Lately, when Todd Croll goes to a board meeting, he’s walking with a little lightness in his step. Not necessarily because he loves board meetings — does anybody, even a CEO, love board meetings? — but because he’s no longer carrying around a heavy board book to the conference room. Instead, all the information is available on an iPad.
Croll, who is general counsel and corporate secretary at Global Container Terminals Inc. in Vancouver, said his firm is among those that have adopted Diligent Boardbooks, an application that turns traditional governance documents into something that resembles an e-book. It means his senior management team,
almost all of whom have Apple iPads, can get most of the materials they need entirely in digital form. It can also include calendars, past minutes, and links that allow them to toggle back and forth through particular sections of the board book and back to the agenda. “We still have hard copies, but it’s allowed us to customize preferences to our directors,” Croll says. “I think without exception they love it.”
Croll loves it too. Electronic board books are just one example of how iPads and other tablets are transforming the way in-house lawyers operate. While concerns around IT security and integration with traditional business software continue to be worked out, there is every indication more corporate counsel will be seen toting around a tablet in lieu of, or as a complement to, their laptops.
The use of tablets among legal professionals is only part of a national trend within the larger business community.
Toronto-based research firm IDC Canada said IT managers expect 31 per cent of employees to not only be using tablets in 2014, but tablets they buy themselves.
“We see multiple devices rather than one single device becoming the norm in business and also at home,” group vice president Tony Olvet said in a webcast in December.
“We are right now at the cusp of the great inflection point when tablets and smartphones together outnumber the install base of PCs.”
That shift is partly driven by the fact consumers are experimenting with tablets in their personal lives, then applying it to their work as it makes sense. That’s certainly true of lawyers, says Tom Mighell, a Dallas-based lawyer and e-discovery consultant who wrote iPad in One Hour for Lawyers. The appeal of iPads in particular among lawyers basically comes down to ease of use. “It’s not a Windows computer everyone has trouble with. There’s no ‘blue screen of death.’
Right out of the box you can start working on it,” he says, adding he wrote his book because he recognized a need to help lawyers identify professional use cases.
“If you look around the average office, most of the lawyers who are in the room are using them to check their mail or play Words With Friends or chess or search the web, and not making as much use out of it as they could be.”
Those in the Canadian legal profession who have become savvy tablet users are probably self-educated rather than formally trained. That was the case with Salvatore Mirandola, a lawyer with Borden Ladner Gervais LLP in Toronto, who began using an iPad two or three years ago. He says after reading books on the subject and searching for tips online, he has since conducted workshops for his colleagues on ways they can better integrate iPads into their daily practice.
“One of the big uses is document organization,” he says, including not only creating documents but also sharing and annotating them. “For large tax cases, I can take every document related to a case and turn it into a searchable PDF and then store it on my iPad instead of bringing home two huge briefcases.”
iPads and other tablets are especially useful in managing research and scheduling on the go, Salvatore says. Even though Apple’s “there’s an app for that” tagline has entered the public consciousness, it may be a bit less true for lawyers, in-house or otherwise.
“For the most part, I don’t use a lot of legal-specific apps,” Mirandola says. “A lot of them are quite expensive, and there are alternatives which are at least as good.” There is an app that lets users annotate discovery transcripts, for example, but mainstream business editing apps could probably handle the job, he says.
Mighell, who has also written a book called iPad Apps in One Hour for Lawyers, said the unique business environments of individual corporate counsel may make it difficult for developers to target them as a niche market.
“It’s a little bit different when you’re in an outside law firm. Developers making legal apps are focusing on outside lawyers, not on the general counsel,” he says, such as the jury-selection apps for litigators. “When I think about an in-house lawyer or the corporate legal department, what are they doing in their daily work?
It’s about research, corresponding with outside counsel. They’re looking at other issues within the company.”
Dean Readman, director of legal services and corporate secretary at Port Metro in Vancouver, says he loves his iPad, but his go-to apps are more likely messaging tools, his calendar, and an internally developed app that allows him to connect to files on his desktop. “Most of the technology our company uses still runs on Windows,” he points out.
Like Readman, Croll says he is aware of the many Windows-based tablets on the market but hasn’t spent much time with them. This opens up an interesting issue for businesses, because some software won’t work properly across iOS, the Apple operating system, and Microsoft Windows.
“I will say that we’ve become quite fond of the iPad because we adopted it early in the days of tablet computing,” says Croll. “Familiarity is going to account for a lot in the years to come. On the smartphone side, we’re thinking about making a switch from BlackBerry to the iPhone. We’re accidentally becoming more of an Apple environment.”
As much as in-house lawyers and other executives may welcome the ability to have more choice about the technology tools they use, the so-called bring-your-own-device movement has also raised a lot of security concerns in many companies.
“It becomes more complicated in how (companies) want to secure the information that’s on there,” says Mighell. “They may develop a policy that says you get to keep your own iPad but we as a company have some measure of control over it, like the ability to wipe it if it gets lost. You also need to take your own measures to protect your own stuff.”
Mirandola agrees, adding IT security policies regarding tablets can largely be based on common sense, like using password protection on the iPad and choosing apps that require some kind of second-level authentication.
“A lot of the same issues would arise with a laptop. You have to be smart in using them,” he says. “I would not use Dropbox in order to store privileged materials. I’ll either store the document locally or we have the ability to store on (a Microsoft) SharePoint (portal). The document isn’t stored on some server in the U.S.”
The boundaries of tablet use can also vary depending on the nature of the organization, Croll says. “If we were a public company, I think we would have a heightened sense of awareness,” he says. “I think we try to address security on documents on a case-by-case basis. We’ll use passwords with respect to any documents, but from an e-mail perspective, we don’t draw a big distinction on running e-mail on a tablet as opposed to a regular server.”
In some ways, it may help that tablets are becoming more standardized and easier for corporate users to understand. Though thinner and lighter models seem to come out every year, Mighell says the design of the hardware has begun to mature.
“I won’t say we’ve hit a plateau, but we’ve hit a level where there’s nothing radically new that’s coming out in terms of tablet computers,” he says.
That’s fine for users like Readman, who is not interested in “phablets” or other tablet designs that look something like a cross between a phone and an iPad.
“The idea is, you don’t want to make it too small. I like to read, I like to see things,” he says. “If you’re using a phone, it’s just too small to read a 50-page document. If they could make it so you can bend it in half and put it in your pocket, I guess that might be helpful.”
Mirandola says the No. 1 one thing Apple and other tablet manufacturers can do to keep in-house lawyers loyal is to focus more on the internal mechanics that ensure they perform as good or better than high-end laptops and PCs. “For lawyers in particular,” he says, “speed is always a good thing.”