October 2010

transcript sumary.jpgIn the past two days, I had two Briefs due at the Supreme Court of Georgia. Both were murder cases. Yet, I was able to complete them both with very little stress.When it came time to apply the law to the facts. I was able to find the exact facts that I needed. It would not have come together so well without a transcript summary.

Why do a transcript summary? Think about your last appellate record. About 80 percent of it consisted of useless forms. Even the transcript is made up of a bunch of meaningless dialogue with pages of riveting stuff like the judge giving the jurors a bathroom break and and telling them when to return. Witnesses weren’t called in any particular order that makes sense. Witnesses were sometimes called at a time most convenient to them and not in the best narrative arrangement (That’s what openings and closings were all about) It’s hard to craft a compelling narrative from raw trial transcripts. And you can always tell the briefs that were written by lawyers who did not prepare a transcript summary and those who probably did.

You’ve read those briefs right? You know them by the way the statement of facts is drafted. Have you ever read this brief:

The State’s first witness was Officer Smith. Officer Smith testified that he pulled Joe Defendant over because he was weaving within a single lane of traffic. He pulled Joe Defendant over. As he approached Mr. Defendant, he smelled marijuana in the car. The State’s next witness was Bob Doghandler. Officer Doghandler was a certified canine officer. He took his dog, Cujo, and had him conduct a free-air sniff around the car. Cujo alerted on the rear quarter panel. The officer testified that he opened the trunk and found a suspected controlled substance inside. The next witness the State called was Dr. DrugTest. Dr. DrugTest is a forensic biologist. He works at the crime lab. He tested the item and it was positive for cocaine.

If you’re writing statements of fact like this, it’s because you either don’t know any better, or it’s because you didn’t have time to learn the record, and you’re going through the paces regurgitating things from the record in a summary fashion and the brief is due in a few hours.


Transcript summaries allow you to distill the record down to its purest form.

By writing a transcript summary, you digest the record down to what is essential. In so doing, you can leave those ten volumes behind and carry around a thirty page transcript summary. When it comes time to write the brief, you aren’t shifting from volume to volume to find the most important parts of the record. You’re flipping through the transcript summary. When you’re in court, if asked a question, you can find the answer more quickly. The lawyers who cart in crates full of the file to oral argument always make me smile, particularly if they are opposing counsel.


It’s a learning experience.

Appellate lawyers are late to the game. The client has been thinking about her case. Trial counsel and the prosecutor have lived with the case longer than you have. The act of reading the transcript and summarizing it will get you up to speed. And you’ll be the master of the record. Your opposing counsel will likely not draw up a transcript summary. So, you’ll quickly have the advantage over her.

In fact, knowing the record is different from remembering what was in the discovery or what some witness said in an interview. On appeal, mastery of the record trumps knowledge of the case, its players, and what the witnesses were like. The reason: none of that stuff matters anymore. And it’s often difficult to distinguish in your memory between a fact you know to be the case and a fact that actually got into your record.


It makes a difference

I haven’t always done transcript summaries. The cases where I didn’t do them are growing into the distant past. Unfortunately, much time often passes between critical stage in the proceedings. Months and sometimes longer pass between when I worked heavily in a file at the motion for new trial stage and when I work heavily on it again at to write the brief of appellant. I literally high five the people around me when I pick up a file with a transcript summary in it. The difference between doing a transcript summary in a case and not doing one is as big as the difference between not reading the transcript at all and reading the transcript.


So, how do you write a transcript summary?

Transcript summaries are taylor made for dictation. You simply get your transcript or load up the pdf version or e transcript into you Kindle, iPad or computer. Then you can begin to read through and dictate the material things from the transcript. What you do can vary by style.

Of course you can type it up, too. But it can be nice to sit outside in your back yard with a little coffee, a digital recorder and your transcript and dictate a transcript summary


What do they look like?

It depends on your style. I like to put a column on the left side for page numbers and a column on the right side for content. I put chapter headings for each witness and subheadings for cross-examination, redirect. I generally bold face type out objections and rulings, or exhibit numbers. I also put in chapter headings for voir dire or things in jury instructions that stand out. Your goal is to create a free-standing reference that you can use in place of the transcript to discuss your case at argument, use as a reference for client meetings, or use as a reference during oral argument or during examination of witnesses at the motion for new trial hearing.

