User Profile: The HP Palmtop--An Effective Electronic Legal Assistant!

In the legal profession, efficient communications is the name of the game. Follow the experiences of this business lawyer as he stays in touch with clients and associates using the HP Palmtop PC.

By Alan S. Goldberg

The thought of combining the practice of law with the use of computers frightens many lawyers. Old-fashioned lawyers cringe at the idea of typing their own letters and memos, preferring to use dictation. I'm different in that I took a touch typing course in junior high school (and play piano) and have always been comfortable at a keyboard. I find it quicker and easier to key in my own notes, memos and letters. Hence, I've been more open to the idea of using computers and their keyboards.

I'm a business lawyer specializing in the health care industry. My first computer was an eighteen pound "portable" Osborne computer (portable as long as the strength in my arms held out). It had no hard drive and had a video display about the same size as my current HP 100LX Palmtop PC.

The 100LX is the portable computer I've always wanted: relatively fast; I can access the DOS command prompt; and I can keep it in my pocket, always with me and ready to use. In addition, it has great battery life. With lithium AA batteries, I can go on and on for up to twenty-five hours before I have to change batteries. I also use Nickel Metal Hydride rechargeables, which don't last quite as long between charges, but are more cost effective. To make them last even longer I use AC adapters whenever I can. When I arrive in my office in the morning I connect my HP 100LX to an AC adapter. I keep another adapter at home, and I just purchased a third to use when traveling. Having multiple adapters means that I don't have to carry it around with me and fuss with plugs and wires all the time.

I gained Palmtop experience by the process of trial and error, along with lots of help from CompuServe's HP Hand Forum and The HP Palmtop Paper. The HP Palmtop has become my indispensable legal assistant which I read and reread regularly.

Time, judgment, and the telephone

As a lawyer, all I have to sell is my time and my judgment. Without a comprehensive, easily accessible and changeable calendar of appointments, my efficiency would plummet. The 100LX's Appointment Book lets me enter appointments quickly and easily. I can search, edit, carry appointments forward, and do everything necessary to maintain a clear picture of my time allocations. The monthly, weekly, and daily views are vital for planning purposes, and the daily view is indispensable for completing time billing sheets.

The telephone is my primary means of communication with clients. I am either talking with them on the telephone or using the telephone to send a fax memo or an e-mail message to them. My HP 100LX PhoneBook started out as a supplement to my paper address book, but is now my sole repository of names, addresses, telephone and fax numbers, and cellular telephone numbers. Not only do I keep contact information in Phone Book, I insert special information in an entry's Note section (i.e., assistants' names, birthdays, and other personal information).

I used to transfer my Appointment Book file to my Compaq ProLinea and use Ecco for Windows to print out monthly views of my schedule. Unfortunately, this ended up taking a lot of time. Then I discovered a DOS freeware printer utility called CALPRNT.EXE <OnDisk Icon> that let me do the same thing in less time. I used the HP Connectivity Pack software to transfer Appointment Book's APPT.ADB file to my desktop PC. I ran CALPRNT and in a couple of minutes my HP4 LaserJet would print an updated monthly view for my secretary. Sometime soon I will get a portable printer for my Palmtop so that I don't have to transfer the files to my desktop in order to print.

More recently, I have been using IntelliLink for Windows to transfer my calendar and phone files from the Palmtop to Ecco on my desktop PC (which is now running Windows95). Using IntelliLink for file transfer between the Palmtop and desktop works like a charm. However, if I want to use the HP Connectivity Pack, I must exit Windows95 and go into DOS mode. Because of this, and because Windows95 and IntelliLink are working so well, I am using the Connectivity Pack software less and less.

Writing memos and letters on the go

My law practice responsibilities are only part of what I do professionally. I also travel around the country to speak to lawyers and others at educational seminars sponsored by the National Health Lawyers Association and other organizations. I have just about given up carrying my HP OmniBook 600C laptop during my many airplane journeys now that my typing skill on the HP 100LX has improved. I find that I can thumb-type on the 100LX faster than most of my colleagues can type using a full size keyboard.

