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iPad for Lawyers?

By January 27, 2010Uncategorized

Screen shot 2010-01-27 at 5.31.57 PM  The Apple iPad was announced today, which pretty much everyone expected.  The device is basically a large iPod Touch, except with some variances.  The iPad has a faster processor, and from what people who played with it report, it appears to be very speedy.  Also, it will have the ability to use 3G, so it can access the Internet from anywhere.  We won't be able to buy one for between 60 and 90 days (depending on if you want the 3G model or not).  Until it is released into the wild, it's hard to say what the real potential of this device is.  My question is: how might this device be of help to lawyers.

First, it will run all of the 140,000 applications that are currently available for the iPhone or iPod Touch. So that means that all of the legal applications that folks have been putting on those devices will now be usable on the iPad. But the screen is bigger, and that's a huge advantage for most of the legal apps because it will be easier to read the text of laws. The iPhone size is okay, but bigger would obviously better.

However, the iPad is not a laptop computer, so it doesn't boot up in the way that a laptop would.  If I grasp how it would work, the device will be instant on in the same way that an iPhone or iPod Touch comes on.  The battery life is supposedly about 10 hours, which we can presume is optimistic.  But even if it's about 7 hours it means that it's usable as a 'digital reference tool'.  And so a lawyer in court or at a hearing could certainly use it to quickly access information.  The simple form is more natural than a laptop, and therefore less obtrusive if used during a meeting or for quickly reading text.  Lawyers who simply want a device to access digital documents would, theoretically, have a strong interest in this device.

Still, we don't know enough yet to really say how lawyers could use this device beyond how they use their iPhones.  True, the iPad will be able to display PDFs (just as the iPhone does), but will it be able to manipulate PDFs?  Would you be able to create a signature on a document using this device?  There are ways to do this on the iPhone, but they're kind of clunky.  I'm pretty sure that lawyers would want to have more PDF functionality on a device like this than currently exists on the iPhone and iPod Touch.

True, there is a new developer SDK kit being released today and perhaps development for this device will create the possibility of applications that don't currently exist on the iPhone.  I would like to have the ability to annotate PDFs the way that I can on my computer.  I would also like to be able to use a bluetooth keyboard and mouse.  The device has bluetooth capabilities, but the optional keyboard that Steve Jobs talked about was one that attaches physically to the iPad.  Does that mean the Apple bluetooth keyboard and (recently released) Magic Mouse won't work with the iPad?  We don't know, but I get the sense that they won't be compatible with the iPad. And that's a shame.

The iPad has a microphone, but I'm sure that it's not optimal for voice dictation.  Can you use third party microphones to get better quality audio in?  We don't know, and probably won't until after the device is on sale. 

I'm excited that this kind of product is being created by Apple, and I think the price point is decent.  I'm just not sure if it will fulfill all my hopes of what a medium sized tablet device could be.  Of course, this is the first iteration and we can certainly expect it to become more powerful over time.  I'm glad that Apple finally took an important step in filling this void.  One reason for the success of the iPhone is the many applications that are available.  But not everyone wants to use an iPhone or be tied to AT&T. Presumably many of those people would find the iPad appealing as a way to get access to the many applications, and also have the ability to surf the web via WiFi or 3G.

I'll almost certainly wind up buying one, mostly out of a strong desire to experiment with what I'm sure will wind up being a popular and useful digital tool.  There are several price options based on different storage capacity (16, 32, or 64 GBs) and based on whether 3G capability is included.  I will probably get the maximum storage capacity.  I don't know if I want the 3G capability.  I probably don't, but we'll see.

I'm not ready to proclaim this device a 'game changer.'  It seems pretty niche, but for lawyers I can see it as a very versatile tool.  If it has the PDF capabilities that I mentioned, that is.

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  • Nicole Black says:

    Stumbled across this post as I was researching for an article I’m writing for my Daily Record column on the iPad, lawyers and how it may be used by lawyers. The feedback I’ve gotten from my readers and Twitter followers comports with what you say, Ernie, and what your commenters said: lawyers will want to use the iPad in lieu of dragging paper docs around. They’ll want to be able to annotate docs.

