Now that we live in the future, a lot of lawyers have adopted the mobility and ease of access technology brings. Some haven’t, and that’s OK too. Ironically, for better or worse, I’ve found that my ‘paperless office’ means I need to remember to do a few things before I leave my home or office to go to a normal day in court.
In short, I bring my iPad and cell phone to all my hearings, and that’s about it (for technology). The iPad is for accessing my files and the phone is for calling my client/witnesses when they’re late and recording the hearing. But making sure things are organized is a little more involved than just throwing the devices in my briefcase and walking out the door.
I practice criminal law. That means each client folder I create has, at a minimum, a criminal complaint and affidavit of probable cause in it. These items are essential at the initial hearing. To make sure I have them, I sync my iPad with the pertinent client folder using Goodreader. That way everything is stored locally on my iPad and I don’t need Wi-fi to get to my files.
Assuming I have enough advance notice, I also like to create a short document with notes for the hearing. This can include witness’ names and phone numbers, brief case citations, points to make in argument, and so forth. If possible, I create a checklist for things I or the prosecution need to prove, so I can check the elements off when they are presented. This one pager isn’t exhaustive. It doesn’t include all of my outlines for direct and cross examinations. I think of it as more of a quick sheet for the case. Like everything else in the client’s folder, this file gets synchronized so I have access to it offline. But before I leave for court I take a glance at the file to make sure there isn’t anything glaring missing.
When it comes to writing a brief or a letter, I write better using a keyboard. But in a hearing where I need to jot notes down fast, I am still a pen and paper guy. Maybe it’s because I haven’t gotten the right stylus, but writing on the iPad just doesn’t do it for me. So I bring a legal pad and (hopefully) a pen to every court appearance. I also never purposefully leave for court without my business cards, a mileage tracking journal, and a water bottle.
Some judges are hardcore luddites. They see a glowing screen and make you turn it off. Despite this risk, many attorneys rely entirely on paperless files.
And it is a risk. It’s a risk of looking silly in front of a client when the judge asks you for a copy of something and you don’t have it. Or you don’t have your notes because you can’t access your tablet/laptop. But we keep doing it. Why? For me, it’s simply a balancing act. I don’t like keeping track of or organizing paper files. It stresses me out and frustrates me. So I balance what I believe is a small risk of looking foolish with the frustration and annoyance of a traditional paper setup.