I create documents either using the Memo program or using Symantec's Q&A 4.0 Write program that I keep loaded on my ACE DoubleFlash Plus Card. Q&A is an easy-to-use integrated word processor and database application. The complete installation for Q&A 4.0 occupies about 2.5 MB. Its Write application is a good all around word processor that can create both Q&A formatted documents and ASCII documents. I use Write to create memos of meetings, articles, etc. I use Q&A 4's database application to keep track of lecture seminars and articles that I prepare on law and technology. I recently ordered version 5.0, but haven't received it yet. It is supposed to have a more sophisticated database capacity.

Since Write documents can be saved in basic ASCII text format, I can use it to compose fax documents and e-mail messages and send them using MCIMail, the e-mail service I subscribe to. For example, if I'm on the road and need a hard copy of a document, I connect my Palmtop to my portable modem, use MCIMail to fax the document to the fax machine of the hotel I'm staying at and pick it up at the desk. I can use my Palmtop and modem to e-mail or fax documents to my office so my law practice continues no matter where I am.

I also compose and fax memos and letters directly to clients via MCIMail. I have a special memorandum letterhead registered as a graphic with MCIMail. When I fax the letter via MCIMail, the letterhead is attached and the recipient receives the fax memo with my law firm's name, address and telephone and fax numbers (and Internet address, of course). I make sure I have a backup copy of each memo or letter I send by faxing an additional copy to my office. I send very few letters via the postal service these days because fax memos can be produced and sent in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost of dictating a letter and having it faxed from a fax machine.

I use another wordprocessor called QEDIT on the Palmtop. This program by SemWare Corporation is, in my opinion, one of the best ASCII text editors ever produced. It easily installed on my HP 100LX, occupying only 70K of disk space. I set it up in the Palmtop's Application Manager and accessed it by pressing the appropriate icon (it came with its own icon file).

QEDIT has been upgraded and renamed The Semware Editor Jr. (TSE Jr.). It now occupies a little more space (300K with spell checker/thesaurus installed), but still works fine on the HP 100/200LX. Both versions are more full-featured than the built-in Memo application, but still easy to use and small enough to fit on the Palmtop with room to spare.

Sending e-mail and faxes via MCIMail

For some time, I had been using MCIMail to send both e-mail and fax memos from my desktop PC. I eventually started using it on my OmniBook 600C and only recently realized that I could also access MCIMail right from my HP 100LX.

The benefit of MCIMail is that it saves me time. I do not have to sit around dialing fax numbers, waiting on busy signals and feeding sheets into a fax machine. MCIMail automatically continues to try to send the fax memo to the addressee. If MCIMail is unable to deliver the a fax after a number of attempts, I receive an e-mail message telling me the message was undelivered. I also get an e-mail message confirming delivery.

A great feature of MCIMail is its virtual desktop. MCIMail's central computer maintains a copy of each of the memos I send via fax or e-mail. I can go up online on MCIMail using the following commands to look at my virtual desktop.

SCAN IN lists the files that have been sent to me and are awaiting my downloading them;

SCAN OUT files that I have sent out;

SCAN DESK files sent to me that I have already downloaded and read.

I can use the MCIMail PRINT command to display the contents of any of these files. I can also download any of these files to my 100LX. So, for example, before I leave on the trip I realize that I need to review a memo I sent a day or two ago. I connect to MCIMail and grab the memo from the virtual desktop. The number of messages that can be stored on the virtual desktop is limited. MCIMail's computer provides you with a specific amount of file storage space. If you exceed that, older messages are bumped off. Message storage also seems to be limited by time. That is, stored messages seem to stay on the system for about ten days, before being dumped.

