Helping Trial Lawyers Navigate the Appellate System

The Appellate Road Warrior: Essential Skills and Best Practices

This is the fifth and final installment of my series on mobile lawyering for appellate practitioners. To easily access the entire series, click here.

By this point, you should have the equipment and the software to get your work done from the road. This post discusses some special considerations for working efficiently and securely.

Troubleshooting Tech Problems

Practicing from the road requires a certain amount of independence. Working outside the office—away from coworkers who can help you troubleshoot technology problems—requires a greater degree of self-sufficiency and resourcefulness.

Most troubleshooting involves searching for well-known solutions to common problems. As funny as it sounds, this is best accomplished via Google. The better you are at solving common problems by searching Google, the easier it will be to work outside the office using only your tablet or smartphone.

Data Security

Device Encryption

If your mobile device is lost or stolen, your data should be secure enough that a third party cannot gain access to it. Obviously, that means password-protecting all of your devices.

But it also means choosing hard-to-guess passwords. Using complex passwords is often advised (e.g., Xf7<8zf$qjf89), but they’re hard to type. A simpler way to create hard-to-guess passwords is to use a passphrase.

A passphrase is a sequence of words or phrases, with spaces. For example, “Dog Missile Rainbow” is a nonsense phrase that’s easy to type, but hard to guess.

So, a password is step one. The second step is to encrypt your hard drive or device. If you do not encrypt the data on your device, then a hacker could remove the hard drive and plug it into a new device to access the data.

Encryption is easy to set up. If you aren’t sure how, then just research on the internet as discussed above. Type in the name of your device and the word “how to encrypt” and you’ll find helpful articles.

Password Manager

When you sign in to do your banking online, there’s a reason the site won’t let you simply type “12345678” or “password” to access your data. Complex or strong passwords reduce the chances that a hacker will be able to access your online accounts and do something malicious.

The problem with strong passwords is that they are impossible to remember. But writing them on a Post-It note stuck to your computer monitor or keeping them in the notes app on your phone is just looking for trouble.

Password managers help avoid these issues by generating strong passwords and storing them in a secure location. Without the master password—the only one you’ll have to remember—the list is locked down. By entering the master password, you enable the password manager to fill in passwords for you when logging in to certain websites.

Three popular password managers are 1Password, LastPass, and Dashlane. All are free or very affordable and will sync to mobile devices. A password manager is an investment every appellate road warrior should make.

Dual-Factor Authentication

The primary concern with online storage services is security. Anyone with your password can access all of the documents you have stored in your online document service. And if they have access, they can often easily bulk-download those documents.

So, you must ensure that mere possession of your password will not grant a hacker access to those documents. And how do you accomplish that? Use dual-factor authentication. This is security that requires more than a mere password to access an online account. The second factor required is physical possession of your smartphone.

If an important account offers dual-factor authentication, you should enable it. For example, you should set it up on all of your online document storage accounts, your financial services accounts, and your email accounts.

Here’s how dual-factor authentication works in practice. If someone tries to access an online account with dual-factor authentication enabled, and they’re using a device that has never accessed that account before, they won’t be able to get in.

For example, say that a Russian hacker has the password to your Dropbox account and tries to login from a computer in Moscow. Dropbox’s security system will detect that a new computer is accessing your account (red flag #1) from a location that has never been used before (red flag #2).

Any red flag in Dropbox’s system will cause it to send a text message to your phone with a six-digit code. And the system will inform the hacker in Moscow that they need to also enter the six-digit code. Typically, the code will only be valid for about five minutes. And if the hacker tries to guess the code and guesses wrong more than three times, the system will typically lock up your account.

Some people perceive dual-factor authentication as a hassle. And that’s true. But it’s worth the hassle because it prevents someone else from accessing your online accounts even if they have your password.

Internet Connectivity

Being able to connect to the internet reliably and securely is crucial. Fortunately, you have many options. Unfortunately, not all of those options are appropriate or safe.

When traveling, it’s tempting to connect through free wi-fi provided in various places such as hotels, coffee shops, conference rooms, and event spaces. Be wary of connecting to these wi-fi services. They provide the best opportunity for hackers to access your device and your precious data.

To ensure that you are not vulnerable to hackers when using public wi-fi, you should use a virtual private network service. You can quickly research this by typing “VPN services” into Google. Among the top picks are NordVPN, IPVanish, and TunnelBear.

