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What Tech WAS in Your Briefcase? What's in it Now?

By William Peacock, Esq. | Last updated on

Last week, a friend and colleague forwarded this hilarious ABA Solo Newsletter piece which appears to be from … 1923 or so. There’s no date, but the tech suggestions for briefcase essentials are amusing. No, the author wasn’t recommending an Apple Newton, but it’s almost that bad.

If we had to guess, we’d tag it around 2004 or so — the heyday of the PDA and Palm Treo devices. So what were the recommendations? And what would today’s list look like?

The Old List

Bare Essentials

  • PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) -- For "keeping your calendar, to-do list, and contact information for clients, attorneys, and contacts at your finger tips."
  • Digital recorder -- "For recording thoughts, notes, and instructions. Digital eliminates the limitations on the length or condition of a tape."
  • Financial calculator -- "Allows you to compute present values, amortizations, and payments."
  • Cellular phone headset (Old-school speak for bluetooth. Their headsets had wires.)
  • Time-line and out-lining programs -- We have no idea what these actually are.


  • Notebook computer
  • USB scanner
  • Instant messaging device "a Research in Motion Blackberry or palmOne Treo 600 convergence device (combo cellular phone/PDA) gives you the ability to receive and send email and text messages in real time."
  • LCD projector
  • Digital camera
  • Case analysis/presentation software

Alright. That's not a bad list. It's hilariously millennial, but not bad nonetheless. Let's take a look at how much things have changed.

Modern List

  • Notebook computer (Tablets aren't yet ready to replace regular PCs.)
  • Smartphone (iPhones are the preferred choice of lawyers, apparently.)
  • Tablet (Great for that case presentation software, out-lining, note-taking, and for when your smartphone's battery inevitably dies.)
  • USB scanner (The brand of choice, for many, is the Fujitsu ScanSnap, which has a portable version.)
  • Micro-projector (Because seriously, how big was this guy's briefcase in 2004?)

Funnily enough, even the new list is overkill. A single smartphone can do everything except project a presentation onto a wall (though many can hook to an external projector). They can handle editing docs, running the same case management apps, and can even act as a scanner,albeit, a poor one, in a pinch.

We won't even get started on how much online legal research and cloud-based practice management have changed, and will change, the legal industry.

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