    There are two apps that allow that right now on the iPhone–one was already mentioned above–Aji. Zosh is another app that allows for annotation of pdfs. I used that one frequently to sign and fill in contracts that I use in my consulting business.

    I think the iPad is a game changer, although many disagree with me. Only time will tell.

    In any event, interesting post Ernie-thanks for the insight. Maybe we’ll finally meet at TechShow–I’m speaking there as well, and the book that I wrote with Carolyn Elefant “Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier” is being previewed at TechShow. Should prove to be an exciting week!

  • Billy Schroeder says:

    I ordered my iPad a couple days ago. My only worry is typing on it. I was concerned about that with the iphone too though and I think I am faster on the iPhone than I was on my Treo.

  • If you already have an iphone with a 3G you won’t need 3G on the ipad, just get the basic wifi one, it has bluetooth so you should be able to use the bluetooth and tether the ipad to the iphone 3G and be able to surf anywhere on the ipad as long as your iphone is in your pocket or nearby.

  • What I want in a legal-oriented e-reader is a device that will lie flat, like a Kindle, Nook, or iPad; that can hold volumes of court papers or appellate records in pdf format; that can jump to a particular document or a particular page quickly (i.e., at least as quickly as a lawyer can pull up a 3-ring binder and find a page while a judge is glaring daggers at him or her); and that has some simple annotation tools that result in notes that can be printed out. The screen should either be 8 x 11 or a smaller size that still permits 8 x 11 documents to be read clearly; and scanned-ocr pdfs should not look like gobbledygook on them. To my knowledge, no current e-reader meets those criteria. I wonder if the iPad will.

  • When I first started thinking about the ipad, I started with the obvious: using a data plan and using the ipad to peruse and show statutes and check email in the courtroom.

    But then I started wondering how it would help towards the goal of a paperless office. Everything would be scanned into folders with the client’s name or file no, and you could drag and drop the files you’re working onto the device. If you run into another attorney and need to unexpectedly discuss another file, the legal assistant could use dropbox or mobile me on the office computer to send it to you.

    Is there not a locking indent on the device? Really? A single usb port would also be helpful in this regard. It seems apple could change one or two simple items and produce a must have for every professional except of a cool toy or gadget for home consumers.

  • Josh Barrett says:

    I’m initially excited to be able to work with the different SaaS applications on the larger interface. I extensively use 37Signals products and while the iPhone counterparts are OK, they are no match for using those apps in Safari. I’ve not used Clio, but I put it in the same category of SaaS tools that will benefit from the additional screen real estate.

    Need Apple to make the local storage of the device more flexible and accessible by other apps. Let me add a document from DropBox to Clio document management or attach to a Backpack page…

  • Stanley Feldman says:

    I am also interested in Kindle like use of the iPad. Sentencing guidelines, criminal statutes, etc.

  • Hey Ernie, I was also thinking about the iPad for legal work. At the moment I am still more in favour of a Kindle DX for all my reference documents and my MacBook for note-taking and all the other stuff I do on my computer.

    The iPad seems like it would be terrific for home use or at a coffee shop but when it comes to all the tools we lawyers use (like PDF annotation and so on), I just don’t see an oversized iPod Touch being a match for a laptop.

    That isn’t to say the form factor isn’t suitable but iPad just seems a little too restrictive as a platform. I do think we will see other companies bring out tablets to compete with the iPad like phone companies did to compete with the iPhone. I am pretty excited to see a Google tablet, perhaps running Android? We’re certainly not going to see a tablet running OS X for a while so maybe the mobile OS’s are going to be the way to go for now.

  • Peter says:

    Will there be a handwriting recognition capability? That might put me over the edge. Then I could just email myself or upload that piece of “paper”. I’m not the kind of person who is going to write something on papeer, take it back to the office, and then scan it. And no way would I then throw that piece of paper away. But if I could short circuit the scanning part, I’d consider it.

