David vs. Goliath? Solo practitioner says the almighty iPad levels the playing field

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 ByJo Mathis

Legal News
 
 
Cooley law student Money Jackson hopes to start his own practice one day.  And now that he heard Chelsea attorney Randy Musbach describe how technology makes office overhead obsolete, he knows that he can afford it.
 
“Starting a practice with $2,500 or less is amazing,” said Jackson, who is in his third year at Cooley’s Ann Arbor campus. “But it’s logical. What (Musbach) said made a lot of sense.”
 
Musbach, a Chelsea personal injury, wrongful death and insurance litigation attorney, spoke about running a law practice with an iPad during the Washtenaw County Bar Association’s Solo & Small Firm and Trial Practice Section Meeting at Cooley Law School’s Ann Arbor campus.
 
Speaking for nearly 90 minutes, Musbach told how that technology allows today’s attorneys to compete with the large firms.
 
Musbach told how he walks into a courtroom these days carrying only two iPads—in the rare case one iPad malfunctions.
 
“When I go into a courtroom, I have all my files with me, and I can access anything. Any court rule, any statute, any case,” he said. “It’s all at my fingertips. And when I walk into a courtroom, I can put my fingers on any document in any case within 15 seconds.”
 
Meanwhile, his adversaries sometimes show up with boxes of papers.
 
A judge once asked the opposing counsel for an exhibit.
 
He responded: “I’m not going to be able to find it in all these boxes, your honor. Why don’t you ask Randy?”
Within seconds, he had it.
 
Overhead is another reason to go paperless, Musbach said. 
 
“You look at what you’re paying—particularly in Ann Arbor—for rent, and I really think we’re in the waning days of the physical office,” he said. “Offices are also productivity-drains. We all like to be around people, but you can spend an hour or two a day talking with someone about their dog when you have to get that brief out.”
 
And the cost of an office can be the difference between profit and loss, success and failure, he said.
 
What was necessary years ago is no longer true today, when computers in the form of smart phones can be tucked in a pocket, Musbach noted, adding:?“You can practice law on your iPhone if you want.”
 
Years ago, it would take several weeks and lots of money to create exhibits to present in court.
 
Now he keeps all his exhibits on his iPad, and can bring them up within seconds.
 
When Musbach became a lawyer in 1982, the practice of law hadn’t much changed in 100 years, he said, noting there were no cell phones, faxes, email, or Internet.
For $20,000, his firm looked into buying a large basic computer at an interest rate of around 20 percent.
 
They said no thanks.
 
But a few years later, when his assistant left, Musbach bought his first personal computer and never looked back. He’s been paperless for seven years.
 
Lawyers tend to like paper, he said. The more boxes, the better.
 
“This shows you’ve been doing a lot of work, you’ve got a big case, and you’re busy,” he said. “We like taking Bankers Boxes to court. That’s sort of a rite of passage. And we like our brief cases, particularly when we’re the defendant.”
 
“But I think what we need to do—at least people who have practiced for a while—is to break the mold and do things differently.”
 
This is the year of cloud computing and apps with mobile computing, he said.
 
He says anyone who can’t figure out something on a tablet is probably overthinking it.
 
Cloud computing with tablets is the future.
 
“The new office is wherever you are,” he said. 
 
Musbach’s partner retired last year and moved to Florida, which means he’s a sole practitioner. He still has an office in Chelsea, but wouldn’t if he didn’t own the building, he said.
 
“My office is always with me,” he said. “My office consists of three things: My Macbook Air, my iPad, and my iPhone. I can practice anywhere, any place, any time.  You are your office. Your office is no longer the physical place that you go. It’s the physical place where you are.”
 
He believes that technology levels the playing field for his clients who are often up against the resources of wealthy insurance companies or large corporations. 
 
Musbach likes to keep things simple. He is especially fond of Apple products such as the Mac, iPad and iPhone because of security issues and ease of use.
 
He’s a big fan of Dropbox, where he stores all his data.
 
 “When my kids went to college, I told them, ‘Everybody set up a Dropbox account and some day you’ll thank me when your computer crashes, gets lost or is stolen, because your work will be in the cloud.’”
 
“I’m not sure why anyone would pay thousands of dollars to an IT expert to maintain a computer server on-premises or off-premises and go through a security risk,” he said. 
All documents should be in PDFs, says Musbach, a big fan of the $9.99 PDF Expert.
 
“What you can do with a single function is what you’d spend $10,000 for a few years ago with a product they ran off PCs,” he said.
 
He also recommends the following apps: TranscriptPad, WolframAlpha, Google Scholar, Google Earth, FaceTime, ScanSnap, Pear Note, Newstand, iTunes U, Skitch, Keynote, Drop Manager, Evernote, Playbook,  Web2PDF, Pages for word processing; Numbers (Apple’s version of Excel); and Keynote for presentations, including opening and closing statements in court, as well as that day’s Cooley presentation.
 
Everyone needs to use the Find My Phone app so the device can be found if lost or stolen, said Musbach.
 
It used to cost six-figures to start a practice, he said, adding that now it can be done with $2,500 or less – the cost of mobile technology in the cloud.
 
“Where we’re going is mobile computing, and I think you need to get there sooner rather than later,” said Musbach. “It lets you better serve your clients, and gives you unparalleled ability to advocate for your client.” 
 
“This really makes the practice of law so simple,” said Musbach, who figures that his app-loaded iPad takes the place of two or three full-time employees. “I think it’s real questionable whether you need a physical office place. I think it’s questionable whether you need a physical employee. You can do many things yourself, plus there are a lot of virtual employees and employment firms.” 
 
Musbach has someone help him virtually.
 
“I’ve met her once. I’ve talked to her twice on the phone, and she’s been helping me about two years,” he said. “She’s an excellent proofreader, redacts documents, organizes documents, and we work through Dropbox.”
 
He says it all adds up to better quality of life for the attorney, and better service for the  client.
“And that’s why I say you can run 80 percent of your business on an iPad,” he said. “I think it’s time to cross the digital divide and incorporate the iPad into our daily practice.”
 

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