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Smartphone Tips for Lengthy Power Outages — Plus Analyzing Law Firm Leaders

By Jeff Richardson | Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Originally published on November 11, 2012 in our free BigLaw newsletter. Instead of reading BigLaw here after the fact, sign up now to receive future issues in realtime.

Once upon a time, the only hurricanes in Manhattan were served in bars. Not anymore. In this issue of BigLaw, large firm partner and iPhone for lawyers expert Jeff Richardson provides invaluable disaster planning tips for your smartphone (with some special tips for iPhones). As a resident of New Orleans, Jeff has far more experience than the average lawyer so listen up and stay charged up and in charge when disaster strikes. Also, don't miss the BigLaw Pick of the Week (newsletter only) for an analysis of law firm leaders.


On August 29, 2012, the seven year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the power went out at my home in New Orleans and remained off for four days as a result of Hurricane Isaac. Recently, many homes and businesses in the tristate area lost power for even longer as a result of Hurricane Sandy, including TechnoLawyer's office in TriBeca and many law firms. See Liz Kurtz, A Midsize Law Firm Battles Super Storm Sandy at the Southern Tip of Manhattan, BigLaw (November 6, 2012).

If you work for a large law firm, you likely represent clients located in other parts of the country or the world. I hope that your clients are sympathetic to your problems during a disaster, but you remain their attorney and should strive to protect their interests even during tough times. This means that you need to keep your lines of communications open and maintain the ability to get work done. Our large size is both an advantage and disadvantage regarding disaster planning as we have more resources than smaller firms but also more complex systems and more lawyers and staff. By the time an emergency arises, it's often too late to take precautions. Thus, law firms should plan for the next disaster now.

In this issue of BigLaw, I'll focus on one piece of the disaster planning puzzle — your smartphone (I use an iPhone but most of my tips also apply to Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, etc.). Your smartphone is likely your most important tool during a power outage. It's more portable and power efficient than an iPad. As long as the cell towers remain working (even during Hurricane Katrina, they worked to a certain degree), your smartphone gives you a way to communicate with colleagues, clients, other counsel, courts, etc. — and enables you to assess your own situation and plan for recovery.

1. Backup Power Options

An iPhone 5 and many modern smartphones usually last all day long, but when the power is out and you depend on your smartphone for communications with clients, friends, and family members plus news updates (plus maybe even occasional entertainment), you are going to drain your battery more quickly.

If you receive advance notice of a possible power outage (often the case with storms), plug your smartphone into an outlet so that you can at least start the power outage with a 100% charge.

I have heard of some people using a small gasoline-powered generator to recharge their smartphone and other devices. This seems like a bit much to me though I recommend keeping a smartphone charger in your car. Using your car to deliver enough charge to your smartphone so that you can make a critical phone call can help you in many situations, not just during power outages.

I also recommend purchasing a large external battery designed to work with your smartphone such as the iSound Portable Power Max 16,000 mAh Backup Battery (which I reviewed last month on iPhone J.D.) or the Just Mobile Gum Max 10,400 mAh battery.

These batteries cost around $100 or so and can completely recharge a smartphone many times. This is valuable during an emergency, but is also handy when you are in that all-day meeting without easy access to a power outlet and you want to keep your iPad or smartphone charged.

Also, remember that you can use any laptop as a large external battery to charge your smartphone through its USB port.

2. Minimize Radio Use During an Outage

Once the lights go out, even if you know that you have a recharging option, you will still want to be efficient when you use your smartphone. First, turn down your brightness to the lowest acceptable level to slow battery drain. With the lights out, it's not like you need much brightness anyway.

Second, turn off your Bluetooth and WiFi radios and Location Services (on an iPhone you'll find these in the Settings app) so that your smartphone doesn't waste power with those connections.

Third, considering keeping your smartphone in Airplane Mode when not using it. Turn that mode off to receive new email and to check news updates, and then turn it back on when you finish. You won't get instant notification of new text messages nor will you receive phone calls as they come in, but you will maximize your battery life if you stay in Airplane Mode part of the time.

3. How to Stay Informed and in Touch

Although you can get a lot of information during a power outage by accessing web sites of local news organizations, you'll get better and more timely information using Twitter. If you don't already have a Twitter account, set one up now so that you can access it during an emergency. You need never post anything to Twitter to derive enormous benefit from it.

During Hurricane Isaac, Twitter was my best source for the most up-to-date information on storm activity, power restoration, restaurants, and stores that were open, and streets to avoid. I followed the Twitter accounts of local newspapers, the news desks of local TV stations, and the official emergency preparedness account for the City of New Orleans.

During the storm I noticed retweets from individuals who were doing a great job sharing information, such as one local politician who decided to drive around and constantly update what was open or closed and provide block-by-block updates of power restoration. When you find those people, follow them on Twitter. Tweetbot (iPhone only) is my favorite Twitter app, but the free app from Twitter will get the job done on virtually any device.

To stay in touch with people, text messaging is often more reliable and power efficient than calling. Many home phones will not work without power, and many cell phones are turned off to save power. If your text message does not go through using Apple's iMessage (messages in blue), you'll get an error message (a red exclamation point). Tap your message to resend it using your cellular provider (messages in green). If you don't have text messages on your data plan you'll have to pay a small amount for each message (about 25 cents each).

Jeff Richardson practices law in New Orleans and publishes iPhone J.D., the oldest and largest website for attorneys who use the iPhone and iPad.

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