uses. This is one use where the iPhone 4’s higher resolution camera will yield a better result. But scanning receipts works great with proper lighting. JotNot (iPhone—free and Pro—$.99), DocScanner (iPhone, Android, S60—$.99), Prizmo for iPhone ($9.99) and ScannerPro (iPhone—$6.99) are apps in this category. The last two have OCR capability built in. I use JotNot and find it does a great job of transforming photographs of receipts into PDF files. These products will most likely get even better over time with updates.
Once you have the PDF of a receipt on your phone, you can e-mail it to yourself or your staff or use an app like Expensify to organize those receipts and any other expenses and produce nice expense reports. You can even import your credit card statement into Expensify (iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Palm—free for individuals, first two submitters free, $5/month/submitter).
Scanning with your smart phone can mean something else as well as apps like RedLaser (iPhone and apparently beta for the new Windows phone—$2) let you scan bar codes for products as you shop. This scan gives you a description and photo of the item along with a list of local and online merchants and their prices for the item. You may use this as a haggling tool with the seller or just follow the links and rudely buy it from the online competitor while you stand in the bricks and mortar store.
Babelfish Voice is a series of free apps for the Android that translates speech into another language.
Lawyer Quotes by Narble Games for the Android gives you many famous quotes from well-known lawyers, and, yes, it is free.
LogMeIn is a service to allow one to remotely access their workstation by logging in from another computer. LogMeIn Ignition is an iPhone app that allows one to log into their computer from an iPhone or iPad ($29.99). I am not sure that an iPhone has enough screen space to effectively operate a computer for long, but I have heard the iPad login is quite nice. A competitor, GotoMyPC, promises to release Android and iPad apps very soon.
U.S. Code by Professor Shawn Bayern for the iPhone is free, although the author notes that some sections may be a bit out of date, even though he does have the latest official version (long story omitted). Note that caveat, but this one does load on your phone and so, if you might need the U.S. Code in a location with poor phone service, it could be very handy.
It is easy to get distracted when you are looking for something online and stumble across something different, but interesting. Apps like Instapaper (iPhone, iPad, and Kindle—free) and ReadItLater (iPhone and third-party Android app) (http://readitlaterlist.com/apps/mobile) let you designate something for later reading and get back to what you were doing.
Black’s Law Dictionary, 9th Edition by West, a Thomson Reuter’s business (iPhone—$54.99) is huge with 45,000 terms and takes up 59.2 megabytes. Maybe it is more valuable for law students, new lawyers, and new law firm staff than the experienced lawyer. But there is a certain panache about carrying the entire Black’s Law Dictionary around, available at all times on your smart phone.
Those operating with a smaller apps budget, but who might like to look up an unfamiliar legal term now and then could be better off with the iPhone app Legal Terms Pro—A Comprehensive Glossary ($2.99). It is certainly not Black’s, but you would have an extra $50 left over in the apps budget.
It is hard to know where to stop when discussing apps. There are so many useful ones and even more for entertainment and fun. The iTunes App Store has over 300,000 available.
Most people will want to download the apps for some of their favorite news sources (CNN, NPR, The New York Times, USA Today, to name a few of your possible choices). We will see these services evolve into free and paid premium versions in the future. We are also going to see amazing iPad-based magazines, which include text, video, many high-resolution color pictures, and other digital features. We can hope that some of these will be available for smart phones as well.
There are lots of apps to make airport travel easier. The New York Times recently reviewed several at http://tinyurl.com/27ad98a. Weather apps are also more used than one might think.
There is so much more, like the great Apple iBooks that keeps your electronic books and PDF files on neat little bookshelves or the free online tunes from Pandora Radio. You can impress your friends by using SoundHound to identify a song playing on the radio or impress yourself by employing Evernote to organize important pieces of data.
One thing is sure about smart phone apps, we are just beginning a process that will lead to our phones doing everything our current computers can do and more!
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Jim Calloway is the Director of the Oklahoma Bar Association Management Assistance Program. He produces the weblog “Jim Calloway’s Law Practice Tips” and the podcast “Digital Edge Lawyers and Technology.” Mr. Calloway is a former Chair of the ABA Techshow.