Using the Palmtop's DataComm program with a fax/modem card

I have tried two PC fax/modem cards on the HP 100LX. The first was a Megahertz 14400 Fax/ Modem Card. It worked on the Palmtop, but made a strange clucking sound when in operation and I relegated it to use in my OmniBook 600C. I have tried to get through to Megahertz support a number of times on this problem, but they haven't gotten back to me.

The second fax/modem card I tried was the EXP ThinFax Fax/ Modem & Flash Memory Card from Shier Systems & Software. It came preloaded with a fax application and the acCIS software for accessing CompuServe. Both programs worked like a charm. The additional flash memory on the card provided extra storage space for files I wanted to take with me on the road.

Lotus 1-2-3 helps rack expenses and projects

Although there are fancy Windows versions of 1-2-3 available for desktops, the version built into the 100LX (2.4 for DOS) is sufficient for my needs. And since most other spreadsheet applications can read 1-2-3's .WK1 files, I can make my worksheets available to others on our firm's network. Because I travel a lot on business and to teach, I must keep careful records of my expenses. I use a Lotus 1-2-3 worksheet to do this. Lotus 1-2-3 also makes it easy for me to perform financial projections for projects, work out amortization schedules, list investment data and the like.

I had our accounting department create a 1-2-3 spreadsheet to track the installation of a new Local Area Network at our firm. The spreadsheet listed the name of each piece of equipment or software, its version or other identification number, the number of each piece purchased, its unit price, etc. I further divided the list up into types of equipment and software, and the phase of the project it would be used in. Each time we purchased more equipment or software for the network, the spreadsheet was updated by the accounting department and transferred to my Palmtop.

Having this vital information well-organized in a spreadsheet and available on my Palmtop at all times made it easier to monitor this complex, year-long project. I could manipulate the spreadsheet to do what if scenarios (For example, what if I bought this piece of equipment? How would it change the overall price of the network?) I could quickly answer questions on what we were spending on hardware, software, or related services. I didn't have to waste time fussing with papers, or calling someone else for needed information. Everything was on my Palmtop.

Using the other built-in applications

I use the NoteTaker program on the HP 100LX to quickly take down quick notes about real estate title exceptions, zoning requirements, public hearing dates and the like. I can record a thought or idea during a meeting, go back and edit it later, and create a memo or action plan based upon the quick note. I also keep airline frequent flyer numbers, software registration numbers, social security numbers and other such necessary and unrelated information in NoteTaker for ready access.

The HP 100LX has a great database application that is easy to use and very helpful for quick access to lots of information. And when I need something more sophisticated, Q&A4 on my PC Card will do the trick. All sorts of information relating to pending business transactions, business development opportunities, seminar programs and faculty, and ideas for articles, can be saved and easily retrieved using an HP100LX and a data base application.

I should also mention that I regularly use the HP Calc application. It eliminates the need to carry a separate calculator. I use World Time when I'm involved in overseas transactions and need to determine accurate local times overseas.

Still learning a year later

It is unbelievable that after a year I am still learning about the extraordinary number of features of the HP 100LX. It is a good lesson in these times of continual software upgrades. Instead of upgrading to the next great version of some software product, we should spend more time learning the features of product we are currently using. I could spend months full time learning more about HP Calc, Lotus 1-2-3, DataBase, and the other applications built into the HP Palmtop.

It truly is amazing how much I rely upon my HP 100LX and how easy it makes going through a busy day as a lawyer. I use the HP Connectivity Pack or IntelliLink programs to back up regularly. For a busy lawyer who is willing to invest the time necessary to learn all about the HP 100LX, there is no better computer available. No laptop or desktop PC can do what the HP 100LX can do, because no laptop or desktop PC is always with you when you need it.

I often wonder how the current technologically challenged members of the bar will react to the next generation of computer literate lawyers who use leading edge technology to practice law. There is no turning back, and the HP 100LX is one of the best ways to leap ahead.

How to send e-mail and faxes from the HP Palmtop using MCIMail