Tools, Tips, and Techniques for Mobile Lawyering

  • April 09, 2008
  • Jeffrey Allen


Mobile lawyers practice in more than one location. Many practitioners who think of themselves as "office" lawyers actually practice at multiple locations (clients' offices, other lawyers' offices, hotel rooms, etc.). Accordingly, they qualify as "mobile lawyers."

Practicing in multiple locations presents many challenges, including the level of support available to the lawyer. Concerns over the quality of our work, obligations to clients and the court, and malpractice avoidance lead us to want to practice as effectively as possible at all times, regardless of location.

The key to mobile lawyering lies in selecting the right tools.


Wonders of modern technology enable us to pack more into a smaller space and with less weight. This phenomenon helps us build a collection of high tech marvels capable of covering almost any contingency on the road. Certainly, each of us wants an effective mobile tool kit.

The ultimate mobile kit may vary somewhat for each of us because our particular needs will vary as a function of personal preferences, time, and the nature of our practices. Having an assortment of tools that help us work productively in any environment in which we anticipate working provides a great first step. Selecting from that kit the tools to take with us at any given time enables us to work effectively and travel light.

My personal tool kit includes a couple of laptop computers, an air card (cellular communications device for laptops enabling a broadband connection from most major metropolitan areas in the United States), a projector, a wireless smartphone with e-mail, scanners, a printer, GPS devices, storage devices, digital still and movie cameras, and a digital voice recorder. Having this collection of gear and several other items that I occasionally throw into the mix makes me feel capable of working effectively almost anywhere.

I rarely carry the entire arsenal; on the other hand, some parts of it travel with me almost everywhere. Allen's First Law of Mobility: Some tools make you mobile by helping you work efficiently and effectively on the road, but the more you carry with you, the less mobile you become. Every tool takes up space and adds weight. Every tool that you carry when you don't need it adds dead weight, making it more difficult to get around.

Many tradeoffs exist. By way of example, if you intend to make a presentation to a client, at a trial or an ADR proceeding, you may need a projector. If you plan on doing word processing as well as the presentation and also want to get your e-mail along the way, you probably want to bring a laptop; but there are other options.

If your presentation is a PowerPoint, you can avoid the laptop and bring an Internet capable PDA. If it is for a single client, you can leave the projector and run the show on your laptop. If someone else is presenting with you and will have a computer, you may be able to bring your presentation on a thumb drive (flash memory module) and run it on the other presenter's laptop. You can handle most e-mail through a wireless communicator, such as a BlackBerry 7100 or a Treo 650, both of which have PDA and telephone capabilities. If you need to do just a little word processing, you can even do that on many PDAs.


If you have a significant amount of word processing to do, you will prefer working on a computer. If not, you may find that a Palm device with a folding keyboard and Documents To Go Professional will satisfy your requirements.

If you choose to use a laptop, you will want one that combines light weight, small size, large capacity, and powerful features (preferably at a reasonable price). For those of you who prefer the Windows platform, look at the IBM (Lenovo) X40 series of laptops, the Fujitsu P series, and the Sony T series. All of those computers come from responsible manufacturers, in a variety of configurations, including some fairly full-powered ones. Dell offers another possibility in its X-1.

For those who prefer the Mac, Apple's 12" PowerBook offers a comparable option for a small footprint, lightweight computer. All of the computers mentioned above come with small screens (12" or less). All come with internal hard drives and optical drives (although some come as an external attachment rather than as a built-in feature.

If you want to save some aggravation, consider using a digital recorder for dictation then e-mailing the files to a secretarial service like Law Docs Express. They take your digital file, transcribe it, and e-mail you Word documents the next day. If you provide them with models of work you have done in the past, they will incorporate the format.


If you need to print, you might bring a small portable printer. They are available in the $250+ range, and some of them are quite decent. One of the best portable printers I have found, Canon's PIXMA iP90 compact Photo Printer, can produce up to 16 ppm (pages per minute) in black and up to 12 ppm in color, with a resolution of up to 4800x1200 color dpi. The iP90 works with Windows XP/Me/2000/98 and Mac OS X.

Wireless printers using Bluetooth technology enable you to avoid carrying connecting cables. The HP DeskJet 460wbt Mobile Printer ($349) prints up to 17 ppm in black-and-white and 16 ppm in color. The 10" long Pentax PocketJet 3 Plus ($449) weighs one pound. The PocketJet 3 Plus prints up to 3 ppm using thermal printing technology. The printer works with most handheld PCs and computers running Windows, Symbian/EPOC, PocketPC/Windows Mobile, Palm OS, Linux, and Mac OS X.

