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Published: 2012-05-22

Is Your Computer Still Necessary? Practicing Law with a Tablet



You have one or you want one: a lightweight, hand-held tablet like the Apple iPad, Asus Eee Pad, Samsung Galaxy, Motorola Xoom, Amazon Kindle Fire, or BlackBerry Playbook. You may already be using a tablet to some extent in your law practice. But will a tablet be able to replace your desktop or laptop altogether? In a recent national survey, 46% of those polled said that tablets will eventually take the place of laptop computers, while 35% think they won't. Your own answer to this question may depend on the nature of your work.

Content Creation vs. Content Review

If your practice requires you to create a lot of content--brief writing, required filings, or discovery inquiries, for example--you'll need to assess how comfortable you are with a tablet's content input mechanisms. That is to say, how much typing on a touchscreen can you really do, and how easy it for you? The obvious workaround is to add a keyboard to your tablet, either through a dock or wirelessly. Consider, however, how having to carry around the keyboard might diminish the purpose and utility of owning a tablet in the first place. If you're not wild about typing at all, investigate the availability of speech inputs for your device. They may be limited.

On the other hand, you may be at a level in your work where you're not doing a lot of content creation, but instead more content review. Tablets (with the right apps) are usually well suited to viewing, commenting on, and revising documents. Senior-level lawyers may be able to live by tablet alone. Beware though--the tablet's smaller screen (as compared to your computer) and navigation tools may make some types of document review more difficult.

Issues to Be Aware Of

-- Data storage capacity. A laptop offers vastly more on-board storage than a tablet. You'll probably need to store data in the cloud if you want to use a tablet exclusively.

-- Available programs. Tablets use a different operating system (Android or iOS, for example) than ones found on laptops. This means not all the high-powered software you may be familiar with will run on a tablet. Take the Microsoft Office suite, for example. You're not going to be able to use those programs on a tablet. Instead, you'll have to pay to access those programs through the cloud using Office 365, or use an app like Documents To Go that lets you view, edit and create Microsoft documents from your tablet.

-- Peripheral connectivity. If you need to hook up a peripheral like a printer or scanner, you may find connectivity limited on a tablet. This may require use of wireless Bluetooth peripherals.

-- Availability of tech support from your firm. Your tablet is highly personal and mobile. It's less likely to be serviced by your firm the same way your networked PC may be.

-- Limits on use in courtroom. You like the tablet because you can take it anywhere--or can you? Litigators should make sure that local courtrooms don't include tablets among the list of banned devices.

A Happy Medium?

Computers started out on our office desks, then went mobile with the introduction of the laptop (or notebook). Laptops were followed by the smaller, stripped-down and less expensive netbook. The latest step in the evolution is the ultrabook, a lighter, tablet-size device that runs on the same operating system as a PC. A "tablet PC" (not to be confused with the tablets discussed above) may be a good solution for lawyers who want the sleekness and mobility of a tablet combined with the computing power of a laptop.