Cool Technology for Hot Lawyers

  • April 17, 2008
  • Sharon D. Nelson

Most lawyers, if not quite technophobes, have a limited knowledge of technology. Did the clock on your VCR flash a perpetual 12:00 because you couldn’t figure out how to reset it? Do you have a cell phone with 500 functions, about five of which you know how to use? If so, you are members of a very large club. If multiple remotes befuddle you and you find yourself asking your ten-year old for assistance to watch a DVD or get rid of non-English subtitles, you are far from alone.

Very few lawyers are adept at technology. Many of the rest wish they were, knowing that technology can facilitate efficiency in their law offices. Really, it is not always difficult or costly to implement. In addition, there are some cool gadgets that can make you, well, kind of hot. You may even impress that ten-year old. The fringe benefit will be making everyday tasks easier and more secure.

We’ll cover several different items that will help bring your practice into the 21st century. Some are physical and some are just procedural. These days, no law office can expect to be successful unless it begins to harness the power of the Internet and the significant advantage (not to mention the low cost) of electronically communicating with colleagues and clients. Best of all, there are additional revenue streams to be found from the tech world – and what lawyer isn’t hungry to drink from those waters?

Below are our some of our suggestions for cool technology for hot lawyers!

Digital Cameras

There should be a digital camera in almost every law office. Many of the cameras can also capture motion footage too, but a good “still” digital camera is an essential piece of equipment. You might use the camera to take pictures of the plaintiff’s accident scene, your defendant’s crime scene, your plaintiff’s construction site in a breach of contract dispute or just your good-looking staff in order to post it on your firm web site. It’s getting harder and harder to find a 35mm film camera these days and even professional photographers are using high end digital cameras. Besides, a digital camera gives you instant access to your photos without the wait for film developing.

What should you look for in a digital camera and how much to spend? As a minimum, you should purchase at least a 5 megapixel camera. So what is a megapixel? A megapixel is a unit of image sensing capability for a digital camera. In general, the higher the megapixels, the better the resolution of an image printed at a certain size. In other words, an image from a 5 megapixel camera will start to appear grainy before one from a 7 megapixel camera as the image size increases. Expect to pay a little over $100 for a good 5 megapixel camera. You almost can’t go wrong with any of the name brand cameras such as those from Nikon, Canon, Sony, Kodak, etc. If you can afford it, get a 7 megapixel camera, which should last you for several years and is capable of producing good- sized clear exhibits.

What about the zoom capability? The most important characteristic of the zoom value is the optical zoom setting. Some manufacturers tout 15x or 20x zoom capability, but that’s the digital zoom setting. Electronics are used to get the high magnification factors and quality is less than optimal as the digital zoom gets higher and higher. In contrast, the optical zoom is the capability of the lens optics. Normally, values in the 3x or 4x range are more than sufficient and will produce crisp and clear images.

Many of the digital cameras also allow you to take motion pictures and store them in MPG, AVI or MOV formats. Check with the manufacture to determine the storage format for video clips as there is no single standard that all manufactures use. The video clip capability is a “quick and dirty” way to store motion pictures. If you are going to be doing a lot of motion picture recording, get a digital video camera, which is specifically designed for video recording.

Memory for your digital camera is less of an issue since you can typically increase the storage capability by purchasing additional cards. If you have several digital cameras, try to get models that use the same form factor for the memory cards. This gives you more flexibility since you can swap the cards among different cameras. It is probably pretty obvious, but you can store more high-resolution images on the larger memory cards. This may be particularly important if you plan on storing a lot of video clips, which take up more storage space.

Image Organization

You should have some method in which to organize your graphic files. As an example, you’ll want to keep your digital photos of the intersection where the accident occurred separate from the ones of your grandchildren at Christmas. Lest you think this is a small point, we hasten to note that we have seen one of our colleagues teach a CLE and accidentally pull up a photo of an unclothed young lady. This is a very big “whoops.”

If you are using case management software, then reference the digital photos to the particular case. A very simple method would be to create a folder structure on your computer and just copy the images there. It also helps to actually name the files with some description of the actual picture. Digital cameras have an automatic naming scheme, which doesn’t help at all in identifying the picture contents. It is much easier (and faster) to access a picture named ‘Main Street Looking South.jpg’ then to try and figure out what a picture named ‘DCS00129.jpg’ is all about.

An excellent and free (lawyers love free!) photo organization software is Picasa by Google ( Picasa provides an easy interface to sort and describe your image collections. You can also touchup your photos and even burn them to a CD.