In truth, I rarely travel with a printer these days. I keep a portable printer around, in case I need it, but if I did not already own one, I likely would not go out and buy one. Most major hotels have Business Centers with computers and printers available for a nominal charge. If I need to print something, I take the file on a USB thumb drive, plug it into the computer, print my documents and leave.


Most of us use e-mail heavily. Having access to e-mail has become a more and more significant part of our communications on the road. E-mail access options have dramatically expanded in the last year or so. In addition to carrying a laptop and using it at the hotel, at someone else's office, at the airport, or with a wireless modem or a cell phone connection, we can now get e-mail through a borrowed computer, cyber cafes, PDAs, a variety of wireless communications devices. Plus, at least one provider, DLP, enables you to listen to e-mail over the telephone.

If you just want to receive e-mail, you can leave your laptop at home and carry a small wireless communicator (such as a BlackBerry device), saving yourself several pounds of dead weight. Using the RIM 7100 (or one of the other telephonically empowered BlackBerry devices) or a Treo 650 or one of the other converged PDA/telephone devices with Internet capabilities will enable you to get your e-mail on the road at virtually any time, day or night.


Laptop manufacturers have made computers stronger, more stable, and less fragile. Nevertheless, they still break down from time to time. You should always have some redundancy available in case of such a problem.

Small, highly portable, large capacity (up to 100 GB) high-speed hard disks that you can make bootable provide excellent redundancy. Small flash memory drives of up to several gigabytes (prices for up to 2 GB are reasonable while larger drives remain much more expensive) have no moving parts, require no energy to retain memory, and are very resistant to accidental damage. Use them for backup of critical data while on the road.


Attorneys have more and more reasons to use multimedia presentations in connection with their work. Use in a courtroom generally requires at least a 2500 lumen projector; most other uses (such as presentations to clients or in connection with a mediation or arbitration proceeding) need only about 1500 lumens. You can find small, lightweight projectors in the 1500-2000-lumen range for $2000-$3000. Generally DLP projectors weigh less, cost less, and take up less space than their LCD counterparts.


We all need to take some time off. Heavy travel days limit opportunities for recreation. Computer games, music, or a DVD movie offer a means of bringing your own entertainment with you.

Games for the Palm devices have become readily available and can be entertaining. The well-equipped laptop can play both music CDs and DVD movies. It can also run computer games. If you really want to cut weight and have no issue regarding the cost, you can get very nice, portable DVD players complete with LCD screens that will easily fit in a briefcase or even a coat pocket.

And, of course you can always get one of the almost ubiquitous iPod devices (or another digital music player), which can accommodate music, audio books, data, and now even still pictures and video.


No self-respecting collector of technology can get by with one briefcase. Basically, you get to choose between cases you carry and cases with wheels. Within both categories, you get size and feature variation. In the class of cases you carry, you also get choices about how: in your hand, over your shoulder, or as a backpack. Some cases carry in more than one way. For example, one of my favorite cases has a shoulder strap, a handle, and wheels (Wenger's $129 Patriot case). The computer section of that bag is a removable bag enabling you to carry the computer and a few accessories or pull the bag out to make room for other things when you need the space. Costco sells a similar Wenger bag for $69.

You also have the choice of computer bags that shout "COMPUTER ON BOARD" or going more discretely with a padded computer sleeve that packs inside a less conspicuous case. Check out Waterfield Designs for well-designed and reasonably priced computer sleeves, camera bags, iPod cases, and other bags. I am particularly partial to its Cozmo and Cargo bags.

If you want to carry a relatively small amount of technology, look at RoadWired's Pod ($49.95). I packed a Treo 650, an iPod, a digital camera, extra batteries, extra memory cards, and a map inside one and still had room for more. RoadWired "super-sized" its Pod to create Podzilla ($69.95).

If you want one of the better and more expensive dedicated computer bags, look at the Victorinox (Swiss Army) Architecture line. Victorinox bags are well-designed and padded to protect computers and accommodate a considerable amount of gear.


I have found that technology expands to fill available space. When I start with a large case I end up packing more than when I start with a small case, whether I need it or not. Using a smaller case and taking just what you will need makes traveling easier. Decide what you need to have and use a case that comfortably accommodates the gear.

Copyright 2005 Jeffrey Allen. All rights reserved.


Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California. A frequent speaker on technology topics, he is the special issue editor of GPSolo's Technology & Practice Guide and editor-in-chief of the Technology eReport. He regularly contributes to those and other publications. A frequent presenter at CLE courses for attorneys on technology and on substantive law topics, he also teaches business law in the graduate and undergraduate divisions of the Business School of the University of Phoenix. You can contact Jeffrey via e-mail