Thursday, December 27, 2007

Computers for Lawyers

Over Christmas lunch I was asked how to send documents to people in court. My first reaction was to point out that some courts now accept electronic documents. As an example the Federal Court of Australia has an eCourt Strategy, with an Electronic Filing System to lodge e-documents and even a eCourtroom (some courts are considering legal changes to make e-work cheaper). But this has not yet filtered down to local magistrates courts. For these those in the court, inlcuding professionals assisting in the case, may need to supply their own computers, be able to print document for presenting to the court and communicate with their offices.

In large city locations this is less of a problem with major legal firms, who have their offices located near the court and have staff with wheeled handcarts to carry documents back and forth. But in other locations, getting documents to the court is a problem.

The obvious solution is a laptop computer, a small printer and a wireless Internet connection. However, the typical laptop computer bought as a desktop replacement is heavy and cumbersome. A sub-notebook computer may be a better option. A smartphone might even be used, if documents are only occasionally needed. This can be connected to a printer by USB or Bluetooth.

An alternative could be the ASUS Eee PC, but the wireless device needed would have to be checked for compatibility. Many wireless ISPs and mobile data providers only offer Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac compatibility. The devices they provide will usually work with Linux, simply by not installing the software provided and using the networking features in Linux. But you need to know which option to use and where to enter the supplied userid and password.

Usually documents will be sent to the court by email. But this assumes there is someone back in the office to send the document and they are reading their mail or answering their phone. An alternative would be to be able to log onto the corporate system and retrieve the document from the court. In any case the network connection used must be secure enough for the documents accessed.

Portable printers present a problem. These usually cost more than desktop units, have small fiddly batteries, low capacity expensive cartridges and jam prone paper paths. One way around this is to use a thermal printer (as used for old fashioned fax machines). These need no printer cartridge and provide their own roll of paper. Modern fax paper is relatively stable (but the court might still want to photocopy it for stability). An example of such a printer is the Pentax PocketJet 3. This has Bluetooth, allowing access from a smartphone, or USB. There is a battery option.

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