Thumb Drives

USB Thumb Drives, Flash Drives, Jump Drives and Pen Drives are all names for a small portable item that is nothing more than a solid-state storage device. We’ll use the term ‘thumb drive’ to refer to these wonderful devices that no one should be without. The term ‘thumb drive’ came to be because these hummers are about the size of your thumb. Duh. They fit into the USB port of your desktop or laptop. Windows 2000 and above have native support for thumb drives. Many manufacturers also supply drivers for a Windows 98 system. The thumb drive appears as another disk drive to your computer. Think of it as a large size electronic floppy disk. They come is sizes from 16MB all the way up to a whopping 16GB!

What are the practical uses for a thumb drive? Since they are portable, thumb drives are great for copying data from your work computer to take home. We regularly copy our PowerPoint presentations to a thumb drive as a backup when we lecture. If our laptop dies, we still have the presentation on a thumb drive and can borrow another presenter’s equipment. Reference materials and special utility software are also excellent candidates for the thumb drive. If you are recording your CLEs for online presentation, it is very helpful to have someone attend with a thumb drive so they can download the speaker’s PowerPoint, which in all likelihood will not have been completed until the day before (or day of!) the presentation.

Another consideration is the security of the data on the thumb drive. These devices are easy to lose since they are relatively small. Losing a thumb drive with your confidential client data is not a good thing. Have you ever misplaced your cell phone? ‘Fess up now. If you think a cell phone is easy to lose, think about a thumb drive, which is often carelessly tossed in a pocket. You’ll be lucky if you just end up with it in the laundry. It is remarkably easy to pull out your car keys and leave your thumb drive (with all its confidential data) in a parking lot. Several manufacturers provide software (usually via their web site) that allows you to encrypt the data or provide a portion of the drive to store encrypted data. Some of the really cool thumb drives even have biometric access in order to get to the data. Just make sure that you scan in at least two fingers/thumbs in case you try to emulate Emeril one night and end up with the sliced finger.


As we begin to move towards a paperless practice, a scanner is a requisite piece of equipment. Consider the Fujitsu ScanSnap S500 scanner. The scanner can scan double-sided color pages at the rate of 18 per minute. The best part is that this scanner costs around $500 and includes a copy of Adobe Acrobat 7.0 Standard! Acrobat alone costs over $250 if purchased separately. The previous model (fi-5110EOX2) is no longer available, however the S500 seems to be an even better replacement unit.

The Palm Treo 700w(x) a/k/a The BlackBerry Killer

We affectionately call our Palm Treo 700w devices the BlackBerry Killer. Research In Motion (RIM), the manufacturer of the BlackBerry, seems to have escaped a death knell in the legal battles over the technology used in their addictive little devices. Legal battles seem to follow RIM everywhere with the latest lawsuit involving the Texas company, Visto. While RIM was focused on past litigation, a competitor quietly found a way to strike a blow to BlackBerry’s jugular. A major problem with the BlackBerry is cost. RIM requires the use of a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) to facilitate the integration of the corporate e-mail server and the BlackBerry service. There is a cost for the BES software and the hardware to run it on. Many small and medium-sized firms have consequently avoided the BlackBerry and several large firms are considering a massive exodus to a non-BES environment. The recent BlackBerry network outage (over 10 hours) has caused even more firms to investigate alternatives that won’t make them wholly dependent on a vendor with a single point of failure.

Enter the BlackBerry Killer. The Treo 700w (or 700wx) is a Windows Mobile 5 device. Any Windows Mobile 5 device with the Microsoft Messaging and Security Feature Pack (MSFP) can connect with an Exchange 2003 Server with Service Pack 2 and support the Direct Push Technology. This complete implementation is at no additional cost and requires no additional server. More and more corporations and law firms are moving away from the BlackBerry because of cost and complexity issues, not to mention RIM’s continuing legal battles. As an added bonus, you can remotely wipe the data from the Treo 700w if it is lost or stolen. We have first hand experience with the Treo 700w and Direct Push Technology. We absolutely love it, with the minor caution that every once in a while you do have to “reset” your phone. After all…it is a Windows-based phone, so why shouldn’t it require a periodic reboot just like your computer?


