Those Gizmos in Question
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Those Gizmos in Question

May 2013

Which mobile gizmos are absolutely necessary for your legal practice, and which ones aren't? Increasingly, it depends on what you do with the gizmo in question. A computer tablet device can help with organizing case presentations and voir dire; it can also be used to play Angry Birds.

If you're thinking of getting a tablet and are torn between Apple's iPads, the panoply of Android tablets, and Microsoft's new Surface line, I can't help you. They all have strong libraries of legal apps and software. So maybe you should let entertainment be a deciding factor. And if it is, then clearly Apple has the edge: The library of cheap and free games in its app store is much more robust.

One interactive diversion that every legal professional with an iPhone or iPad should own is Phoenix Wright. This $5 downloadable game casts you as a digital Perry Mason type tasked with clearing a series of falsely accused clients. Tap the touch-screen to seek exculpating evidence at crime scenes, or to select the right line of argument to demolish a hostile witness on the stand. (Making your Ace Attorney holler "Objection!" is extremely satisfying.)

Scan Anywhere
A portable scanner is vital for making digital copies of documents, business cards, and receipts. But that's not the only way it can help you minimize the stacks of paper that clutter your life. Use one to scan personal photos, notes jotted on napkins, or even comic strips and news articles that you don't have time to read right now.

Matthew Hickey, a sole practitioner who does entertainment law in San Francisco, has an array of scanning apps that utilize the camera on his iPhone. "I'm in a small apartment, and I don't want a lot of extra tools around," he says. "At networking events, I use CardMunch to collect business cards. A lot of my work involves sending signature pages of contracts back and forth, and CamScanner works great for that. And I use Evernote with letters, receipts, and tax forms." It's hard to beat the prices - CamScanner is $5, CardMunch and Evernote are free.

There are plenty of fairly cheap ($150 or less) portable scanners on the market, including cylindrical wands and pens, and small, dedicated devices for receipts and business cards. But those aren't much better than the smartphone apps that Hickey uses. If your work entails a lot of document digitizing, it's worth shelling out a bit more for a model that's quicker and much more precise.

Ted Brooks, who does trial presentation consulting in Los Angeles and San Francisco, relies on his six-pound Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300i ($260). "I carry it with me every day into courtrooms," he says. "It's a real treat having a ten-sheet feed tray, meaning you don't have to hand-feed one sheet at a time, which can result in skewed scans. It also does double-sided scanning, meaning you don't have to turn the pages over and feed them through again."

The similarly priced ($250) Canon imageFormula P-215 Scantini also does double-sided scanning, and it has a 20-sheet feed tray. Like the ScanSnap S1300i, it has a resolution of 600 dpi (dots per inch), good enough to render photos crisply. Its included OCR (optical character recognition) software can convert printed documents into Microsoft Word files.

The $250 Xerox Mobile Scanner is slower than the P-215, turning a page into a PDF file in 20 to 25 seconds. But the 1.5 pound gizmo can scan without being connected to a computer, and it sends files wirelessly to your smartphone or tablet. The resolution of 300 dpi is good enough for most people's purposes, and it has a rechargeable battery good for about 300 pages.

Blow It Up
Portable projectors are increasingly essential for legal work, and not just for PowerPoint presentations. Ever draft a document on your computer while clients are crowded around behind you offering suggestions? Then you'll appreciate how much less stressful it is for all parties if you plug a projector into your computer. The clients can watch a giant image of what's on your screen, and no one's breathing down your neck as you type.

At the high end of the portable projector market is the InFocus IN1126, which costs $1,099 and weighs 3.4 pounds. With a 3,000-lumen image, it's actually bright enough for courtroom presentations. It'll crisply render fine print across the room even if there's bright ambient light around you. The included one-watt speaker isn't THX quality, but it's good enough for all but the most cavernous auditoriums and courtrooms. And it can play DVDs in high definition.

If you aren't a trial attorney, Brookstone's $299 HDMI Pocket Projector may be good enough for your purposes. It's optimized for mobile devices as well as laptops, and it doesn't look ungainly attached to your slim smartphone - about the size of a sandwich, the Brookstone HDMI weighs in at half a pound. But it pumps out 85 lumens of brightness and uses a rechargeable battery that's good for two hours of cordless viewing. It even has tiny (and somewhat tinny) built-in speakers.

You know how frustrating it is to wait for a presentation to start while the event organizers try to find the right video cable to connect to the lecturer's laptop. Well, that scenario could very easily become your nightmare. So brace yourself for a little online research into which cables connect your projector to your various devices. (VGA? HDMI? Do you need the Apple Digital AV Adapter?) It would take a whole column to outline the many confusing options. But if you sort it out in advance and bring your own projector and cables to the meeting, you don't have to worry about being "that guy" who keeps an increasingly impatient audience tapping its feet.

True, a projector plugged into your computer can also be a great source of cheap entertainment. Streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu cost less than $10 a month, and you can access their enormous libraries of TV episodes and movies from laptops, tablets, and smartphones as well as from devices that plug into your television. It's great to watch a TV episode on a big screen while you grab lunch at your desk. And if you're traveling for a case, a portable projector lets you avoid exorbitant hotel pay-per-view prices by screening a feature of your choice on the wall of your room. (Watch an episode of Damages or a movie like The Lincoln Lawyer, and maybe you can even convince yourself that it's work-related!)

Chris Baker is a freelance writer based in San Francisco.

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