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

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Al Nye

Nice job Dave. You mentioned all the major products that help lawyers become successful. Now if lawyers could only learn to use those products ....

Al Nye

Taco John

I'm just a lowly little 0L, so excuse me if this is a dumb question, but are laptops not allowed in court? When I served on a jury this summer, I was surprised that legal pads and pens were the order of the day rather than something like OneNote, or more specialized legal software. I've been to court a couple of other times, and never seen a lawyer with a computer. It seems like the advantages of having a laptop (or even better a tablet) would be great over pen and paper. Or maybe I just saw a couple of oddities.

charley hardman

wow! great stuff, david.


Taco John: I use computers at trial for big-ticket items--trials, class-certification hearings, that sort of thing--but for routine motions (which includes most motions) a yellow notepad is plenty. In fact, even the notepad is just a crutch--it works best if you can pack it all in your head then respond to the other side on the fly.

Lowly 0L or not, your brain has a pretty powerful processor inside--though I don't mean to take anything away from David's great post.


Taco John,

I'm going to agree with Evan on this one. I use a laptop at trial to show exhibits, but not for other stuff. When I go to trial, I already have broken down what I want to prove with each witness, what exhibits I'm going to use, how I'm going to prove the stuff and already have the whole thing put together.

I have set up a notebook system to allow me to follow the trial easily, but basically 'over' prepare and have every thing laid out so that it goes smoothly at trial.

Plus, lawyers are notoriously non-tech.

Taco John

Maybe being brought up on computers is just what you said, a crutch. I love being able to have a prof or group member as a question, and a quick search in OneNote gives me the answer. Someone called it being able to "Google your life." I like the analogy. Naturally, a lawyer still has to use his/her brain to connect everything together and present it properly, but I like the idea of taking the load of managing information off it.


I agree 100%. But by the time you get to trial, you've been working on the case for 2-3 years (or longer) and all of that work should be done.

For example, anything that I even *think* might be an issue, I do a mini-brief beforehand and it's filed in the appropriate section. If the other side has an objection or the judge has a question, I whip it out and show them that I've already thought of the issue and here is what the correct answer is.

Yes, the computer manages things very well, but in my opinion the time for that is before trial, and not at trial.

That said, that's just my opinion and it's still a good question on your part. I could also think of times when it would be good to have a legal assistant by your side in a big commercial transaction, searching the database based on some of the answers.

Good luck with law school. It's a lot of work, but as long as you don't mind working is not that difficult. Remember, Dan Quayle is a lawyer.


Wow, great roundup and comments here. Glad I stopped by...you're going in my feed reader!


Very nice list! I'm going to go check out Sanction and Trial Director, those sound great!

But beware Engadget and Gizmodo--both have been shown in clinical trials to contribute to the depletion of "disposable" income. :)


GREAT post. As between Sanction and Trial Director, any recommendations?



It's hard to say. Trial Director was first, then several of the top programmers from Trial Director broke off and started Sanction. Sanction had a ton of new innovations for half the price. Trial Director didn't take that sitting down so matched the innovations (along with a few of their own) and dropped the price.

At this point it's almost a Ford / Chevy type of decision. They are both full featured, mature products, but with slightly different approaches. My personal preference is to Sanction, but I know a number of people that love Trial Director to death.


Thanks Dave, exactly the kind of info I was hoping for. Got a document/video-depo heavy trial coming up next month, so I think I'm likely to invest in one or the other.

Matt Buchanan

Wonderful post, Dave. I think its very interesting that 5 of your 12 items involve blogs (6 if you include the bonus!). I continue to be amazed, though, by the number of attorneys that are completely unaware of the wealth of information available in blogs, especially when I consider the efficiencies offered by RSS technology.

Here's one suggestion: We (bloggers) should include an OPML file ready for incorporation into an RSS aggregator when we make posts like yours that accumulate a number of blogs in one place. For example.... "Like this post? Start reading all of these blogs today by downloading XXX aggregator and this OPML file...." With any luck, this would nudge a few more lawyers into the blogosphere...


Matt: That's a good idea. I had sort of the same thought this morning, as I started adding some new-to-me-weblogs from this post into my bloglines reader. It occurred to me to make all the feeds from the weblogs mention in this post public and point to it in a comment.

My solution wasn't very elegant, and I ran out of time. Your suggestion makes more sense--unless you scare would-be blog-readers off with the mention of OPML.


Taco --

One thing you will find in practice is that unless the case involves a lot of money, it just isn't cost-effective to spend your time inputting everything into a computer. For complex trials, using a computer can be a god-send, but in private practice's endless pursuit of the billable hour, you have to be extremely conscientious of efficiency. The client isn't going to pay you to enter data into a computer unless it's necessary or cost-effective.

Also, there are times when going low-tech can provide a tactical advantage. For example, many personal injury lawyers (at least successful ones) have two cars: a good one and a crappy one they drive to court on trial days so jurors don't think they are wealthy leeches on the justice system. I know one successful trial attorney who likes to trip on his easel during trials so that the jury will perceive him as more folksy. Similarly, not using a computer might make an attorney more appealing to a jury in certain circumstances.


No offense to Derek, but each night, among my prayers is: "And dear Lord, please bless me with more opponents who have such small regard for the fraud-and-phony-sniffing ability of juries that they try to manipulate their juries by pretending they're someone they're not."

A trial lawyer must be a performer, yes, but not an actor. If you really are the sort of well-organized geek who'd benefit from using a laptop in court (and I plead guilty to that charge), don't hide it; just be that geek.


Thank you very much for the info I was looking for, and Greetings from Malaga-Spain Antonio

Hans Poppe

E-discovery has been a buzz word for the last several years; however, with the advent of the new discovery rules in federal court, it has become more important than ever.
It is certain that the failure to properly conduct E-discovery will lead to legal malpractice cases against law firms who fail to conduct it or fail to do it properly with experienced computer forensic experts.
A company in West Virgina offers a course and you can even get cle credit. Read the story here: http://www.statejournal.com/story.cfm?func=viewstory&storyid=19340


Hi David,

I guess this article should be written again with the advent of cloud, iphones and ipads. There are many new players in the market now and many old ones gone.

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