Kennedy on Tech

Which apps are must-haves? It depends on your practice

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Photo of Dennis Kennedy by Lou Bopp

People downloaded more than 100 billion mobile apps in 2014. More than a million apps are available on each of the iOS and Android platforms. Yet most users rely on a core set of roughly two dozen apps.

Are there essential apps every lawyer should be using? The answer is yes, but the answer will not be the same for every lawyer. Because most apps have a specific focus, lawyers' use of apps emphasizes both the variety of types of practice and unique ways lawyers practice.

In fact, even the lawyer who spends time with the iPhone J.D. blog, the Droid Lawyer blog or Tom Mighell's iPad Apps in One Hour book will likely feel disappointed by the number of apps targeted specifically to lawyers. It's still worth your while to monitor developments in this area, especially if you are a litigator. For example, the TrialPad app probably is as close to a "standard" legal app for lawyers as we have seen to this point.

But fear not. There are plenty of useful apps out there, especially if you take a step back and think about how you practice, how you use mobile devices and the intersection of the two.

Mobile apps are especially good for three things: allowing you to perform tasks anywhere and at any time, extending the range of what you can do with computer programs or Web services, and taking advantage of the features of a mobile device (camera, microphone, sensors) to give you new tools right at hand.

Let me suggest a four-step strategy for finding apps that will help you.

Apps for programs you already use: Microsoft now has app versions of its Office products. Password manager tools like 1Password have app versions that allow you to use and manage passwords securely on your mobile device. Look for apps associated with programs you commonly use and watch for app announcements from those vendors. And consider the value of apps that tie back to your office systems or to cloud-based tools.

Apps for convenience: Your mobile device camera can be surprisingly helpful. Apps use the camera to let you scan documents, make and send copies, capture whiteboard notes, scan bar codes and business cards, and much more. Microphone-related apps let you record meetings and your ideas. Stopwatch and countdown timer apps can be extremely useful, as can navigation and travel apps. Think creatively about how the features of a mobile device might help you, and explore apps that exploit those features.

Apps for how you work: As an advocate of David Allen's Getting Things Done approach to task management, I find the Omnifocus app essential, but there are a wide variety of to-do and checklist tools. If you like to outline, sketch out ideas or "mindmap," there are apps for that. Focus on exactly how you work and try to think beyond just legal apps.

The elusive "other": There are great app sites like App Advice that announce and review new apps. Almost any article on best apps should give you ideas. Ask friends who are heavy app users. And keep an eye out for local CLE presentations.

It's a great time for you to take the initiative on finding apps that will work for you. If you broaden your thinking, you will definitely enhance the value of your mobile device to you—and, very likely, to your clients as well.

This article originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: "Apps for All: Which are must-haves? It depends on your practice."

Dennis Kennedy is a St. Louis-based legal technology writer and information technology lawyer.

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