[Originally posted at Slaw.ca on January 9, 2013 ]
Tablets are becoming a commonly discussed, if not applied, technology in law practice. 33% of respondents to the American Bar Association’s 2012 Legal Technology Survey used tablets for work. Or, rather, they used them but not particularly with specific legal technology. The most common uses were Internet, e-mail, calendars, and contacts. In short, lawyers are using tablets similarly to how they might use their smartphones.
This data interested me because my own brief experience with a tablet was pretty much the same. Like the majority of survey respondents, my Android-powered tablet is personal and not supplied by my work. 91% of the lawyers responding used an iOS device (iPad) and 7% used an Android. It is obvious how to consume information on it: surf the Web, read e-mail and do other personal information tasks. I dropped in my other “must have” apps – also on my phone – to enable me to connect to remote computers (VNC: iPad, Android), cloud storage (Dropbox: iPad, Android; Microsoft Skydrive: iPad, Android, among others), and manage information. But I was really looking for ways that the tablet could do something I couldn’t do with my phone.
One of the innovative things I have seen came out of the education technology world. The influx of Apple iPads into schools meant that teachers and others were figuring out new and creative uses for them. Enter the do-it-yourself iPad document camera. If you are not into DIY, commercial versions are available like the Cobra SnakeClamp and the Justand. These are tablet holders that can be swung into place over physical objects or documents.
The concept is pretty obvious and yet I’d never thought of trying it out. If you do not already have a portable document camera, you can get more out of your tablet by using it instead. You connect your projector to your tablet and you can display your content on screen. It is essentially the same functionality as trial presentation tools, except you do not need to have the evidence in a digital format on your tablet. It is even better if you can use your tablet’s drawing capabilities as if it was an overhead transparency and annotate the displayed image.
For the practiced tablet user, there may be a use for this during trial. It seems to me there are plenty of other times – client or internal meetings come to mind – where you might be throwing a slide presentation or other talking points onto a screen. Your document camera tablet might give you additional options, particularly if a paper document is being used in the meeting and it would help for everyone to see it simultaneously.
Once I happened on the document camera examples, though, it twigged me to the use of a tablet as a scanner. Again, pretty obvious but I don’t use paper very often. When I do, I tend to run it through our multi-function copier and send it my network share and keep the digital copy instead of the paper. I was intrigued to see if scanning would be any better than the copier.
Since the tablet uses the camera, a scanner app (I am using the free version of Camscanner:iPad, Android) can capture a different kind of picture from a photocopier. Like … a scanner! But if you can go without a standalone document camera, perhaps you can go without a portable scanner as well. The thing I noticed immediately was how features of a paper document were washed out in a photocopy but retained in a scan, like this imprinted seal:
I could do this with my smartphone as well but my tablet has a better camera and I can see the result more clearly. The Camscanner app will fix my scan as well, identifying edges and cropping the picture and provides enhancement options to make the image clearer. This was helpful when I scanned in a pile of small hand-written notes, taken on some hotel-provided pad at a conference. Rather than having to arrange them on a scanner or feed them in separately, I pointed my camera at them and Camscanner cropped them down to size. Before, I might have toted this pile around or lost the organizational structure of the note (boxes, arrows) and just typed in the text. Now I can keep them exactly how I created them.
Once I create a scanned image, the app allows me to print a copy (using Google Cloud Print) or uploading to one of a number of cloud storage services, including Box, Dropbox, and Google Drive. I sent it to Google Drive and was able to access it later on a laptop to which it had been synchronized in the meantime. You might want to be careful about uploading – printing might have the same impact – if you are not connected over wireless. The files may be large enough to create some significant data charges.
The tablet is still, for me, primarily a resource for consuming information. It is effective enough as a laptop replacement when I need to check e-mail, the Internet, or read and handle RSS feeds. Being able to use the camera for applications like a scanner or document camera is an unexpected benefit. If you are new to tablets, you have a great opportunity to use them in unexpected ways. If you are a veteran tablet user, do you have any other unusual uses for your tablet in your law practice?