How to Feed a Lawyer (and Other Irreverent Observations from the Legal Underground)

    Click on the book cover for details!

« Multi-State Class Actions: What’s In Them for Big Business? | Main | The Tuesday Morning Stock Market Minute »


Carolyn Elefant

I am not sure what the use of laptop is at a deposition, at least if you're defending. You get the transcript so what's the point of taking extensive notes as well - and that would be the reason for the laptop (as opposed to paper and pen or even PDA). I guess you might have a depo outline on your laptop and would scroll through questions but then you'd lose eye contact with the witness.


Short answer: yes.


You may be "behind the times" but it does not mean you are doing anything wrong.

I am gadgeted to the hilt. I get my email and have my calendar and contacts on my treo phone. I have a digital dictation system that lets me dictate via email or phone anywhere in the world and send it instantly to my assistant's PC.

I have so many wireless items that I fear that I may truly have blue teeth!

However, when it comes to depositions, I too use pen and paper. My notes at a depo would be useless if they were transcribed. i typically dictate a file memo form them after the depo. I just can't take the time to write out detailed info while I am trying to keep alive a line of questioning. A laptop would be an utter distraction. I am not yet sold on the Tablet PC. As they evolve, maybe, but I don't like the "feel" of any of the ones I have tried.


I am suspicious of the tablets. They seem to be just another object to dink around with when I should be paying attention.


Evan, put me on your list of Guest Writers for a post about the Tablet PC for lawyers, if you like. I'm into it. In the meantime, might I recommend that you upgrade your ordinary pen and paper system to a Hipster PDA to get better organized.

Pete Holiday

I've got a bit of experience with Tablet PCs (having programmed for them in a software research lab) but no experience with lawyering... that disclaimer made, I don't think the tablet PCs are going to be nearly as useful for the legal profession as for the medical profession.

Among the few benefits that the Tablets offer is the ability to use your computer effectively while walking (presuming the required coordination) and that when it's sitting on a table being used it's not nearly as distracting -- looks a lot more like the traditional pen and paper that people are used to.

In terms of the usefulness of the pen/ink digitization -- I just don't see it. It's useful for physicians making notes on different files that require only a few words here or there on top of the report, but for longer, more detailed notes it's almost always faster to type directly or write on paper and transcribe.


I don't think the laptop gives you any advantage in a deposition setting. I guess you could have a hyperlinked multi-level outline of your questions, but if you are the one taking the depo and let it get that off-track you're not going to be able to keep up with the topics you've already covered. When I was first out of lawschool and good laptops used to cost upwards of $5,000 I only saw them used by larger firms at depositions (in much the same way you would 'use' a Rolex)...


You are *so* behind the times!

At the last meeting I went to, I packed light: my Palm, for scheduling; my cell phone, set on vibrate, so I wouldn’t miss any important messages; my laptop, complete with voice recognition software; a portable printer; my blackberry (for e-mail—the meeting place didn’t have networking); an LCD projector; my iPod (for breaks); my Archos portable video player (to watch old Daily Show’s). I just wore the suit I was going to wear the next day, and took a small toiletry bag—-you know how airlines are about big carry-ons these days.

I loaded everything into my ZÜCA and headed out the door. It was a great trip, airport security was running smooth as a baby’s butt, and it only took me 2 hours to get through! Only 10 min. or so of that was spent explaining to the security guard that my D-Snap didn’t use tapes, and yes, it is a video camera. Those guys need to get with the program.

Getting the ZÜCA into the overhead compartment wasn’t working, and you just don’t check valuable productivity tools like these, so I had to buy an extra seat and strap the ZÜCA in with the seatbelt. Well worth it, though. You can’t be productive at a meeting if you aren’t properly prepared.

I flew in the night before, since I had to arrive at the meeting a little early, you know, to set up my gear. I set my alarm for 4:00AM, and settled down for the night... with my digital projection alarm clock playing gentle ocean sounds to lull me to sleep. Before I knew it, morning arrived. I fired up the portable espresso machine to get my morning fix. A quick shower and I was outta there by 4:45AM. Good thing, too... the meeting started at 8:00AM sharp and I needed to set up the wireless router for my pocket print server to connect the portable printer to my laptop. I suppose I could just have plugged it into the laptop directly, but don’t you just hate all those extra cables? I do. I can’t stand clutter!

The meeting started right on time. There were some objections to wearing the Bluetooth headsets and to having the meeting recorded on video, but once I assured everyone it was to preserve accuracy, they understood. Just as we got started, some jackass somewhere in the building must have plugged in an electric razor or something, because a breaker blew. Fortunately, I’d had the wherewithal to pack a UPS, so all the gear still worked. The webcams don’t work so great with no lights, but sometimes you have to improvise, meeting facilities these days can be pretty shabby, it seems.

The director of operations (technically, this was his meeting) suggested we get down to business, when I noticed this guy in the corner with a *pen* and *yellow pad*. Can you imagine??! He was probably only able to get a fraction of the meeting recorded on that thing! And I'll bet he gets writer's cramp! I wonder if these wrist braces I use for the carpal tunnel would work for writer's cramp? After I go back and correct the errors in the voice transcription, and review and log the video tape, I’m going to get a copy of that guy’s notes so I can laugh at how incomplete (and probably incomprehensible) they are!

