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Apps fun but not always crucial to practice

|Written By Kenneth Jackson

In his circle of lawyers, Taro Inoue is known as the more technologically savvy of the bunch.

But if you ask him about what he finds most useful, he says nothing beats the old-fashioned tools of the trade: simple communication.

So in discussing the best mobile applications for lawyers, he talks about the ones a phone already comes with: e-mail, text, telephone, and a calendar.

“I find the most useful stuff is the built-in stuff,” says the 38-year-old criminal defence lawyer. “I’m very dependent on the calendar. I check e-mail. I browse the web — the very basic things.”

One thing he likes is theDropbox application that people can download for free or purchase depending on what they’re looking for. “When you set it up, it takes everything from one folder and one computer and creates that same folder on every other computer in your system,” says Inoue.

If one file changes on a computer or cellphone, the same thing happens on all of the servers connected to the application.

There’s also an application that allows a user to write on the file, similar to making notes, on tablets.

“It is possible. There are programs that do that. I just don’t find them particularly convenient or time-saving,” says Inoue, who uses both iPhone and Google Android phones as well as the MacBook Air laptop that he does most of his work on.

Other than that, Inoue doesn’t think applications make lawyers’ lives any faster or easier. In fact, he’ll go as far as saying they slow productivity.

“I really don’t recommend anything for productivity,” he says. “If you’re dealing with a cellphone, the screen is too small to do anything other than typing a few words. The second problem that arises is [with] most iPhones, and to a lesser extent other cellphones as well . . .  apps tend to have one task.

I don’t know any lawyers who are centralized on their cellphones, so otherwise they still have their computers. So you can sync your documents back and forth to some extent, but at the end of the day there has to be a home base.”

Another problem with applications, he notes, is that they don’t really talk to each other very well. In his view, people have unrealistic expectations as to what to expect from a cellphone or tablet.

Criminal defence lawyer Michael Spratt says he also relies on his calendar and e-mail. In addition, he’s big on Twitter, which he finds he’s using more. In addition, while it’s not a work function, he uses an application that allows him to read comic books when he’s looking to kill time in court.

“Apps let me stay connected and informed,” says Spratt of Webber Schroeder Goldstein Abergel in Ottawa. “I am sure I would use more, but our firm uses (BlackBerrys) so the selection is a bit limited.”

He believes the applications he does use assist in efficiency and allow for flexibility but says that doesn’t mean he’s working any less.

“Apps may actually lead to me working more — job not easier but smoother,” he notes.

The Canadian Bar Assoc-iation’s National magazine released the top 10 applications for BlackBerrys in December.

The No. 1 application was UberTwitter, which is actually now known as UberSocial. It doesn’t really have much to do with being a lawyer as almost any professional on a BlackBerry can make use of it. It basically makes using Twitter easier.

The second was an application that tells people what time it is in different time zones, something that could come in handy for lawyers with clients all over the place.

The third, BlackTrack, could arguably be useful for lawyers. It manages e-mail and phone activity and spits out daily and weekly reports. This could help lawyers bill clients more accurately for time spent on calls and e-mail.

Another application turns a BlackBerry into a disco ball when you get an e-mail. In addition, there’s a simple news media application to stay up to date on what’s breaking.

An application geared specifically for lawyers and the courtroom is TrialPad. It helps them organize case presentations and allows users to display images and exhibits on a projector or monitor.

At the end of the day, according to Inoue, lawyers are busy. So when they’re shopping for devices or software, they need to ask themselves whether they’ll make their jobs easier.

He suggests that even the applications that are arguably useful in some ways don’t actually make the job any easier.

“At most, they make your information a little more available and mobile in the sense that you can access some information and you can edit some information,” says Inoue.

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