  • This is another Robert that attended one of your seminars. You said in one of your comments that the iPad is not exclusive to AT&T? Frankly, I did not even look into the iPad for this very reason. I was waiting on the HP Slate to come out.

  • says:

    I’m looking forward to the Kindle-like capabilities of the iPad, and I’m sure I’ll eventually buy one. My question, though, for anyone who can answer – what kind of new apps do you think this device might lead people to develop (West, Lexis, anyone else)? What might make this device more handy than, say, a small travel laptop?


  • Dave! says:

    Robert: Thanks for the HT on the Pogo! I’m going to pick one up ASAP.

    Ernie: I probably will end up with the 3G version–I know I’ll use it. But not in court… believe it or not, there are still (state) courtrooms here that I can’t get a damn AT&T signal in!

  • Robert says:

    Hi, Ernie. I recently attended your young lawyer’s seminar on technology. Good stuff.

    I’ve been thinking about uses for me:

    I think of it as a giant legal pad. Currently, when I meet with a client, I pull out a pad and a pen and take notes. I then rip the page out, scan it, and trash it.

    I foresee skipping the paper with this device and a Pogo (or similar) conductive screen stylus.

    Additionally, as you said, annotating PDFs, signing PDFs are all great tools.

    Drop box combined with this device could make your paperless office really work for you.

  • Dave! says:

    With apps like “Dropbox” (which there is an iPhone app for, so I presume it will work on the iPad) I’m storing more and more “in the cloud” and less and less on my iPhone. I got the 32GB iPhone, and aside from music and some pictures of my wife/kid, I’m not making much of a dent. Since I won’t be putting music on the iPad, I will probably go low storage.

    The real question for me is 3G or not 3G. First, AT&T’s network has proven to be less than stellar to begin with… second, I seem to be able to snarf a wi-fi signal 98% of the places I go. That’s a tough call for me…

  • That’s a great question. And since I don’t know, I’d probably get the max storage too. I think of my iPhone and the stuff I put on there and figure it’d be a lot more than that. I have the 32 GB iPhone and it’s 75% full.

  • Kris says:

    “I will probably get the maximum storage capacity.”

    I’m going to buy one, but I’m wrestling with which storage capacity I will need.

    What do you anticipate storing on the iPad that you think dictates going with the 64 GB model?

  • Sherman Dorn says:

    I agree that a PDF annotation app would make the iPad about perfect for professionals who have to read and comment on documents. There’s an annotation app for the iPhone, Aji Annotate (, and I’ve already asked at the forum there if Aji will create an iPad version. That plus an iPad version of the Pogo stylus and I’m set.

  • Just wanted to comment on the bluetooth keyboard question. According to the website, the bluetooth keyboard will work.

    And because iPad has built-in Bluetooth 2.1, it’ll work with an Apple Wireless Keyboard, too.

    iPad Design: Accessories

  • I was thinking about this earlier today, too. And I was thinking that the SDK would be the answer.

    I’m not sure if lawyer-specific tools will emerge or if most people will be happy with a good general-purpose PDF reader. (An ebook reader might end up doing simple annotations, for example, much as the Kindle app does for books. Even Adobe might release a pro version of Acrobat on the iPhone, if permitted by Apple.)

    With the idea that someone who has downloaded the SDK might be reading… If you could design your own PDF annotation tools, what would you change?

  • Ernie

    I wrote a piece in Technolaywer last year about why solo practice is a drag. I believe you called it “totally useless?” So, how would you describe this post? You haven’t used an iPad right? You don’t own one right? Was this post a thought experiment?

    Anybody can nitpick and complain. It’s much harder to be creative and take risks. I’m guessing that’s not your strong suit. Sniping at others is much easier than doing things, so you probably confine yourself to that.

    Risk made Apple an innovator. Apple has created entire markets by being there first. I doubt Steve Jobs cares if you’ve found a use for his new device. Come to think of it, neither do I. I’d say that makes this post totally useless, wouldn’t you?

    M. Hedayat

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