Road warriors' tips on keeping up with your cases (podcast with transcript)
Stephanie Francis Ward: What do you do when in the course of one day, you have an appearance, a deposition and a client meeting, all of which are in different locations?
Reid Trautz: My mantra is “the more chargers, the better.”
Stephanie Francis Ward: I’m Stephanie Francis Ward, and when we return, my guests will tell you about tech tools that can help.
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Stephanie Francis Ward: I’m here with Matt Hector, an Illinois foreclosure defense lawyer; Randall Ryder, a Minneapolis attorney who handles Fair Debt Collection Practices Act cases; and Reid Trautz, who’s writing a book about mobile lawyering. So, Matt, since you’re in Cook County, I wanted to ask you first about this issue of using technology in a judge’s courtroom. How do you know whether or not it’s okay for you to do it?
Matt Hector: The first question is: Does the courthouse allow technology in the courtroom at all? And then, usually, there’s an exception for lawyers. Some of the collar counties, which are the ones that surround Cook, require you to purchase a security pass for the courthouse from the local Bar Association in order to be able to bring tech into the courthouse.
Then it’s just pretty much–really, it’s just a matter of learning the judge, and you’ve got to kind of just be there and have the experience. My usual rule of thumb is I look around and if I see anybody else on their phone while court’s in session pecking away at their screen, I assume it’s okay for me to do the same.
Stephanie Francis Ward: I’ve been in some courtrooms, particularly in housing court, where you might answer your phone when you’re up at the table, assuming the judge is not at the bench and you’re waiting. But with other judges, I would imagine that they’re like, “No, you can’t. You must–”
Matt Hector: Oh, yeah, I’d never answer my phone in the courtroom. In a worst-case scenario, I’ll duck out into the hallway to take a really important call. There’s literally only about three numbers I’ll answer that are my definite emergencies where I’ll pick those up during court, but otherwise, I don’t want to miss my case being called.
Stephanie Francis Ward: Randall, what’s it like in Minnesota? Do the judges usually let you use your technology in the courtroom or no?
Randall Ryder: I’d say it’s a little bit different in federal court and state court. Since I practice in both, I guess I can see the differences. Federal court’s been doing e-filing for as long as I’ve been practicing law, so all the courtrooms are very tech-friendly. The judges are usually accessing stuff on their computers and their monitors when there’s a hearing going on. I’ve never had an issue in federal court with technology.
In state court, on the other hand, they did just recently switch to e-filing, but I don’t think they’re really used to it. I can remember when I first made hearings–the far away, long time ago, it was three or four years ago–I think I had a couple judges ask me what I was doing on my computer during a hearing, which was odd because I was just looking at the case. But I would say, in general, it’s pretty tech-friendly at this point.
Stephanie Francis Ward: Would you prefer to look at everything on your laptop when you’re in the courtroom as opposed to bringing in a bunch of paper?
Randall Ryder: I would, and I do. I don’t keep paper files of anything. For me to look at things on paper, it’s just strange now. Frankly, when I’ve had motion hearings, it’s always been to my advantage that I’m paperless because I can look at stuff–I can find stuff quickly. I always laugh when I see opposing counsel going through their six-inch accordion folder desperately trying to find some discovery, and I can pull it up in probably ten seconds and answer the judge before they can even find the document.
Stephanie Francis Ward: Reid, in your experience with writing about this, do you think most lawyers prefer to have the paper in front of them when they’re in court or use a laptop or maybe even a phone?
Reid Trautz: I think it’s evolving. I think you still have a lot of lawyers that want that paper in front of them. They’re not as confident in their use of the technology, so if they can’t find it on their computer or the battery dies, they’re still a little concerned about that. But I think we’re evolving into more of a paperless world, as Matt said.
I think the courts, as they’re catching up and they’re developing some of this technology in going paperless, the lawyers are coming right along, some leading the way and others kind of dragging behind. But it’s evolving so that we’re using less paper.
Stephanie Francis Ward: You mentioned there’s that fear of your battery dying. What’s your advice for keeping all of your equipment charged up?
Reid Trautz: My mantra is “the more chargers, the better.” Don’t skimp on a $15 or $20 or $30 charger for any of your devices. Try to have some for your car. Try to make sure you’ve got your cords in your bag. Have extra charging cables for your cell phone at home and at the office. We just need those devices today, and we just have to keep them charged and remember to keep them charged.
