A couple of months ago, I bought one of the new Kindle DX models, because I thought it would increase my productive time when I did not have my laptop with me. My initial thought was it would make reading CLE materials much easier, and that has proved to be the case. However, it has proven so adaptable and so useful, I think almost any lawyer would be well-advised to consider adding it to his or her gear on the go.
I purchased an attractive and well-made leather protective cover-folio for it from a company called M-edge through Amazon as well as their battery powered “reader light”. (The Kindle screen is not back-lit, so it requires an external light source to make it visible.) Even with the protective cover, the Kindle DX weighs only slightly more than a pound, making it much lighter than a laptop or a textbook. I find I can read 2-3 hours in bed without becoming tired of holding it up. It is said to hold over 3000 books on its built-in hard drive.
The Kindle DX is the larger surfaced e-book reader from Amazon—a little over 10” diagonally. It will variously display for you to read “Amazon Kindle” ebooks, Adobe acrobat files (PDFs), and Microsoft Word files, as well as text documents from the Gutenberg Project. You can plug it into your Windows computer and it shows as another hard drive, which makes it easy to transfer materials into it. It has a small QWERTY keypad at the bottom with a couple of special keys, a “eraser button” which allows you to move the cursor around the screen, primarily for highlighting text and taking notes. In passing, I would also note that Amazon makes various “Kindle apps” available for the PC, the IPad, and other devices, so you can access and read your “Kindle materials” on them for free, but you cannot read for example PDFs on the other devices using the Kindle software. Another very thoughtful plus is that Amazon will automatically synchronize your place and notes across the various devices.
First, consider the Kindle for what it was made for – an eBook reader. Amazon has well over 600,000 books available through its Kindle store, and many of them (such as literature or history in the public domain) are free or at very reduced cost. You can subscribe to periodicals and newspaper, and I read the Austin paper every morning on mine as I drink coffee. Many magazines are also available, as is the New York Times. Amazon has amassed a huge collection of books, including classics which are either free or virtually free, so I have populated part of my collections for Law or Reference with items like the Constitution, Blackstone, Shakespeare, and other literary sources I quote occasionally in briefs or in Court.
Among the Kindle eBooks are a lot of legal textbooks, etc., usually priced around $80-$100 – generally much cheaper than a bound version, and they are almost all searchable with “text-to-voice” capability for most. The text-reading of Kindle documents is not perfect, with the occasional glaring pronunciation error, but it is useful and generally pleasant. I can listen to most eBooks while driving in my car or doing some mechanical task like opening mail. Although I have not done so yet, one can also listen (via built-in speakers) or the earphone jack to Audible books. The real beauty of the Kindle is in the highly legible black and white screen, which is as bright and high-contrast as high-quality print on good paper, but has the advantage in that you can increase or decrease the font as your eyes tire. It is easily (and painlessly) visible in bright sunlight, and the screen resists fingerprints. Greyscale illustrations in books vary in legibility, but one can generally zoom into an illustration as necessary. However, modern multi-color Powerpoint charts adopted for black and white media may not be all that clear on a Kindle, when the problem was not considered in the original text. The Continuing Legal Education of the State Bar of Texas is making an effort to make all CLE materials available as PDF files rather than paper books or loose-leaf binders, which I applaud. It only takes moments to transfer the thumbdrive files through your PC to the Kindle. PDF files do NOT have all of the functionality of a Kindle-formatted eBook, but you can take notes or underline with them. Further, you can actually email them to Amazon, and Amazon will convert them to Kindle files for a fee and make them available on your Kindle. Most legal materials from courses I attend are available as PDF files now, and transferring them from my computer to the Kindle is a snap. For some reason, not all of them are equally legible in the “device width” format, but zooming in on them solves any problem.
Second, for those of you read depositions or lengthy agreements or other matters as a part of your practice, consider the advantage it could be to have them simply available on an easy to read format which allowed you to take notes. Other lawyers can send us documents for review – as PDF documents or MSWord documents, and we can read them and annotate them as necessary. While editing isn’t as powerful as it would be on a laptop, the convenience factor offsets the lack of power, and one can make notes for a final cleanup on our computers before we reply. If you are going to a conference to review an agreement or a document in process, it is so much easier and less obtrusive to take the Kindle than a laptop. The DX fits easily into my smallest folio, and has a much more legible screen (for reading text) than do most small laptops or netbooks. if you email yourself (at your Kindle’s email address) an unprotected file, they will format it into a Kindle file for a small charge. That is really helpful for reading depositions, as a Kindle file does have some readability choices (including read aloud) that unconverted files do not have. Most of us buy periodic law books – annotated practice guides on an annual basis related to our practices, which are heavy, printed on inferior paper, and rapidly become dog-eared and smudged. Doesn’t it make sense to have the spine removed and scan the individual pages through your ScanSanp scanner into a PDF file loaded on your Kindle? This is a “fair use” of the book as I understand it, and it makes it far more convenient to carry to Court or anywhere else, and annotate as one sees fit. Additionally, it is comfortable to read anywhere.
One can also organize one’s library into “collections” to make it easier to find specific materials. Intuitive ease-of-use and flexibility are commendable. You don’t have to be a “tech-wizard” to use a Kindle. If you encounter an unfamiliar word, you have immediate (and non-interrupting) access to a useful dictionary.
Go to the Amazon “Kindle Store” and search for “law” and other general legal terms relevant to your practice. You will be pleasantly surprised with how many legal texts are available at a reasonable price. Perhaps more importantly, they are available instantly via the Amazon “Whispernet” modem, making it the easiest way yet to immediately acquire a particular text you may need for a case or matter. Whispernet also allows you to access the Internet (such as Wikipedia) and other “text-intensive” sites on your Kindle. It’s not blazingly fast, but it is very easy to read large swaths of text on the device. If you turn off the “whispernet” download interface, you can read vigorously for at least several days with the Kindle.
Of course, reading new books on Kindle is a delight, and it sometimes helps me to bookmark a place in a legal document, take a break and laugh at The Onion or read the news. Newspapers are particularly enjoyable to read, but you’ll find you can subscribe to a lot of useful periodicals.
Now that the iPad is available, some of you will wonder if some of the Kindle’s utility has been eclipsed. My reply would be both devices are very useful in their own rights, but are not exactly substitutes for one another. Having the Kindle application on the iPad makes it very desirable with its beautiful color screen, and it can surf the web to virtually any “Flash-free” website. If your need is to surf the web more (assuming PDFs are easily readable on the iPad), then by all means consider the additional expense of the iPad, but if your goal is reading in comfort, then I recommend the Kindle-DX.
In closing, I have owned many gadgets, some of which have lived up to their hype and made my life more pleasing or me more productive. Rarely does something come along which excels in both arenas like this
Jamie Kraft is a lawyer in Palestine, Texas.