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Thoughts about Tablet PCs and digital docs

By March 8, 2008websites

Following my last post about being ‘scooter lawyer’ a friend emailed me to ask about the reference to the Tablet PC. He wrote: “I wonder about what advantages it has for a litigator. I also wonder about what program you use to keep track of your scanned documents to be able to find them by bates number and to be able to annotate them.”

Here’s the story. The Tablet PC was lent to me by my girlfriend. After using it for a few weeks I came to these conclusions:

(1) a Tablet has a completely different social dynamic than a traditional laptop because people don’t perceive it as a computer; unless you stand behind someone using a Tablet you easily assume that they are just writing on a pad of paper;
(2) the Tablet is more comfortable to use; but if you type reasonably well you will still prefer to use a keyboard;
(3) the Tablet is more natural to use at a lectern or in a conference, as long as principle #2 isn’t a factor;
(4) even though it’s a niche product I would absolutely use a Tablet in certain situations, except for one thing:
(5) Tablet PCs run Windows which means they don’t wake up quickly, or reliably.

Just as I was starting to use the Tablet a lot I found that it would sometimes get slow or become unresponsive; this happened once or twice at semi-critical times. I dutifully rebooted, and didn’t suffer too much. But the thought lingered: I could never rely on the Tablet during a hearing or trial, or any situation where I was in front of a judge. It’s one thing to reboot during a deposition, but it would be completely unacceptable to tell a judge to “hang on, your honor, while I reboot my computer.”

So, I’ve stopped using the Tablet completely. I have several lawyer friends who have tried the Tablet, and one or two are still using it. Perhaps they haven’t had the problems that I have had, so I know it’s possible the Tablet could be a useful tool for a litigator. But not for me.

If I use a computer in court or in a deposition I need to know that it will work. Always. That’s another reason why I prefer Apple computers. Mac laptops sleep when you close the lid and wake up instantly when you open the lid. You can do this over and over again, for months, and never have to reboot. Very few, if any, people have this experience with Windows computers.

As for the question about how I find documents quickly during a deposition, here’s the scoop. I use Adobe Acrobat. A lot. Every day, in fact. I know it inside and out and I feel as comfortable with Acrobat as I do with Microsoft Word. I know to use the bookmark features without thinking about it. And I know how to insert comments quickly.

Also, when I bates-stamp documents I renumber the pages to correspond to the bates-numbers and so I can find documents by typing the bates number into the page number query field. Also, I OCR the documents so I can search by text if I need to. The ‘scooter article’ touches on this point briefly. But the fact is I am constantly reminded of how inefficient paper is. Whenever I watch lawyers fumble with paper I have to remind myself not to feel sorry for them. This is the way that they choose to live their lives. If they think it’s better then so be it.

I know lawyers don’t like change (who does?). So when they shuffle around with stacks of paper, wearily looking for information, I remind myself not to judge them—quietly offering thanks for the invisible advantage it gives me. It’s one that I’ll continue to enjoy for a long time.

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  • E says:

    Ever tried Linux on a Tablet PC?

  • Ernie says:

    It’s true that there is less choice in hardware and software in the Apple realm, but that’s not meaningful to the people that don’t need specialized software. If all I want to do is run email, surf the web and create word processing documents (and a few other similar tasks) then why do I care about the abundance of software in Windows?

    That notion is a marketing notion that’s promoted by Microsoft, and it obviously works because people intone it robotically as though that alone has universal applicability to all users. If I owned a school bus I could carry more passengers, but I don’t own a school bus because I only need to carry myself and one or two people at most. I drive a Prius because it gives me great gas mileage and that’s important to me. The massive diversity in software and hardware in Windows is not something that most users actually take advantage of. Right?

