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I.T. in Practice: Take a tablet

Every Issue

Cite as: September 2012 86 (09) LIJ, p.80

Although there are efficiency gains with tablet technology word processing has limitations.

Walk into any court or tribunal today and you will see a colourful array of tablet cases and covers. Solicitors barely make it to their seats at the start of a hearing before their mandatory tablet computing device appears. Computing in the form of tablets has become commonplace within the practice of law.

Forage around on any solicitor’s tablet, and there will be the mandatory legislation text and important precedents, which have replaced the well-thumbed favourite paper equivalents. Client file notes, a bank of relevant emails, case notes and images of important documents and other evidence make up the basic on-tablet tools. Of course, there are paper versions of these but watching a solicitor skilled at tablet usage gives an appreciation of the efficiency gains that may be had with this technology.

For those practitioners looking for a place to start with tablet technology beyond the basic email and internet facilities, some level of word processing functionality is usually next on the list of must-haves.

Word processing (WP) applications on tablets have far less functionality compared to their desktop or laptop equivalents, and this is to be expected given the fact that the tablet-based equivalents cost a fraction of the fully featured applications, and also given the relative newness of this technology plaform. Typically, tablet WP can provide most of the facilities that were available in the desktop packages of the 1980s, with some additional graphics management added in. However, some tablet WP applications lack detailed section numbering and change tracking features – both mainstays of document content management for lawyers.

Manipulating documents on a tablet may be an efficient use of a technology tool, but consideration needs to be given to what happens next to those documents after the edits are finished. Each document may need to be synchronised back to the practice’s server in its now-modified form, and change-tracked from there.

This synchronisation may happen via a third-party service, such as iTunes or GoogleDocs, or through the practice’s own web-based facilities that have been set up in advance, such as a “WebDAV” function. Space limits a broader discussion of WebDAV, but practices which are committed to the distributed workplace see this as essential technology worth investigation.

Printing is another “next step” for tablet documents. Some tablets – for example, the iPad – require connection to a printer that has a special interface just for that purpose. Where a practice wishes to use this tablet printing medium on a regular basis, some investment in new printers or printer interface gadgets may be necessary.

WP documents that are stored on a tablet will be only as secure as the security profile that exists on that tablet. Where there are no passwords, a lost tablet will mean that all documents on the tablet can potentially find their way into the public domain, which could compromise client confidentiality. Tablet WP applications typically have no password security that can be applied to individual documents, so it is important to ensure that the whole tablet has a password.

Backing up tablet documents is also imperative, especially given the fact that often the tablet-based version of the document is the most current – settlements, mediation agreements and draft orders are good examples of this. If document synchronisation (above) is not used, then some other cloud-based service will need to be used.

Some caution needs to be applied to this. For example, Apple’s iCloud service can be configured by default to back up a whole iPad using the internet, which can create very large telecommunications bills unless the appropriate internet service provider usage plan is in place.

Given some of the non-text related issues associated with tablet WP, some practitioners have taken a different road entirely. The relatively low cost and availability of internet access mean that remote desktop access and web-based WP are two alternative options.

With remote desktop access, it is possible to use a service such as LogMeIn, or Microsoft’s Remote Web Workplace to use a tablet to simulate sitting at one’s own desktop, and therefore having transparent access to all of the functions of the office computer. This removes loss of functionality, and printing, security and backup problems, as long as there is a reliable connection to the office desktop. Training issues are also minimised.

Web-based WP is also a manageable option with online services such as GoogleDocs, Microsoft’s Office365, and CloudOn (when it arrives in Australia). However, for some of these options, setup may be required within the office to accommodate certain features.



ADAM REYNOLDS is the principal of Proficio, an independent IT consulting firm. To contact him, ph 0413 487 640, email adam@proficio.com.au or see http://proficio.com.au. For more IT in-practice information see the contributions of the LIV Legal Practice Management Committee and IT e-Marketing Department at www.liv.asn.au.

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