Make sure that the service you want works with your devices. Sometimes using a VPN will slow down your internet speed, so that’s another factor to consider.

VPN services are crucial if you’re traveling in foreign countries, especially ones that are disreputable. The cost of VPN services is reasonable. Expect to pay about $60 per year to use a service that covers all of your devices.

Today, every lawyer should be able to connect to the internet via their smartphone. If your smartphone service provider has an option for sharing that internet connection with an external device (e.g., your laptop), you should enable that option. You may have to pay extra, but it will be worth it.

If you cannot access the internet securely through a VPN, using your smartphone as a personal hotspot will do the trick. You need not use a VPN when you’re accessing through your cellular service, but if you want to be extra secure, you can.

Bluetooth Connectivity

If you want to use wireless headphones with your devices you need to know how to connect them via Bluetooth. You may also want to use a wireless keyboard or similar accessories. If so, you must know how to connect those devices via Bluetooth.

This is pretty easy in most cases. The trickier issue is fixing connectivity problems that sometimes crop up. Usually, the solution is to untether the Bluetooth device and reconnect it. If that doesn’t solve the problem, do some internet research.

Digital Signatures

Being able to sign documents that people send you by email is an important skill in today’s mobile world. What would you do if you had only your smartphone and received an email attachment that required your signature?

That happens a lot. And so you should learn how to sign a document with nothing more than your smartphone. PDF Expert will store an image of your signature for just this situation. Adobe’s Acrobat Reader mobile app is easy to use and free, so try that unless you have a different method that’s more familiar.


Obviously, your smartphone will allow you to receive and send emails. Dealing with attachments, however, can sometimes become challenging.

You should be skilled at downloading attachments and working with them on your phone. And you should then be able to transmit a document that you’ve worked on with your phone to someone.

Mobile devices generally will require you to send an attachment to the app you want to use to work with it. For example, in the digital signature example above, you’d have to send the attachment to PDF Expert or Adobe Acrobat Reader. Then you’d sign the document using your finger or a stylus. Then you’d send the edited document back to your email program as an attachment.

Your email program should be connected to your contacts list so you can easily access the recipient’s email address. But sometimes you don’t have the person in your contacts.

What do you do then?

If you can find the email address somewhere else and copy it, then you can paste it into the email address field. Or, if you have to, you can just type the address in manually, being very careful to get every single letter correct, or else the email will wind up bouncing back without reaching its intended destination.


The online storage services discussed in this article all have apps that allow you to synchronize or share documents to your mobile devices. It’s unrealistic to carry around an entire synchronized set of your digital documents on your mobile phone or tablet. At best you can download a small batch.

But you should strive to have your key data synchronized among all of your devices. So, if you add contact information for someone to the database on your phone it should show up instantly on all your other devices.

And if you make a calendar appointment on your phone, the same thing should happen. This is especially important if you’re working with an assistant who has control of your digital calendar.

Synchronization is complex, and that’s why it’s hardly ever 100% reliable. But it’s usually at least 97% reliable. The problem is we all assume our devices are constantly 100% in sync.

When synchronization stops working, you’re not typically given a warning. Even if you do get a warning, it often goes unnoticed. So, you should be mindful of and vigilant about potential synchronization problems. The best practice is to periodically check whether a new contact record you added on one device is showing up on other devices and how long the sync takes.


The hardware and software available to an appellate road warrior is largely a matter of preference. Getting comfortable with the technology, becoming proficient at using it, and learning how to preserve data security are important first steps.

Upon reaching that threshold, however, the majority of tasks most appellate lawyers must accomplish to serve their clients need not be performed in a traditional office. The right equipment, software, and a secure, high-speed internet connection provide the tools necessary for the job. Because we’re able to interface with courts electronically and in-person client meetings are rare, our location just doesn’t matter.

So, take that long weekend, extended vacation, or sabbatical if your firm allows. See the world and spend time with your family. With the right setup and the proper mindset, work shouldn’t hold you back.

Thanks again to Ernie Svenson for his significant contribution to this series.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Barry Dahl.

D. Todd Smith
About the Author

D. Todd Smith is an Austin-based civil appellate specialist who works with trial teams from the earliest stages of litigation. In trial courts, he takes the lead on strategic analysis and briefing, jury charges, and potentially dispositive motions, all with a focus on preserving error and positioning cases for appellate review.

Subscribe to Texas Appellate Strategy via Email or RSS
Please enter a valid email address and click the button.
Recent Posts
More content can be found in the Search section.