I confess, I have my iPhone charger in the bathroom so that as I’m getting ready in the morning, I’m like, “Okay, my phone’s charged.” Or if it’s not there, I at least can grab a quick charge before I’m out the door.
Stephanie Francis Ward: I never thought about keeping your charger in the bathroom, but that’s a good one. Just keep it away from the sink, right?
Reid Trautz: Right. It’s got a little shelf. There’s those devices you can buy. You gotta have it.
Stephanie Francis Ward: Randall and Matt, do you guys have any horror stories of your equipment not being charged when you’re out?
Matt Hector: I know I don’t. I actually have an outlet adapter in my car, so it turns–if I don’t have a car charger for something, I have an actual outlet that plugs into my cigarette lighter so I can plug whatever device I want into it and charge it. If my car was missing, then I would have a real problem.
Stephanie Francis Ward: Do you guys have thoughts–I was curious if maybe some makes and models of cars are better for lawyering on the go than others. I know we just got a new Subaru and we’re thrilled that there’s a charger right in the car. We just have to bring in our cord and go. It’s ready to go. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Reid Trautz: I’ll jump in and say it’s amazing what car manufacturers are doing today. GM has had OnStar, which has just tons of technology related to it, and allows you to use your own devices in there. But what I’m also seeing is a number of companies, like Ford, Audi, and BMW, are now including a Wi-Fi package so that all the people in your car can connect to a Wi-Fi and they can be on their devices while you’re driving down the road.
Stephanie Francis Ward: How much does that cost?
Reid Trautz: Oh, it’s gonna vary, and I’m sure you’re gonna have to have a subscription. I, unfortunately, don’t have a new model like that so I can do it, but I’m gonna guess it’s gonna be in that $50 to $60 a month range.
Stephanie Francis Ward: How many of you guys use Bluetooth, and do you have success with that?
Randall Ryder: I had a Bluetooth headset at one point, and I moved, and now I can’t find it.
Stephanie Francis Ward: I guess it wasn’t that important to you.
Randall Ryder: No, no, it’s not. After I lost it, I realized it wasn’t that big of a deal. I have headphones that work as a headset, and they’re better than the default iPhone headsets, so I use those and I’m fine.
Stephanie Francis Ward: Let’s switch gears a bit. What are some good ideas for getting work done on the train or the bus? Reid, what do you think?
Reid Trautz: I think that you’ve got to make yourself comfortable. I know a lot of people that–you can check your email on the phone, you can delete some, you can bring yourself up-to-date just on your phone. But for a lot of people, it’s just not comfortable writing it out and typing with either a physical keyboard or the virtual keyboard.
So if that’s not good for you, I think there are so many good tablets out there today that you may want to use. I see so many people, myself included, who can be productive using a tablet because you can sit down–it’s not the same form factor, obviously, as a laptop, which you tend to have to balance on your legs and try to ride as the bus or the train or subway is shifting. It’s kind of tough. But a tablet just makes it so much easier.
And you can get a lot of work done offline, but if you want to connect and have a broadband connection, you can get a lot of work done. That’s where I see people getting the most productivity when they’re commuting to the office or traveling by train or bus.
Stephanie Francis Ward: What are your thoughts on which tablets tend to work the best for lawyers?
Reid Trautz: I’ve been an iPad fan since they came out. I’m on my second one. I just think they work because–and no fault to Android. I think there’s a lot of good tablets coming out. There’s Samsung and others. But the iPads just work. Frankly, when I go to conferences–and I speak at conferences across the country and I talk to other lawyers–I’m seeing iPads far more often than I’m seeing the Android tablets.
So if you’re new to the tablet world and you’re not sure where to go, I just think Apple makes it easier to get started and use that. I’m not saying don’t look at Androids, but I would at least start with the iPads.
Stephanie Francis Ward: Matt and Randy, do you have anything to add to that or do you prefer different tablets to work on?
Randall Ryder: I use an iPad. I haven’t really had the desire to upgrade. I kind of figure–I’ve noticed a lot more iPads lately in use by lawyers. I kind of assume the iPad’s ubiquity is just because it’s the first to market and it’s the best known product. I would expect that whenever Microsoft gets a surface right, we might see more of those. The same thing with the Androids; I think they’re just not–they might be a little newer still to people.
For me, on the train, when I use an iPad or whatever to do anything, it’s largely for doing research. I have some apps that allow me to access the U.S. Code and the Illinois compiled statues stored on the iPad, so I have to update it from time to time, but it allows me to do some statute research when I need it on the train or whatever.
