Crime, Small Law Firms, Solo Practitioners, Technology, Trials

Today’s Tech: A Public Defender And Her iPad

I’m writing today’s column from New York City, where I’m covering Thomson Reuters Vantage 2014, a great conference focused on mid-sized and large law firms’ use of technology. There have been fascinating discussions about how larger law firms are adapting to change and are incorporating some of the latest technologies into their IT infrastructure. Not surprisingly, however, it turns out that like solo and small-firm attorneys, large and mid-sized law firms are often just as reluctant to adopt new technologies and processes despite overwhelming evidence that doing so is the best way to stay competitive.

But the good news gleaned from this conference is that some larger firms are adapting, just as many solo and small firms are. And that’s my goal with this column: to showcase how individual solo and small-firm lawyers are using new technologies in their day-to-day practices. In the process, my columns will hopefully encourage and help other lawyers to do the same.

In today’s column I’ll be featuring Jill Paperno. Jill is a long-time assistant public defender, having worked at the Monroe County Public Defender’s Office in Rochester, New York for over 27 years. She’s currently the Second Assistant Public Defender and is the author of Representing the Accused: A Practical Guide to Criminal Defense (affiliate link). In other words, Jill is a diehard criminal defense attorney and has dedicated her life to defending our constitutional rights.

Oftentimes, but not always, criminal defense attorneys are the last to jump on the technology bandwagon. In many ways, their reluctance to embrace new technologies makes perfect sense. Unlike transactional practices, criminal defense work requires constant trips to the courthouse and the filing of paper documents with the court. A paperless office doesn’t always make sense — especially given that some jails don’t allow attorneys to bring tablets or smartphones into jails when visiting their clients. And a truly virtual office — an online law firm without walls, rather than a traditional brick and mortar office — is often unfeasible since discussing the underlying issues of a criminal case with a client in Starbucks is simply out of the question.

So when Jill, who was my former supervisor when I worked at the Monroe County Public Defender’s Office, reached out to me for iPad tips a few years ago after purchasing her first iPad, I was intrigued. She was bucking the trend and making her best effort to incorporate an iPad into her day-to-day criminal defense practice. As you’ll soon learn, unlike my fellow Above the Law columnist, Jeff Bennion, who finds the iPad doesn’t fit well into his litigation practice’s workflow, Jill has increasingly relied on her iPad for work-related purposes.

When I asked Jill why she prefers using her iPad over “old school” methods, she told me that the ease of use and portability was paramount. “There’s an increasing amount of information that we have to have available to us as criminal defense lawyers and the iPad has made all of it very accessible,” she explained. “And it’s not just a matter of providing me with instant access to what I need to have on hand. It also enhances my ability to represent my clients.”

Jill uses her iPad constantly throughout her workday. According to Jill, her PDF storage app, GoodReader, is one of her most-used apps: “I store sentencing charts in GoodReader. Sentences change so often these days that I can’t memorize them anymore. With GoodReader I can easily access sentencing charts. I also have a criminal jury instructions folder that I use all the time.”

She stores lot of other useful information on her iPad as well. “Some judges hold our clients in contempt on a routine basis, so I have contempt folders with everything I need to stave off a contempt charge on the spot, including briefs, statutes, and summaries of what a judge must to do hold someone in contempt,” she explains. “I also use the iBooks app to store manuals and information that we frequently use, like sex offender classification procedures, a parole manual, immigration manuals, prescription drug information, and statutes. The best part about storing all these documents in GoodReader is that they’re quickly and easily accessible and searchable. So you can search for relevant terms to ensure that you’re not missing a law related your issue.”

She also uses her iPad to get work done on the fly or during downtime in court. “Our courts have wifi so I can use Westlaw to do research when in court or on a recess,” she says. “Other times, when I’ve needed a subpoena or an order from judge, I can create them right in court and then email to the judge’s secretary.”

Jill also uses her iPad to investigate cases and has discovered a number of apps that help her achieve a better understanding of the crime scene. “I use my iPad to take photos at crime scenes. I’ve also used MagicPlan CSI, an app that creates a 360-degree view of a room. It provides the layout of a room, to which you can then add furniture, etc.”

According to Jill, she also relies on the map applications during court proceedings: “Sometimes when questioning witnesses during a preliminary hearing, I can pull up the locations discussed on the map app and use it to assess the location during the course of the proceeding.”

But she doesn’t use her iPad for everything. She’s reluctant to use it for jury selection since she finds those apps don’t fit into her workflow. The “old school” pen and paper method works best for her during voir dire, so for now she plans to stick with that method.

And that’s exactly the way technology should be used–selectively. It’s important to understand why you need it and how you’ll use it. Then, and only then, should you implement new technology into your workflow in ways that make sense for you and your practice. In other words, as Jill explains: “Technology is great, but in our work, it’s so important to be able to communicate directly with people and we can’t let technology get in the way of that. Instead, technology is a way to enhance — not replace — our skills.”

She emphasized the importance of understanding new technologies and offered this parting advice for other lawyers: “Eventually I think everyone will use iPads in their practice. So why not get an edge on the competition and get started now? Not only will it enhance your skills, it makes you appear more reliable to the court, you become more of an authority over your peers, and your clients have more confidence in you.We’re all going to have to incorporate new technologies like the iPad into our practices at some point. The sooner you become familiar with it, the better.”

So that’s how one criminal defense attorney uses an iPad to support her practice and better represent her clients. What about you? Are you or an attorney you know using technology in a creative or unusual way in your law firm? If so, drop me an email at niki.black@mycase.com. I’m always looking for new attorneys to feature in this column.


Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and Director of Business and Community Relations at MyCase, web-based law practice management software. She’s been blogging since 2005, has written a weekly column for the Daily Record since 2007, is the author of Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York. She’s easily distracted by the potential of bright and shiny tech gadgets, along with good food and wine. You can follow her on Twitter at @nikiblack and she can be reached at niki.black@mycase.com.

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