I recently picked up a Memorex flash drive with 1 Gb of storage and U3 functionality. Although I had read about this capability for months, the price point for drives with U3 was just too high to make it worth looking into. Then, when I needed a new drive, I got a 1 Gb model for a good price and didn’t even know it had U3 until I got it back to the office and looked at the package label more closely.

What is U3, you ask? It is a technology, licensed to flash drive manufacturers, that allows you to run applications discretely from the drive itself, without leaving a trail on the host computer. Thus you can walk up to any machine with a USB port (which is just about all of them these days), plug in the drive, and get to work without leaking confidential information onto the computer. As the U3 web site points out, this technology allows you to:

  • Carry and access your files easily
  • Keep your data safe and secure
  • Comes with pre-loaded software
  • Hundreds of software titles available

My drive came with the Thunderbird e-mail client pre-installed, along with Migo, a neat utility to synchronize files between the device and the computer it’s plugged into (including the contents of “My Documents” and the Desktop). To add more and see what is available, there is a “Download Programs” icon to go to the U3 web site library of compatible applications, including OpenOffice, a Microsoft Office compatible suite of applications. In addition, the U3 platform allows developers to port their programs to the flash drive format, so a whole host of applications become available. Among them are:

EditPad text editor
Firefox web browser
Foxit Reader PDF viewer
RoboForm2Go password security

A device like this can be an absolute boon to the road warrior lawyer! Why lug about a laptop, when a U3 flash drive in your pocket works just as well (and securely) on any computer at your location. Migo can synchronize your files from your office computer before you leave, OpenOffice can let you work on them, Thunderbird can get you your e-mail, and Firefox can help you surf the web, do legal research, and have all your bookmarks at hand.

A few months ago I had a real estate closing that had a couple of twists in it, including an escrow agreement. I represented the sellers. Suspecting that there might be some changes to the documents at the table, I put the deed, affidavit of title, and escrow agreement on my flash drive. Sure enough, the escrow agreement needed tweaking. I simply asked if there was a free computer in the office with Microsoft Word; the realtor led me to her desk. In no time I had made the changes, and reprinted the document. The only way it could have been simpler would have been if I had had OpenOffice on the drive, so I would not have had to depend on resident software to get the job done.

U3 technology can give you a truly portable office, but you don’t even have to have a U3 drive to accomplish this. Just go to the Portable Apps web site and download free software that will run on a flash drive, portable hard drive, or iPod/MP3 player. You can also find some good apps at the Snapfiles web site. With the prices of flash drive storage plummeting, and free software like this available, there really is no reason not to look into this and see whether it can ease the burden (both mental and physical) of being a “portable” lawyer!