Stephanie Francis Ward: What are some of the more complicated lawyering related tasks you’ve done with your phone?
Reid Trautz: Probably, for me, I’ve got an iPhone with AT&T, and I was riding in a car in the middle of nowhere in Oklahoma and we had a deadline for this document. I was on a conference call and we were all looking at the document, and someone else was actually doing the editing, but we were doing that on the fly so that we could make our deadline. That’s about as complicated as it’s gotten for me. I know others will try to –
Stephanie Francis Ward: That’s pretty complicated.
Reid Trautz: Yeah.
Stephanie Francis Ward: Were you afraid you’d lose your signal?
Reid Trautz: And I did a couple of times, but called right back into the call and it worked. That’s what mobile lawyering does. It allowed me to go out and enjoy that time away, get away, but still be able to do a couple little things that would have otherwise kept me back in the office.
Stephanie Francis Ward: Matt, at your firm, do you use some sort of cloud computing so you can access files when you need to from your phone or an iPad?
Matt Hector: Yeah, we do. We used to have a VPN that I’d network into from home. We’ve since upgraded to kind of a cloud-based system for all of our doc storage and everything. Now I can get into that from any web browser, which is nice. I can access my actual desktop, all my files and everything.
Although, to be honest, sometimes I still just email myself files I want to work on over the weekend and work on them locally on my computer at home simply because I’ve got a newer version of Word and I prefer it, and I have better fonts at home. So sometimes I’ll work from home solely because there are things that are nicer in that regard. But, yeah, we use the cloud system, and it’s been working pretty well so far, at least as far as getting access to everything. For that, it’s useful.
Stephanie Francis Ward: And what’s more efficient for you, do you think, texting or emailing with clients?
Matt Hector: Oh, I almost always try and avoid having my cell phone number go public if I can avoid it, so I usually email with clients. There are clients who do have my cell phone number and some who do not. I have my own personal phone.
We don’t have a separate phone for the office, so I have my office line and–I will use my cell phone to call clients if I need to, but in general, I try to avoid it simply because it becomes a little too confusing on my contact list, for me to manage; “Who’s this number, and do I save it as the client’s name?” If I don’t, then I don’t know who’s calling me. It tends to be a little confusing, so I try and route everything through the office if I can.
Stephanie Francis Ward: So if they need you, does your support staff just give you a call?
Matt Hector: Yeah, they’ll call me. A lot of times, our clients, the ones who are gonna need me and I know they’re gonna need me, then they’ll have my cell phone number. But in general, for what I do in my practice area, there’s not a lot of emergency calls after hours anyway. If I am on the go, usually I’m back at the office before the end of the day, and if I’m not, I can check in and call people back from my cell phone.
But in general, most of my client calls get handled when I’m in the office unless, like I said, there’s some sudden emergency that comes up. In those cases, yeah, someone in the office will call me and let me know there’s a message.
Stephanie Francis Ward: Would you want to return calls when you’re out in the hallway waiting for your call or no, definitely not?
Matt Hector: In general, no, especially if the courthouse–my issue with that is because–I hate having to be vague on the phone. I think when I’m on a cell phone in a public place, I have concerns about confidentiality and whether what I’m saying to my client over the phone is being overheard by a third party, and does that technology or actually destroy confidentiality?
Stephanie Francis Ward: That being said, have any of you ever heard calls between lawyers and a client and you’re like, “Oh, my god. I can’t believe they’re saying that here?”
Matt Hector: Oh, absolutely.
Reid Trautz: Yeah. And that happens all over. There was a story on the Internet–it could have been ABA Journal–but it was a couple lawyers were talking and one of them had a briefcase with the firm logo on there, and another lawyer overheard it and figured out who it was and went on Pacer. You can figure out stuff. You can put building blocks together. It’s just better not to do that. Even though we have the capability to do it with technology, you’ve still got to use common sense.
And let me just say, too, I would say the same thing about texting; texting versus emailing. I’m for texting, but there’s no record, real good record, that you can have and hold in case something goes wrong with a client or with a case or whatever. It’s much harder to get those things off the phone and into your records. That’s why I would say texting–unless it’s, “Hey, I’ll be there in five minutes,” kind of thing, I wouldn’t text with clients.
Stephanie Francis Ward: Well, you could email yourself the text, right? But that’s one step you have to remember to do.
