Features - Palm Computing for Legal Professionals: Ten Practical Tips to Enhance the Value of Your Palm Computing Device

Dennis Kennedy practices law in the Intellectual Property and Information Technology Group at Thompson Coburn LLP in St. Louis, Missouri. Dennis was named the 2001 “TechnoLawyer of the Year” by the TechnoLawyer Community for his role in promoting the use of technology in the practice of law. He speaks and writes frequently on the use of legal technology and Internet topics. Many of his articles on legal technology are collected in the form of an “online book” at www.denniskennedy.com/ltprimer.htm.  


The 2001 AmLawTech survey of the one hundred largest U.S. law firms found that 88% of the responding firms support the use of handheld PCs. Lawyers were early users of Palm computing devices and it is common to see lawyers using these devices in a number of settings.

While Palm computing devices give you an excellent “out of the box” experience, both their utility and your enjoyment can be greatly increased by taking advantage of a few simple tricks and techniques and learning about some valuable practical resources.  It’s what you can do after you move past the “out of the box” functionality that gives these devices their greatest value, especially for those in the legal profession.

I have used a Palm device for several years now and have collected the following ten favorite tips that I routinely share with other Palm computing users.

1.  Visit PDAJD.com Regularly.  PDAJD.com (http://www.pdajd.com) is a type of web site known as a vertical portal, or vortal.  That simply means that it is an excellent collection of resources on a specific topic for a specific audience. In the case of PDAJD.com, the topic is personal digital assistants and the audience is the legal profession.  It is a one stop shop for lawyers and others to find information, articles, resources and links to other helpful web sites, all in one convenient place.  New articles and content are added on a regular basis. The focus is on the practicing lawyer and this makes www.pdajd.com far more useful to legal professionals than the standard Palm computing or PDA resource sites.

2.  Get an Outliner.  Palm computing devices can be extremely useful for putting together ideas and planning projects, especially in the early “brainstorming” stages of a project.  A highly useful category of software products for lawyers includes outliner and other organizational programs.  There are several excellent outliners for Palm devices.  My personal favorite is called BrainForest (http://www.aportis.com). BrainForest has a lot of useful features and a helpful “leaf and branch” metaphor for organizing information and outlines.  These outliner programs can help you plan articles and presentations, prepare arguments and closings, manage projects and build sophisticated to-do lists, as well as store useful information on a topic in an outline format.  If you use them to capture ideas, you’ll find that you won’t forget your best ideas and that you can build on those initial ideas over time in a structured manner. BrainForest, in fact, is the one program on my Palm device that I use most often. 

3.  The Scotch Tape Trick. Palm computing device users often worry about scratches and other wear and tear on the screen, especially in the area of the screen where Graffiti characters are entered by writing directly on the screen with a stylus.  A very inexpensive and useful trick is to place a piece of Scotch magic tape (the kind commonly used to wrap presents) over the portion of the screen where Graffiti characters are entered.  This simple technique has two excellent benefits.  First, it protects that portion of the screen from scratches by adding an inexpensive transparent layer of protection.  Second, the texture of the tape provides a better tactile experience (it simply gives a better writing “feel”) and makes it a bit easier to write Graffiti characters. 

4.  Replace Standard Programs Aggressively.  Whether it is the calendar, to-do list, notes, address book, calculator or even the initial launch screen, third-party software providers have provided better versions of each of the standard programs found on Palm computing devices.  These standard program replacements are inexpensive (usually in the $15 to $20 range) and add the features that you may think are “missing” from the standard programs supplied with your unit.  These programs often provide enhanced functionality and improve usability.  For example, an enhanced calendar program (such as DateBk4 (www.pimlicosoftware.com)) may provide a variety of useful views, such as weekly calendar views, that are not available in the standard calendar program. Iambic Software’s Action Names (www.iambic.com) is a good example of an address book replacement. For others, take a look at the enhancements category at www.palmgear.com/software/.

5.  Look for Software Answers to All Your Wishes.  There are now more than 10,000 programs that have been written for Palm devices.  These programs have an amazing scope and variety, and run the range from the general to the highly specific.  A trip to a web site like Palmgear.com (www.palmgear.com) will often reveal a variety of useful, often free, programs that will accomplish specific tasks or provide a specific functionality that you might be looking for.  These days, in nearly every case, if you wish there were a certain type of Palm program, someone has already written it. 