The iPod isn’t just for music any more. The latest versions of the iPod can now store video clips along with music, podcasts, digital photos and audiobooks. Podcasts (a web feed of audio or video files placed on the Internet for subscribers to download to their iPods) are one of the many implementations of iPods. Podcasts include such things as the updated sports scores, latest news headlines, radio talk shows and even CLEs. The podcast is downloaded to the iPod for later playback. This is the leading edge of legal tech these days. Many lawyers now consider the iPod a “must have” device, especially if they have long commute times or a lot of plane and airport time.

The iPod can be used to store any type of file and even be the destination for your backup files. The portability allows you to backup your office computer to your iPod and move the data off-site. The video feature is pretty cool too. You can download classic Disney or Pixar animated shorts, and over 3000 music video and hundreds of television shows from the iTunes store. If you have any trouble, your ten-year old can be summoned to answer your questions.

One caveat concerning iPods (and any other portable device for that matter). You must make sure that the iPod is charged prior to use. The authors recently flew out to Honolulu for the ABA Annual Meeting. Both authors own the 60GB version of the iPod Video. Guess which author’s iPod didn’t work for the entire flight because the batteries were dead. (Note from the guilty party: So where was my tech support, John?)

Metadata Scrubbers

While we don’t think of metadata scrubbers as a hot technology because they’ve been around for a while, we find that most solo and small firm lawyers have not yet addressed the problem of metadata – these days, that’s becoming an invitation to be accused of malpractice. Metadata is generally described as data about data. Microsoft’s Office products (especially Word) carry a large amount of metadata although other vendors’ products also carry metadata, generally to a lesser extent. As an example, metadata in a Word document would be such information as the author of the document, date last printed, tracked changes, last access date, document creation date and embedded links.

Lawyers handle a lot of confidential data. They also hand draft versions of documents around for comment. The careful attorney will want to make sure that the final version of a document sent to the client, court or opposing counsel or elsewhere is clean of metadata so that earlier versions, comments, etc. are not recoverable. By this time, almost everyone has heard metadata horror stories, including court briefs including such recoverable draft comments as “Judge XXXX isn’t very bright, but even a fool wouldn’t buy this argument.” Or how about the partner who had his associate draft a very important contract for a client and then billed the entire matter at partner rates? He’s up on disciplinary charges, hoisted on his own petard by the document’s metadata.

There are several products to scrub the metadata, which vary in cost and effectiveness. Microsoft provides a free metadata scrubbing utility, but it only works with Office 2003. Trace! by Workshare ( is a free metadata scrubbing utility. It is not an automated process and you have to remember to run the software each time you wish to review or scrub the metadata from the file. Our personal recommendation is Metadata Assistant by Payne Consulting (, which costs $79 and fully integrates with the Office suites. If you e-mail a Word document as an attachment, Metadata Assistant will prompt you to scrub the metadata or send it without cleaning. It is idiot proof enough that the lawyer half of this writing duo has been saved from herself more times than she can count. Lawyers move too fast to be trusted to remember to scrub each document they attach to e-mail. All by itself, the prompt feature of Metadata Assistant makes it worth investing in.

Auto Complete

More and more, lawyers are falling into this snakepit, as their software helpfully completes e-mail addresses as they begin to enter them. Make sure you turn off the auto complete feature of your e-mail client. A large number of attorneys use Outlook for e-mail access. Some think it’s a great advantage to begin typing a client name and have the software automatically complete the rest. This is a recipe for disaster at best and more realistically, auto-complete may mean auto-embarrass. This means that you could be typing a message that you intend to send to Frank Jones. As you begin to type Frank, Outlook fills in the rest of the name. You hit ‘send’ before seeing that the auto complete inserted Frank Allen (opposing counsel) instead for the intended recipient. Oops! The vast majority of lawyers using auto-complete report that they have sent confidential data to the wrong party. This is not a roster you want to see your name on.

Desktop Search Engines

Ever have a need to find something on your computer when you have no idea what the file name is? Enter the desktop search engines. Desktop search engines are software applications that are used to find information on your computer. You can always use the ‘find’ function of Windows, but there are many other alternatives that are much, much faster and potentially more accurate.

Probably one of the most “famous” of the desktop search engines is Google Desktop. The Google Desktop is free (as we said before, lawyers love free) for personal and internal business use. You install the Google Desktop and then configure it to “point” to certain folders and file types. Google Desktop indexes the files to aid in the search speed. Google Desktop does have its limitations so take it for a “test drive” and see if you need something more robust.