Reid Trautz: Yeah.
Stephanie Francis Ward: Are there any good apps for pulling up legal code from your phone?
Matt Hector: Yeah, actually. I mean, it depends. One’s from a company called Tech Innovations. They have the Federal Rules of Evidence and Code of Civil Procedure on–you can put them on your phone. I have another one for the Illinois Compiled Statues from them. There’s another company that was giving away some free stuff not too long ago and I had that on my iPad, which I accidentally left at home today because my daughter was playing with it before school.
Reid Trautz: Is that Law Stack?
Matt Hector: No, it’s not Law Stack. It’s another one. I’d seen it maybe on Lawyerist or something. I’d seen a blurb, like, “Hey, they’re giving away this thing for free for X amount of time,” and I grabbed it, and then I haven’t actually revisited it since. It’s been one of those on my to-do list for things to play with.
Reid Trautz: There are actually a number of apps that are available, mostly from larger states like California, Texas, New York, but there are others that are there and they’ll give you the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Criminal Procedure and Federal Rules of Evidence, but if you want more, they generally have in-app purchases. You’ve got to buy another library for $1.99 or something like that. But be sure you take a look at the various ones and look inside the app and the reviews to see what people are doing because sometimes there’s really a hidden charge.
Stephanie Francis Ward: And for all of you, are there some places that are nice, quiet places for you to go and do work when you are out on the road in between appointments where you can pick up Wi-Fi, not be bothered too much, and just kind of unwind a bit and do your work?
Randall Ryder: Yeah, if it’s the right coffee shop, sure. I think it just depends. It depends on what you can find. When you’re out at a coffee shop, you obviously want to be very cognizant of data security and stuff like that. If you’re on a Wi-Fi network, you want to be really careful about what you’re doing.
I’m always shocked when I see–sometimes I’ll see other attorneys get up to get some more coffee or go to the bathroom or whatever, and their computer is just sitting there without a screen saver on or without any sort of security on it. I just stare at that and say, “Look, any Joe Blow could walk in right now, take your computer, and he’s gonna have full access to everything that’s on there.” I think when you’re doing stuff like that, you just have to be especially cognizant of data security.
Reid Trautz: And I don’t think you’re being paranoid in thinking that way. I see the same thing and I wonder, especially today when we have so much of our information either on the computer or quickly accessible, client information accessible from the computer, and even our own personal information. You don’t leave that device far from your reach at any time.
Matt Hector: Yeah, I can’t imagine walking away from my laptop and not turning it off or locking it at the very least, if not just bringing it with. It’s not too big of a hassle to close it and throw it in a bag and lug it with you if you go to the bathroom. I would almost do that in a coffee shop or something like that just because I think that’s just good practice.
I would say, also, for me accessing things, I’ve done weird stuff to get Wi-Fi access before. I remember I was in the Loop one time and I failed to load a brief onto my iPad and I needed it for court. I basically walked up to a bunch of different buildings trying to see if I could find an open Wi-Fi network just to get on my email fast enough to grab it. Fortunately, there was one of these social clubs joints that had an open network. I think it was The Standard Club.
Stephanie Francis Ward: I like the idea of–yeah. Getting stuff from the Standard Club, I like it, especially since you represent consumers.
Matt Hector: I decided to call it ‘war strolling’ for that.
Stephanie Francis Ward: War strolling, I like it. All right, guys. That’s everything we have for today. I want to thank you all so much for your time.
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Transcript updated at 2:43 p.m. to correct a reference to Matt Hector.
Representing multiple clients in various places, all on the same day? Technology can make life easier, attorneys tell ABA Podcast moderator Stephanie Francis Ward—just remember to bring multiple chargers (and never use a cellphone while driving).
In This Podcast:
Matthew Hector, who defends foreclosure cases, is an associate with the Suilaman Law Group. Based in Oakbrook, Ill., he has an LLM in information technology and privacy law from the John Marshall Law School.
Randall Ryder, a Minneapolis lawyer, represents plaintiffs in Fair Debt Collection Practices Act cases. He also defends individuals in debt collection work, and writes for various legal publications. One of his pieces, Run a High Tech Practice on a Small Budget (PDF), was published by the Minnesota State Bar Association.
Reid Trautz, who chaired the 2012 ABA Techshow, is writing a book about mobile lawyering. Based in Washington, DC, he is director of Practice & Professionalism with the American Immigration Lawyers Association.