6.  Buy David Pogue’s Book. While the operation of Palm computing devices is often intuitive and straightforward, every Palm user should think about spending $30.00 for David Pogue’s book called “Palm Pilot: The Ultimate Guide” (Second Edition).  This book explains all the Palm basics and provides hundreds of tips, software recommendations, and other useful help.  The book comes with a CD that contains a large number of trial programs, free programs and shareware to help you get started using your Palm computing device.  Keep an eye out for the upcoming Third Edition, since the Second Edition has become just a bit dated and does not cover the newest models.

7.  Subscribe to Handheld Computing Magazine’s E-mail Newsletter.  To keep up with current developments in Palm computing, Handheld Computing Magazine’s e-mail newsletter is an excellent resource.  This free one-page e-mail newsletter comes to you on a weekly basis in a PDF format, with a short feature article and short reviews, news and links to useful sites and new software.  This newsletter is a great way to keep up to date with current developments, learn about new product announcements and to find new and useful software. Information about subscribing to the weekly newsletter and the print version of the magazine can be found at http://www.hhcmag.com.

8.  Sync Addresses to Palm Device Only. One of the most highly downloaded Palm programs is a program called Undupe, which allows you to eliminate duplicated entries.  The reason this program is so popular is that it is very easy to accidentally duplicate all the entries in your address book when synchronizing data between your Palm device and your desktop.  In the case of an accidental duplication, you have the choice of either spending a significant amount of time deleting the duplicate entries or using a program like Undupe.  I avoid the issue by treating my Outlook address book on my office computer as the gold standard, permanent address book, and then take no risks with it.  When synchronizing a Palm device with your desktop computer, you can either sync down to your device, sync up to your desktop or sync in a way that tries to reconcile the information on both. It is this reconciliation procedure that can lead you into trouble.  I recommend that you only sync down to your Palm computing device.  The only disadvantage of this approach is that it means that if you collect an address from somebody while you are out of the office, you have to enter that address by hand when you get back to your desktop computer rather than syncing up from your Palm device.  I think that is a small price to pay to eliminate the danger of overwriting your desktop address book or duplicating all of its entries. 

9.  Match Your Style.  The people who have the best results with Palm computing devices have spent some time thinking about how they will use it, how they will carry it and the situations in which it will help them.  I suggest that you go through the exercise of visualizing how you will be using the device, especially if you are considering whether to use a wireless device. Any Palm computing device’s greatest utility will be realized when it is used and carried by you on a regular basis.   As a result, the device should be thought of as a kind of accessory to your clothing and other items that you carry.  Although people sometimes chuckle about this, it can be a very difficult decision what case to use for your Palm computing device.  A friend of mine once spent a large amount of time and a lot of effort trying to find a brown carrying case for a Palm device to wear with his brown suit (see www.steinberglaw.com/palmpilot1.htm).  Your choice of your Palm computing device should be in no small part based on how it fits in to your professional image. 

10.  Give Up the Paper. If you try to hang on to your DayTimer, notebook, or other ways of keeping information, your transition to and use of a Palm computing device will be a little shaky and will proceed in a bumpy manner.  In fact, you take a substantial risk that you won’t ever adapt to the device and that it will become an expensive paperweight. The better approach is to commit to using the Palm and make an effort to use it for everything from the beginning. Throw away or hide your existing calendars and other paper.  By firmly committing to the Palm device, you greatly increase your likelihood of a successful experience.

Conclusion

Palm computing devices offer a lot of potential benefits for legal professionals to assist in the management of information, especially when you are outside of the office.  In order for them to be most useful to you, you need to increase the likelihood for success and to increase their usability for you.  A key to that process is to find resources that offer practical advice from the point of view of a lawyer or legal professional. By taking advantage of these ten tips and techniques, you can improve your Palm computing experience, organize yourself and make yourself more productive, while getting full value out of your Palm computing device. 

Useful Palm Computing Resources for the Legal Profession

PDAJD.com (http://www.pdajd.com)

PalmLaw.com (http://www.palmlaw.com)

3Com's Official Web Site (http://www.palm.com)

Handango (http://www.handango.com)

ZDNet's Palm Resources (http://www.zdnet.com/products/pdauser/palm.htm)

Handheld Computing Magazine (http://www.hhcmag.com)

Legal Technology Primer – Palm Computing Lessons (http://www.denniskennedy.com/ltpchap8.htm)

Jeff Beard, “24 Things You Can Do with a Palm Connected Organizer,” Law Office Computing (October/November 1999)

Note: I keep a list of useful Palm computing resources at http://www.denniskennedy.com/palm.htm