Attorneys looking for apps to help with research, writing, and the logistics of litigation have an ever-growing array of options. But some of the most important online tools for general practice may be consumer apps such as Facebook and Twitter - notwithstanding the real concerns about confidentiality and ethics they pose (see Social Media, "Online Ethics").
Consultants and practicing attorneys say consumer apps should be in anyone's toolbox - and not for posting selfies. Attorneys can find helpful insights and even usable information on their own clients and the opposition by combing social media.
"Any attorney not using Facebook and Twitter [to gather information] is missing an opportunity," says David Gharakhanian Jr., a partner in GP Law Group in Beverly Hills. For example, in personal injury disputes a claimant posting photos to Facebook showing himself playing sports can weaken his case, or a client boasting online about partying, or bemoaning "another accident," can indicate a history of driving while intoxicated, or just bad driving.
Though it can be difficult to get social media posts admitted as evidence at trial, Gharakhanian notes that the scope of questioning in depositions can be quite broad, and social media activity can be fair game. "Ultimately, cases come down to credibility," he says. "If you can question someone's credibility, you've got leverage."
Of course, for communicating with clients it's probably best to stay away from social media apps. Besides intruding on an attorney's personal life, instant messages and social media posts aren't subject to attorney-client privilege. Family lawyer Evie P. Jeang, managing partner of Ideal Legal Group in Alhambra, says she couldn't get clients to stop texting and messaging her on Facebook about their cases. So she switched to Privatus
, a business-messaging app that uses military-grade encryption to secure communications.
With Privatus, contacts must be invited to connect via the app and then must download it. Subsequently, all their messages to each other are automatically encrypted and can be decrypted only by users with the password.
"If opposing counsel subpoenas your phone or text messages, they can't read them. Even the Privatus Web server can't read them," says Jeang, adding that case law about subpoenaing passwords has not been established yet.
An extra benefit in using the app, says Jeang, is that it shows clients that the firm is taking extra steps to protect their privacy. Plus, it's cool. "When you tell your client you have an app ... it makes them feel special and think that your firm is really modern," she says.
There's still a place for pencil and paper - at least an iPad-improved version - says Adam D. H. Grant, a partner in the Encino firm of Alpert, Barr & Grant. Free from Evernote, the app Penultimate
turns your tablet into a legal notepad. Lawyers can use a stylus or their fingertip to write notes that can be saved as a PDF or sent as an email. Grant also likes the way his notes can be synched with his calendar and time-stamped. He can also insert photos or draw on his notes and highlight portions.
Grant says the iPad is less obtrusive than a laptop in meetings and in court. "When you are sitting with clients and you pop up your laptop, you are putting up a barrier. If I have my iPad in my lap, I can look at them and I can write."
Legal Help on the Go
Mobile apps tailored for lawyers make it easy to get vital information on the go. Alphonse Provinziano, principal attorney with the Beverly Hills firm of Provinziano and Associates, says California Crime Finder
lets him look up the maximum punishments and the collateral consequences of a plea. It also tells him which elements a prosecutor must prove for a specific charge. He once used it in conference with a district attorney who wanted to charge one of his clients for DUI with an injury.
"Their perspective was, all they had to do was prove my client was driving under the influence and got into an accident," he says. But using the app, he showed the DA that the charge required proof that his client actually caused the accident. "They were looking at five years, and with Crime Finder we were able to work it out to misdemeanor with no time."
lets you scroll through lists of objections regarding admissibility or the form of a question with sample language and the supporting legal authorities.
is not associated with the federal court system's PACER service, but offers free access to a database with Chapter 11 and district court cases, allows lookups on the PACER Case Locator service from any device, and includes free access to millions of cases. In addition, documents purchased via the app are available on all your devices.
Another app, California Courts,
includes the State Bar's attorney directory, the full text of California rules, plus mobile access to PACER. And it will even generate driving directions to federal courthouses in California!
Legal on the Go
Encrypted messaging service from Side Four; for iOS7 or later free, $2.99 for pro version.
Drawing and writing app for iPad, from Evernote; free.
California Crime Finder: Information on punishments and elements of a charge, from PlacerGroup; for Android and iOS.
Possible objections and sample language, from Anthony Shorter; for iOS only; $2.99.
Mobile interface to PACER accounts, plus multi-device access to purchased documents, from PacerMonitor; for Android and iOS; free for users with PACER accounts.
Rules of California courts, access to PACER accounts, from KosInteractive; for iOS only; $2.99.
Susan Kuchinskas covers business and the business of technology for publications that include
Scientific American, Portada, and