This is the third installment in my series on practicing appellate law from the road.
You’ve chosen your hardware (laptop, tablet, or smartphone) and the basic software you’ll need to be productive. Before going on the road, you must also consider how your information will be organized and accessed to enhance your productivity while traveling.
The appellate world has largely become digital. This coincides with the trend toward taking law practices paperless. Maintaining client files in digital form is quickly becoming the industry standard. With so many documents being created on and received through our computers, that standard should not be difficult for appellate practitioners to meet.
Maintaining files in digital form means converting analog documents and storing them in the same location as native digital documents. The key is to make digitization of all file materials part of your office workflow. If your research notes or other relevant file materials are accessible when needed, you won’t miss a beat when working from the road. If they aren’t, then things won’t go as smoothly.
Most firms have some type of scanning system to digitize analog documents. For a very reliable and inexpensive alternative, I recommend the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500, a dedicated scanner that sits neatly on your desk. It works with Mac or PC systems and will scan 50 pages at a time, whether single or duplex. At about $430, this is the scanner to buy if you’re the one choosing your equipment.
Cloud-Based File Management
True mobility is built on ready and dependable access to the information necessary to represent your clients. Many firms have a centralized file server that permits remote access to client files. Because servers are expensive to purchase and maintain, cloud-based alternatives have taken hold that permit file storage, organization, and management cheaply and efficiently. Cloud-based file management is the backbone of an appellate road warrior’s practice.
The best-known examples of these services are Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, and iCloud. All work on PCs or Macs and interact well with both iOS and Android devices. These services generally involve setting up a folder structure on your computer that is automatically backed up as any changes are made to the local files. Those changed or added files are also synced to any other computer set up to access the cloud-based system.
To illustrate, I build my firm’s file system entirely in Dropbox Business. Each firm computer has shared access to certain team level Dropbox folders containing administrative documents, matter files, and forms. Other folders are shared only between users needing access to them, such as the firm’s bookkeeper or accountant. I can access the latest version of any document on the system using my laptop, iPad, or iPhone, regardless of location.
Another benefit to cloud-based file management is disaster preparedness. Aside from syncing documents between computers, all files also reside in the cloud. In an emergency, I could access any document from any internet-connected machine using the Dropbox web interface.
A practical approach to maintaining case information digitally is to set up your folders to mirror how the same bits of information have been maintained in hard files. The difference is that the digital files allow instant access using electronic devices that aren’t tied to a set location.
As an example, my Dropbox files are set up using the following folder structure, as it appears on my iPad screen:
These are self-explanatory. The goal is to come up with a set of subfolders that you would expect to use in each of your cases so you can locate the information you need when you need it. Document-naming conventions that start with YYYY-MM-DD result in files within each folder being sorted chronologically.
We’ve covered the preparation phase. Next, we’ll discuss some apps that make it easier to tackle client work from the road.