X1 ( and dtSearch ( are two excellent commercial version of desktop search software. Both are widely used in the commercial marketplace and very efficient. You really can’t go wrong with either of these recommendations for a very robust search solution. A number of our law firm clients have implemented these tools and regard them as invaluable.

Laptop Locks

It is just amazing to us that many of our colleagues leave their laptops in their hotel rooms without securing them. All of the modern day laptops are constructed with a locking slot to accept a laptop lock. The laptop lock is a cable device with a key or combination lock at the end. The cable is wrapped around a secure device in the hotel (perhaps the bed frame) and then it is locked to the laptop. Kensington is just one company that produces excellent laptop locks. You should be able to get a very decent laptop lock for $20 to $50. In case you’ve missed the recent news stats, laptops are the number one stolen item at airports and hotels.

Secure Laptops

More and more data is being compromised because of laptop theft and loss. It seems like the latest craze is to have your laptop stolen with confidential client information. Even the FBI has lost hundreds of laptops, so you think you’re immune? Unfortunately, most attorneys have significant personal and confidential information on their laptops and take no precautions to secure access to the data. As a minimum, get yourself some encryption software and create a “virtual disk” on your laptop to securely store information. PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) is a very popular and secure software encryption application that can meet your needs.

Investigate biometrics if you need even more security. Our ThinkPad laptops have biometric access just to get past the “power on” sequence. You swipe your finger across the reader, which retrieves the data from the security subsystem of the laptop. As with all biometric devices, make sure you register at least two fingers, in case Emeril-emulation results in a lacerated digit. To make it even more secure, the hard disk is “married” to the security chipset on the system board. This means that the hard drive cannot be accessed if it is removed from the laptop. With this type of configuration, the hard disk still has to be in the casing even if you are trying to forensically access the drive.


AntiVirus software is no longer an option for modern computing. The latest threat to the computing environment is spyware (Trojans, adware, malware, keystroke loggers, root kits, etc.). We now have to also install anti-spyware software to protect us from these threats. The AntiVirus vendors are beginning to provide spyware protection in their products, but they are generally immature when compared to vendors that explicitly provide anti-spyware applications. Two very popular, effective and cost efficient products are Spy Sweeper by Webroot ( and CounterSpy by Sunbelt Software ( Both vendors offer stand-alone consumer versions and centrally managed enterprise editions.

Huge Attachments

Some of you may have limitations for the size of attachments that you can send with your e-mail messages. This limitation may be imposed by your ISP or internally restricted by your law firm IT staff. It is not uncommon to have a limitation of 2MB for a file attachment. What do you do if you need to send a file that is larger? There is a free service ( that allows for files of up to 100MB in size. You logon to YouSendIt and transfer your file to their servers. You receive a URL that points to the file that is stored in an encrypted format. You send the URL to the recipient and they download the file from the servers in a decrypted form. Easy peasy, and once again, at an attorney’s favorite cost: zilch.

Mobile Hot Spots: Two for the Road

One of our favorite technology gadgets is our portable wireless AP. Effectively; we create our own “hot spot” in our hotel room while traveling. No more Ethernet cables stretching across the bed and both of us can share the single broadband connection at the same time. This is a great stride in marital amity.

So what makes this magic happen? We use the AirPlus G DWL-G730AP Wireless Pocket Router/AP from D-Link. The product can be used as a router, access point or wireless network adapter. It costs around $55 and is really small for easy transport. The DWL-G730AP comes with its own travel case, power adapter and cables. It is amazingly small at only 3.15”x2.36”x0.67” (LxWxH). It is an extremely powerful little device and we never leave home without it.

Secure Internet Access at Starbucks et al

Make sure that you do not transmit any sensitive information over a wireless or unsecured wired connection. If you access your company e-mail via a web browser, make sure you at least use SSL (Secure Socket Layer) by having the https:// in the URL. If you connect to the firm’s network, use a VPN (Virtual Private Network), which provides a secure, encrypted connection for the data flow. Mobile hot spots are a boon to network infiltrators, so it is imperative to get enough training that you can connect securely. Mobile hot spots are seductive, especially when free, but they require a duty of care.

A little time and a little money can put you on legal tech’s forefront. Then when you’re lounging around a pool in Bermuda remotely and securely connected to your firm network, and the steel drum bands play “Hot, Hot, Hot,” they’ll be talking about you – a hot laywer with cool technology. You may even impress that ten-year old.

The authors are the President and Vice President of Sensei Enterprises, Inc., a legal technology and computer forensics firm based in Fairfax, VA. 703-359-0700 (phone)