    I strongly prefer Apple computers (I still run Windows on those computers for the few software tasks that I need Windows for) because they ARE more reliable. That’s not a ‘marketing ploy’, it’s a fact. Admittedly, however, it’s a fact that Apple makes use of in its marketing efforts. So if that’s what you mean by a ‘marketing ploy’ then I accept your point. It is the fact, not the ploy, that’s driving people to switch to Macs. For example, people like Chris Pirillo, who is most definitely not an Apple ‘fanboy’. (see Even John Dvorak has admitted that he prefers to recommend Apple computers to friends who aren’t that computer savvy.

    Hey, look if Windows works fine for you then that’s great. And it’s more a tribute to you than to Windows.

  • Ryan says:

    First, @ James: Use OneNote’s tag feature to quickly find notes.

    Second. Maybe it’s just me but I’ve never had a problem with any of my Window machines waking from sleep mode. Furthermore, the only time I ever have to reboot is when there is a major update and even then I reboot when I want to.

    Mac machines and Window machines use the SAME EXACT hardware and are prone to the SAME EXACT reliability issues.

    If Macs are so reliable why do Apple Stores need the Genius Bar? And why when I go to that Genius Bar to have them look at my broken iPod do I have to wait over two hours?

    The perception that Macs are more reliable than Windows machines is nothing more than a marketing ploy. Apple controls both the software and the hardware that goes into their computers, while Microsoft only designs the software. Microsoft then has to make sure that it is compatible with a multitude of different hardware configurations. Sure, Apple may be able to better predict the overall experience and problems you’ll have, but it severely limits your choice of hardware.

    If you spend the time and and think about the computer you purchase and buy from a reliable manufacturer you will have a much better experience.

  • Steve says:

    I bought a Gateway ‘convertible’ a year ago to use in school. I had to special order it to get XP rather than Vista, but if Apple put out something similar I would buy it in a heartbeat. Despite the inadequacies of Windows, it has been a pleasure to have the tablet functionality in school, and would spare no expense to have the Mac qualities with a convertible such as I have.

  • Steve Friedland says:

    I have used a tablet PC for the past year or so. I am a real estate attorney in practice for about 20 years. The tablet has changed my practice like no other device or piece of technology in those 20 years. I create much less paper, my notes and files are more ordered and accessible and I really enjoy and have fun using my computer. I agree that Windows can be slow and how that would create problems in court. I never appear in court, however, I have had the tablet require a reboot in a client meeting and while it is annoying, it does not outweigh the benefits for me (in fact I do zoning hearings as part of my practice and rarely use the tablet in those situations).

    I think the tablet capability is the key. If I simply had a laptop it would not be as useful. First, I do not type quickly enough to use the keyboard for note entry. Second, I do not think it is acceptable to type during meetings. The tablet lets me take written notes (I rarely convert them to text) and I use One Note as a filing system for all my client matters. My notes are with me all the time and not cluttering up my desk as single sheets of paper that I need to file in a redweld. I really cannot imagine practicing without a tablet.

  • James says:

    Ernie – I recently completed a 5 day trial using my Tablet PC. Took all my notes in Onenote and enjoyed it. I would use a unique character for closing argument points so I could search on it and put ?? near questions I needed to look up. It worked much better than notebooks in the evenings when I was reviewing and getting ready for the next day. All in all I would do it again. I have been using Tablet PC’s since the NEC Versapad and have used them for every client meeting and deposition for the last 3 years. I just sold my Fujitsu and am awaiting a new Fujitsu and feel somewhat limited without it.

  • Chuck Watson says:

    I’ve been experimenting with a slate for a month or so now. I have used it several times at hearings – worked well every time. I have to admit that none of the hearings have been terribly document intensive so I was able to preload the documents I needed. But being able to take notes on the same machine that has my documents has been a godsend. I can’t type worth a lick (I use dragon dictate a LOT at the office — but I believe that the judges would find it a bit distracting if I tried to dictate in the courtroom!) and so being able to take my notes dirctly on screen is wonderful.

    I’ve had no problems with needing to reboot the slate. But I note that I have had to help my wife with her sometimes balky MacBook a few times. All those mad diagnostic skills learned over the years of running WinDoze (& DOS before that) have come in handy!

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