Some people just don’t understand how technology can make their lives easier. What chumps!

Thomas Kemp

I guess I would have to disagree, somewhat. I think anything you take into a deposition you are taking other than a good outline and a stack of documents to be reviewed with the deponent is a waste, and a potential distraction. So pen and paper work fine, so long as you do not use them too much.

But, I have looked forward to the time when tablets mature to a well-priced and stable tool - not for depositions - but for the rest of my work outside the office. Since going "paperless," I either have to print out needed documents, and/or rely on my laptop to access my files (Don't laugh, it does work, and with the increasing amounts of paperwork involved in legal work, you will all be there eventually, just look at the insurance industry. I take a copy of ALL my files home with me every night on my laptop).

All I need is a decent sized screen, instant-on function, 20 gigs in harddrive space and the ability to view PDF's. Anything else would be a bonus (or burden, simplicity is the key). It is not there yet, but I think it will come.

Matt Homann

Evan, I recently picked up another tablet (long story, but it was free) and I'd be happy to let you try it out for a few days. Let me know.


David Swanner

Evan, computers and tech toys are tools to help you do your job. If you are taking good depositions, you are doing fine.

I use a laptop, but that's just because after about 20 years of using computers and programming (in my younger days) I type 100+ words a minute (but not without mistakes).

If you are comfortable with your tools, then that's the main thing.


I tend to use pen and paper also. If I'm at a deposition with a witness where imprecise wording will be used as an excuse to give an imprecise answer, the laptop comes in handy to the extent it provides an instant transcript because it's networked in with the court reporter.


Do you mean other than the live feed you can get from the Court reporter, which you could be transmitting back to your office [and particularly the senior partner on your matter if a small firm so she can email you back and tell you what question you forgot to ask]? If you're big firm, you don't have to wait for the "skinny" to arrive to do your depo summary.

If you only have one computer, for home & office - tablet is small in size and so doen't interfere with others, for example public transportation - and of course, being wireless at home, it fits nicely on the lap - where it always is because we are always, always connected.

E. McPan

This isn't a actual critique/suggestion or anything, but I knew someone who took notes on a tablet PC and I found it annoying. No real reason or anything, but it seemed to be the combination of the worst of both computer and paper (such as booting up and illegible handwriting which meant endless scrolling through onscreen pages). Of course, this person might have been just annoying using a laptop or pen and paper, but I didn't have any other classes with this person.


I don't know about anyone else, but I find it difficult to conduct an interview and take notes at the same time. I imagine it's the same for you guys when you take depositions. As a paralegal, when I go to depositions with my attorneys, I'm the one taking notes. My attorney is the one concentrating on asking the questions.

Before the depo, the attorney and I have picked out which documents he or she wants to use as deposition exhibits, but we may have other exhibits standing by depending on the testimony.

Some of my more tech-oriented paralegal friends take a laptop to depositions. When the deponent mentions a person or document, the paralegal looks it up on the litigation support database. If he or she finds something juicy, it can be printed out right then and there.

I don't see any point to dragging a computer with you to a deposition unless you have already created a database from the documents you obtained during discovery, witness statements, deposition transcripts, etc. Again, if I were the attorney, it would be extremely difficult for me to concentrate on the questions I wanted to ask and use the computer to take notes and/or search for other information during the deposition. That's why God made paralegals.


Man, that's a lot of comments for a post about pen and paper. I see that everyone takes their writing implements--and their technology--very seriously.

On top of all that,Abnu promised a guest post, and Dave! went ahead and posted one in the comments. Awesome.


I never even thought about bringing a laptop, up here in these parts where i'm from everyone brings a legal pad and a pen.

We is backwards.


For a lawyer who can probably take depositions in his sleep at this point in his career, leave the Tablet PC at the office.

Aside from that, one advantage to having a Tablet PC would be the ability to live blog the deposition, an event for which we would all be sitting on the edges of our chairs. Even better would be the deponent slimebag doctor simultaneously live blogging his own pathetic justifications for maiming the patient who so trusted him.


I still use a legal pad and pen, with a line drawn roughly down the middle of the page.

One of the attorneys in my firm has used laptops for depositions and trials for years, and he uses the table functions in WordPerfect to create a two column table and puts his questions on the right and his notes and follow up questions on the left. He ends up with legible notes that don't get lost, and can copy and paste to email a deposition report to the client.

the dark goddess of replevin

The heavier item would be better to throw at the other lawyer's head if things get nasty. Other than that I see no advantage to the Tablet PC over humble pen and paper.


I am a writer, formerly an attorney. I grew up with the yellow legal pad and still use it with my favorite blue ink pen to write. I can't imagine any other way.

Notebook Accessories

Some of my more tech-oriented paralegal friends take a laptop to depositions. When the deponent mentions a person or document, the paralegal looks it up on the litigation support database. If he or she finds something juicy, it can be printed out right then and there.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

My Photo

Search Beyond the Underground