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LEGAL CENTS: E-readers gaining popularity in the legal community

Jane Pribek

Jane Pribek

After many years of interviewing attorneys and asking them what they do for fun, I can say with great confidence that just about all like to read and travel. Thus, this week’s article is about tools for legal professionals who enjoy … reading and travel! It is spring break season, after all.

To be specific, I’m talking about the increasingly popular e-reader and tablet options. I know they’re gaining popularity because the law librarians tell me so. Everybody knows that when one really needs the right answer, ask a law librarian.

Both e-readers and tablets are highly portable and give users access to a library of thousands of books wherever you might be. They’re easier on the eyes than a computer screen. They’re great alternatives to overflowing bookshelves, and they’re environmentally-friendly. Also, most titles are less expensive for the e-reader version because there’s no paper, binding, ink or shipping charges. Just order a title, and 60 seconds or so later, it’s downloaded to the device. Saves time, too.

The Options

Space permits me to discuss only the major players in the field. I highly recommend CNET.com’s recent overview, “Kindle vs. Nook vs. iPad” for more information, as well.

The most affordable, best known e-reader is the basic 6-inch wi-fi Kindle from Amazon.com. It’s decreased in price substantially to $139. NOOK is the Barnes & Noble alternative. Its wi-fi model, comparable to the least expensive Kindle, is $149.

These lower-priced options have “e-ink” black-and-white screens. If you want a full-color LCD touch screen, the next step up is a NOOK Color for $249. With features such as Web surfing, e-mail and social media, among many others, it’s about as close as an e-reader can get to a tablet, without paying the higher price most tablets bear.

Moving up in price point, the latest model of the Kindle is the DX for $379, with its 9.7-inch screen. The DX has greater functionality, too. Of likely interest to lawyers, it has a built in PDF reader, so users can convert files into PDFs and e-mail them to the device.

Likewise, the DX can convert Word documents into the proprietary Kindle format. Then users can use the Kindle’s tools such as variable font-sizing or annotation on documents. (I’m not even going to touch on whether you want to trust confidential client info to Amazon’s “Whispernet” technology. That’s your call and beyond the scope of this article.)

The final option is a tablet like the Apple iPad. The new iPad 2 starts at $499. Apple offers a free Kindle app for the iPad and iPhone – important because iBooks cannot match Kindle’s selection of book titles.

Uses for Legal Professionals

If one’s only goal is to read for entertainment, plus an occasional treatise for work, then go the cheapest route and get a Kindle. It offers the biggest selection of e-books and the widest selection of legal titles, too, versus other vendors. For example, 103 titles are available for the Kindle from the Practising Law Institute.

In comparison, NOOK sells law-related titles geared mostly toward a non-lawyer audience, and few treatises. Although some claim one can buy a title from the Kindle store and use conversion software to read it on other e-readers, Kindle locks down some of its titles with Digital Rights Management. I’m told there are ways around this, but they don’t look easy.

The basic Kindle works just fine for reading appellate opinions from the Wisconsin Court System, said Waukesha attorney Terrence Berres of American Family. They’re published as PDFs and in html on the court’s website. The PDF version can be downloaded to a computer and then dragged and dropped to the Kindle. The html version can be run through a conversion program (Berres likes online-convert.com) and then downloaded and transferred.

Berres also has transferred law review and news articles, he said. Of course, had he bought the DX, it would take less time to accomplish the same goal, but downloading and making the conversion does not require lots of time, and was worth, he said, the tradeoff of a $240 difference. Berres said the lone downside to the basic Kindle is, once one’s downloaded many books, it gets unwieldy. He’d like a better organizational system.

If you want greater functionality, go the tablet route.

Judge Daniel Anderson of the Dist. II Wisconsin Court of Appeals in Waukesha likes his tablet (no brand name given) for reading e-briefs from the Wisconsin Supreme Court and Court of Appeals Access website, or WSCCA. It beats having to carry multiple sets of briefs home over the weekend, he said. He has a basic Kindle, too, but it’s just for fun.

The tablet won out among the IT and library staff at Milwaukee’s Godfrey & Kahn, too, which recently bought a few iPads for attorneys as loaners. It got the nod, according to Mary Koshollek, the firm’s director of information and records services, because lawyers tend to prefer “one-stop tools,” where they can also check e-mail or read client documents. Moreover, the iPad 2’s two-way camera, FaceTime, is a feature lawyers might like for quick video calls.

LexisNexis offers a decent selection of treatises for e-readers, Koshollek noted. The new iPads also are loaded with e-reader subscriptions to The Wall Street Journal and the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Moreover, FastCase has a free app for the iPad.

Of the legal publishers, Thomson Reuters has gotten in on the action as well, said Beverly Butula, the manager of library services at Davis & Kuelthau in Milwaukee. WestlawNext offers e-reader treatises, and one can export WestlawNext research documents to a Kindle or other brand of e-reader. A converter may be needed, however, in which case Calibre is another option, or Stanza for the iPad. They’re free.

One segment of the legal community that doesn’t appear to be using e-readers is law students. University of Wisconsin law librarian Bonnie Shucha, also a 1L, said to the best of her knowledge, e-reader case books aren’t available. Other academic disciplines have them, however, so it’s only a matter of time.

2 comments

  1. Interesting article. If we look at textbooks for the higher education sector in the United States, both supply and demand is increasing greatly. I don’t see any reason why it would not be the case for the legal industry as well.

  2. You neglect to mention that the Nook Color also handles PDF and MS Office files right out of the box. You don’t need to buy the more expensive Kindle DX. In terms of bang for the buck, the Nook Color is a no-brainer.

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