Seriously, making a transcript summary on my cases has made the biggest difference of anything that I do on my appellate practice. It will transform yours too.

lawyer and client.jpgIt’s been a long week. I’ve had to have “the talk” with several of my clients. In case you don’t know what I mean by “the talk,” allow me to explain. There comes a point in just about every attorney-client relationship where there is an important decision to be made. You give your assessment, and the client takes your advice or rejects it. This week has brought with it a mixture of rejection with a healthy dose of acceptance laced with insults. Weeks like this always make me examine the complexities of the attorney-client relationship. 

These thoughts have been in process for about a week or so anyway. Scott Greenfield posted a great post on his blog about the importance of keeping your professional distance and how the failure to do so actually does the client a disservice. However, he does so while criticizing a law firm in Florida that overdoes the whole boundary thing. That firm, a family law firm, writes that they do not work weekends and do not deal with emergencies over the weekend. Of course, sometimes things happen with clients over the weekend, and you should respond. Mr. Greenfield talks about that fact at length.

Of course, balance is a factor, too. It is possible to go too far in the other direction, which may actually be worse for the client that being impersonal. Mr. Greenfield writes:

Ironically, one of the most troublesome ways to deal with clients is to become their best friend. Clients need lawyers. If they want companionship, they should get a dog. It confuses roles when lawyers assume the position of mother, therapist or pet. Clients often need someone to talk to, to vent, catharsis, during the pendency of a case. To some extent, lawyers can offer their ear. But when the ear gets chewed off, we’re appeasing the client but no longer serving him.

Very true. But it seems like there’s something more to this idea of client management/client relationship issue. I’ve thought about it all week and have drafted a Professionalism Matrix.pdf to help me think about client management issues. It helps me, and I hope it will help you.

The best place to be is objective and empathic. If you are subjective and empathic, you do your client the kind of disservice Mr. Greenfield discusses. If you are cold and subjective, you’re the kind of lawyer I sometimes encounter at general bar functions who wonders how I could possibly do a job like mine. Or you’re a prosecutor. If you are objective and cold, then you are the kind of person that many of your classmates were in law school — robotic and efficient. 

What does objective and empathic look like? It probably looks like a stroll across a tightrope. And it probably looks different for every client. Many of whom won’t like your objective advice. Many of whom would like for you to be their friend because you’re the only person who hasn’t rejected their personhood in the midst of an accusation or conviction or sentence. What does it look like? It looks like a worn out lawyer. It’s hard to have hard discussions. It would be easier to land somewhere else in the matrix. But then you’d be less than your calling requires. 

deposition.JPGA few months ago, the unthinkable happened on a habeas corpus case I am doing in South Georgia. The judge “suggested” that I handle some witnesses on a particular issue by deposition. There were all kinds of good reasons for it. The witnesses were spead out all over the State. I will probably get to explore more information and get more information on the record than I would in Court. The only problem is that I never do depositions. Lucky for me, I know a talented civil appellate lawyer and litigator and fantastic blogger who was kind enough to help me out. In addition, if you are in the same boat I am in, I hope he will help you out also.

Bryan Tyson is the editor of the SCOG Blog, which covers civil cases in the Supreme Court of Georgia. And he is my first guest blogger. The following is his guide to depositions for criminal lawyers, which I shamelessly requested for my own personal use. 


Deposition Pointers for Criminal Law Attorneys

The deposition is a normal part of life for civil litigators, but is often a completely foreign world for criminal law practitioners.  Knowing some basic tips about depositions can assist criminal law attorneys in representing their clients effectively.  Our goal is to provide some tips in four basic areas involving taking or defending a deposition: getting started, what happens during a deposition, making objections, and how to prepare a client for a deposition.

