Why a Chromebook Might be a Better Option for Your Law Practice than a Tablet

This post is going to the verge of blasphemy, and might just cross the line. For years I’ve been promoting the benefits and graces of Android tablets. Now, today I’m going to suggest that your law practice might be better off with a Chromebook.

Samsung Chromebook

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not abandoning my love affair with Android for a more seemingly beautiful mistress, I’m merely suggesting that your practice might benefit from a Chromebook than an Android tablet. Obviously, if you can afford both, you should get one of each.

Chromebooks are Google’s ultra-portable, browser-based laptop. The Chromebook runs on Chrome OS, which is a hybrid of Linux OS. Chromebooks are designed to work from the cloud using “extensions” to boost the web browser’s capabilities and functions. Extensions are similar to apps or software, except they’re dependent on the browser and merely enhance the browser’s functions.

Chromebooks provide what lawyers want

Arguably though for most attorneys, Chromebooks will provide exactly what they’re seeking: portability, productivity and pricing.

Chromebooks are highly-portable devices, packed with a variety of features and functions, including USB and HDMI. For many lawyers, merely having the HDMI and USB ports will enable them to carry on with work, including making presentations and managing business affairs. Coupled with a cloud-based practice management system, such as Clio or MyCase, you’ll be able to function anywhere.

Chromebooks also offer affordability. At $249, the Samsung Chromebook is less costly than many laptops. If you’re looking for something with a little more power and some features, you might check out Samsung’s higher-priced model, or even the recently released, Chromebook Pixel. My Chromebook weighs 2.5 pounds, has 6.5 hours of battery life, and can keep me connected to the outside world quite easily.

Chromebooks aren’t perfect

Deleting and depending on the cloud means that you’re also losing some valuable tools. For instance, if you’re a heavy Microsoft Office user, you’ll have to look at Office 365 to support your habit. Of course, you can use Google Drive, but right now Drive lacks the robustness and polish you’ll find in Office.

You’ll also work with limited on-board storage space. A paltry 16 GB is not the most ideal way to handle files. Yes, you can add an SD card to boost storage, but even those have limits. I suggest using an external hard drive to fill the storage void.

Since the system depends on the browser, you need to find extensions that work for mundane to complex tasks. Finding the perfect extension has been the hardest adjustment for me. This process isn’t any different than what you’d experience on a tablet, so it’s a comparative hassle in the grand debate.

However, when the time comes from running sophisticated applications, such as trial presentation or PowerPoint software, you’re “up a creek.” Chromebooks can’t run them. And out of the half-dozen or so presentation extensions I’ve looked at, none of really get the job done. At least not on par with PowerPoint.

One other tablet feature I prefer is the slim form factor. I love being able to drop my tablet on the table and have it rest like a closed book. My Chromebook, looks, acts, and feels like a laptop. The Chromebook’s only a “closed book” when it’s literally closed.

And the winner is . . .

If you’re debating whether to buy an Android tablet and a Chromebook, the choice is clear: both. But, if you’re like the majority of the world and need to feed your family, you won’t be disappointed with the Chromebook.

As Google and developers create more extensions for Chrome, you’ll see a burgeoning emphasis on these type of laptops. I also suspect that we’ll see a more unified merger of Android and Chrome, which will allow users to access files, apps, and other features of both systems. Android isn’t going to die, but if the Chromebook Pixel shows what’s possible, we’re at the edge of an exciting world led by Google.

Update (01/12/14)

Although my Chromebook fandom hasn’t subsided, I would change my device recommendation, to the extent I recommended any particular model.

First, I own and still love my Samsung Chromebook. Probably the best device I’ve owned. However, the introduction of the Haswell-based Chromebooks the need, or desire, for ARM-based devices disappeared. Because, in true Samsung fashion, the manufacturer created a device it really didn’t care to keep up; “turn ’em and burn ’em.” In truth, the Haswell processors are much faster and speed up a Chromebook’s already-fast performance. Now, admittedly, HP had some issues with its device (a pesky melting power cord problem), but for the most part that seems resolved.

So, because of improved performance, I’m looking at replacing my Samsung model with the Acer C720P, which features a touchscreen. Unfortunately, if you want the C720P today, you’re be stuck with the 2GB RAM model, since the 4GB model has a 2 month lead time for delivery. A device running on 2GB is certainly disappointing.

Similarly, if you want to buy a C720 today, you might pay a little extra. Amazon’s listing the C720 Chromebook at $249. But, if you work hard, Best Buy has one for $199 (plus tax).

Check out Google’s full array of Chromebooks to make the best decision.

5 Responses to Why a Chromebook Might be a Better Option for Your Law Practice than a Tablet

  1. And what about Model Rule 1.6 pertaining to attorney-client COI? I mean, doesn’t Google’s privacy policy and therefore the use of a chromebook conflict with that privilege?

    • Not exactly sure what conflicts about Google’s privacy policy. To say that using a Chromebook violates the attorney-client privilege is a generalized, blanket statement. There may be specific instances where using any internet service would violate attorney-client privilege.

      What a lot of people don’t realize is that Rule 1.6 doesn’t require perfection. Rather, Rule 1.6 only requires reasonable efforts.

      • Hey, I’m a fan of chromebook, which is the reason for my inquiry. And that comprises reasonable efforts on the part of the attorney- not on the method of electronic communication s/he may use. Should it be the case that the method in use and its privacy policy involve any possibility of third-party dissemination or sharing via automated scanning of correspondence, it may negate those reasonable efforts since it’s implied that the method entails scanning and storing of such information transmitted. Any further thoughts? Why? I love my chromebook.

        Cheers,
        Julian

        • I’ve talked about the scanning of email on a number of occasions, which is one of the reasons I whole-heartily recommend Google Apps for Work. Google isn’t scanning for content, merely for indexing, which is what every useful online email program does.

          That said, the mere fact that a company uses a method to scan for search doesn’t necessarily negate the use of that company’s products. Every time an attorney accesses the internet he/she is divulging something about his/her clients and representation. I’d probably be able to find more useful information simply by scanning the internet provider’s logs, as opposed to the amount of work to get email. Additionally, I’m pretty confident that no judge in the United States is going to allow evidence obtained from snooping. Is it a risk for criminals/criminal defense attorneys? Certainly. That’s probably why you the criminals and good guys in spy novels don’t communicate via email, cell phones, or other devices that aren’t encrypted.

          The mention of encryption brings up another good point: it’s important. I’m a huge fan of Virtru, which is an encryption plugin for Gmail. Sure, there are still some concerns, but if you’re sending messages to clients, then encryption is important. Google has end-to-end encryption on its servers. That means the information passing between Google users is encrypted from start to finish — at rest and in-transit. In my opinion, employing dedicated encryption at the beginning, and deploying encryption for email is a reasonable effort attorneys can take to prevent unauthorized disclosure.

          I should finalize the discussion by mentioning that the client is the holder of the attorney-client privilege, not the attorney. Attorneys must work to maintain confidentiality, but an attorney cannot waive privilege — although his/her actions can jeopardize that factor. Thus, reasonable efforts to protect the information still protects the client.

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Jeff Taylor

I’m just an ordinary guy living an extraordinary life. I’m also an attorney and I blog about Android for lawyers. You can follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, or Google+.