Geeks and Freaks - There's an App for That
Admit it – if you're reading this page you were probably a bit of a freak (or whatever they called it during your generation) in high school. You might have been more outspoken than your friends, maybe thought a little differently than your peers. And those creative and unique qualities that distinguished you way back when (or for some of you, only a few years ago) may well have led to your becoming a public defender. A professional rebel.
So now you're in this career, and often trying to find creative and productive ways of streamlining some of your too-much-of-a-good-thing caseload. Maybe you're already doing it, but if not, may I introduce you to your next best friend, the tablet.
I am writing this piece because I have been repeatedly shocked at the failure of our brethren and sistren in the public and criminal defense communities to take advantage of these amazing devices. Even those raised in the computer generation (and I was not – I still remember fearfully tapping at my IBM 286 afraid I was going to wipe it clean with every key stroke) seem to ignore the possibilities. So let me suggest a few. (And I am not a technological wizard, so I am guessing that those of you who are may have several additional suggestions to make in the comments section on the NAPD facebook page.)
I use an ipad, and am not familiar with the other tablets. My friends and coworkers joke that I must be on the Apple payroll. I have met with attorneys and even judges during recesses or lunches to explain the workings of the device. And once people get started, they often recognize the potential is limitless. Here are a few. Many will seem familiar based on your use of iphones or other smart phones, but perhaps some will be new to you.
First the obvious:
Email apps: You can receive and answer your email. You will need either some kind of internet connection that you purchase with a plan, or the ever increasing availability of wifi – free in many places. Imagine waiting for your cases to be called in court and being able to respond to the accumulating correspondence in your inbox.
Calendar apps: You can keep a calendar on your device alone, or use something like Google calendars which will add your entries to the “cloud” so that your calendar will be accessible anywhere. (Which for me matters less and less since my ipad has become my constant companion.)
Law apps: You can get Westlaw or other legal research apps some free but not great, others which access your licensed usage, with a very easy interface for conducting legal research. An issue comes up in court, or you have something you just have to get to to finish off that memo – why not do the research, again, while waiting for a case to be called. (As you can see, in my jurisdiction we spend a lot of time waiting for cases to be called.)
Your code of criminal procedure or criminal law: Many of these are now available as searchable apps, so you can enter a word or phrase and find all the statutes in that code that contain the word or phrase. I have the New York Criminal Procedure Law, New York Penal Law and New York Civil Practice Law and Rules.
Other law apps: There are other apps you may choose to use for legal research or other areas of practice. Although there are jury selection apps, I am afraid of trying them – the space on the screen is small, jury selection goes fast where I am, and I don't want to be messing with a device when I should be looking at all those interesting faces. Plus, although it has never happened, the first time my ipad will freeze and become unusable will be during voir dire, right?
Translator – Obvious use. Sometimes we just need to find the right words if we're not fluent, or if we don't have an interpreter with us.
The more interesting uses:
Scanning your discovery into dropbox or an app, and having it available for usage on the device: Of course, you cannot use it to impeach or refresh, but it will certainly be helpful in preparing and reviewing your case.
Ibooks or other book apps: These apps enable you to load books from the internet onto your ipad. Why do you want books? Consider the manuals you often need but can't carry. I have the parole rules manual, the sex offender registration classification guide, a search and seizure guide, and a book on handling child sex offenses loaded onto my tablet. All were free. I have referred to them often.
Links to important websites: You can create labeled folders for various topics in your practice, and add links to websites to the folders. (I also have folders for cooking, painting, and all the other activities I fantasize about some day having the time to master.)
Apps that allow you to collect documents:
Here's where it gets really interesting. If your state has the jury instructions on the web, why not copy them and email them to yourself, and then place them in folders with an app like Goodreader? (Again, time I spent while waiting for cases to be called.) I have all of the jury charges of general applicability loaded and labeled on my ipad, as well as charges relating to the offenses I handle. They are placed in folders and subfolders (For example, folder Crimes – subfolder Assault – subfolder Assault in the Second Degree – Police).
Use the same app with a folder for sentences to collect all the sentencing charts you regularly rely upon, as well as any math charts that help you figure out the bizarre calculation of sentences in your jurisdiction. In New York, one type of offense requires a calculation of six sevenths of the sentence to determine how much time a person will spend in custody. Who comes up with this stuff? But I carry my “six sevenths” chart with me on the tablet, along with sentencing charts for violent felonies, non-violent felonies, drug felonies and sex offenses.
Use the same app with a folder for contact information to gather all of the phone numbers and emails for judges, clerks, jail and prison contacts, prosecutor and PD phone lists.
And if you want to, you can also create a folder for menus and other such things so you can order in when you're working late.
There are apps for creating documents. They may not have all the bells and whistles of the usual word processing programs, but there is enough there to work on motions, memos and other documents. You can easily cut the portions of cases you have just obtained during legal research and paste them into your documents. And you can, if you prefer (and I do) get a Bluetooth keyboard to make the typing easier. To pretty the documents up, email them to yourself or deposit in a cloud based program. (Confession – I have not started using the cloud capabilities yet. But some of my colleagues do – they scan and upload all of their discovery in complex cases in order to have it accessible.)
Another use for an app that creates documents might be to prepare an order or subpoena or some other document in court when something comes up. Keep a few forms on the ipad. When needed type of the particular document quickly and send it to the judge's clerk for his/her signature. I have done this with one or two orders in the past when issues arose during trial.
Grabbing stuff from the web:
How many times have you googled a person in a case, or looked for them on facebook, and wanted to grab a copy of the facebook page or article, but been unable to get the part you were trying for. Or found that the article could not be printed without a subscription. This is where the screenshot comes in – bring up the page, click the necessary buttons and you now have it as a photo on the ipad. Then a few more taps and you've emailed it to yourself. You can also film videos this way – I just grabbed a facebook video of a potential alternate suspect doing something damaging in a case I have by filming it on the ipad while watching it on the computer. Of course, you may then want to quickly email the pictures and load them into a file on your computer relating to the case before your kid comes along looking at your pictures.
Using the ipad as a camera: Although it is not the best camera, there are times you might be out at a crime scene or on an investigation and realize that a particular picture is important, or that you want to memorialize the area. Perhaps you can't see over that fence – but the ipad, held high, can.
Although our jail does not permit ipads inside based on an escape a few years ago which used communication technology, there is a possibility that the jail administration may reconsider. If that happens, I will be loading crime scene videos and 911 recordings onto the ipad instead of schlepping the computer when I have to play recordings back for a client.
So consider getting a tablet, or if you already have one, using it in ways you have not yet considered.If you are well versed in the apps and you know of great uses I have not mentioned (and I'm sure there are tons), please add them in the comments on the NAPD facebook page.