Starting a Deposition

To coin a phrase, if you know where to start, it’s easier to find where you’re going.  Starting a deposition if you are taking it can be challenging.  Generally, a deposition begins with a statement for the record of the name of the deponent, the way the deposition was noticed, and the logistics of how the deposition will be taken.  At least using an opening with these elements will make the other side think you know what you’re doing.  An opening may sound like this in a state court proceeding:

This will be the deposition of [DEPONENT] taken pursuant to notice and with the agreement of counsel.  The deposition of [DEPONENT], is taken by the [PARTY NAME] on cross-examination for the purpose of discovery and all other purposes authorized by the Civil Practice Act and the Evidence Code.  All objections except as to the form of the question or the responsiveness of the answer are reserved until such time as the deposition is used.

The reservation of objections is typical at the outset of a deposition in order to ensure an orderly flow.  If there is an objection to hearsay, for example, the deponent generally still answers the question on the record, but if the party taking the deposition attempts to use the deposition later, the court would have to rule on the hearsay objection.

After the initial statement, the next issue typically covered is whether the witness wishes to read and sign his or her deposition.  This allows the deponent to review the transcript and make minor corrections prior to the court reporter finalizing the transcript.  This is usually phrased in the following fashion, directed to the deponent’s counsel:

Have you discussed reading and signing?  or

Does your client wish to read and sign?

The attorney taking the deposition then requests the court reporter swear the witness, and the real work of the deposition begins with questions and answers.

During a Deposition

Deposition questions generally begin with the name and address of the individual for the record.  It’s also wise to ask a series of questions to see if the deponent will volunteer any information that could be interesting or relevant.  There are plenty of stories of individuals volunteering all kinds of information that could prove useful later in the case.  Some examples:

  • Whether the individual is under the influence of any medication (if so, it is often wise to suspend the deposition until the individual is no longer under any influences);
  • Whether the individual has ever been arrested for or convicted of a crime;
  • Whether the individual has any outstanding arrest warrants;
  • What type of education or specialized training the individual possesses;
  • The individual’s employment history;
  • The individual’s family relationships;
  • Whether the individual has discussed their deposition or the case with anyone who is not their attorney.

Another very helpful tip during the course of a deposition is to remain quiet after asking a question.  Dead air in the room is not reflected in the transcript, and often a deponent will fill the empty space by volunteering more information.  Similarly, looking expectantly at the deponent even after they have finished an answer will often motivate them to continue speaking.


Objections are often the most challenging part for an attorney taking or defending a deposition, but for criminal law practitioners, this may be the easiest part.  Any objection that would normally be made during a trial is available during a deposition.  Therefore, any objections you would typically make at trial can be made on the record during a deposition.

Objections should be stated clearly and on the record after the question is asked but before the deponent answers, including the specific grounds.  In most cases, a question should still be answered after the objection is made.

Objections to the form of the question or that a question is leading can often be remedied by simply rephrasing the question.  Other objections can be more complicated.  For example, a question requesting attorney-client privileged information should result in an objection from the attorney defending the deponent, along with an instruction to the deponent not to answer the question. 

On occasion, an attorney will attempt to coach his or her client by strategically objecting to questions.  If you notice this occurring during the course of a deposition, it is often best to address the situation by taking a break and discussing it with the other attorney one-on-one.  If this fails to solve the problem, deal with it on the record.  If that fails to resolve the issue, it may be necessary to suspend the deposition until it can be addressed by the court.

Preparing a Client for a Deposition

The primary goal in preparing a client to handle a deposition is to ensure that he or she does not unnecessarily volunteer information.  While a client should answer all questions fully, he or she should try to say as little as possible in answering the questions put to them.

When taking a deposition, many attorneys will try to draw the deponent into a level of comfort by turning the deposition into a conversation.  Clients should avoid lowering their guard and freely sharing too much information with the attorney taking the deposition.


Depositions are a useful tool for learning facts about a case.  Although depositions may appear intimidating at first, they function as valuable places to learn the necessary facts about a case.

fantasy football.jpgToday I found myself in a meeting with a prospective client’s family discussing handling a direct appeal in the Supreme Court of Georgia. The family is very organized and proactive and already had the trial transcript ready to go. To make things even better, trial counsel was present in the meeting to discuss things with me. 

I caught myself doing what I always do when I have a meeting and the client brings in the transcript. I started flipping through the pages while people were talking. A trial transcript is akin to a big wrapped present with a bow on it. And it’s hard not to read one when it is in front of me. 

I think success in the law, particularly in criminal appellate law requires a bit of compulsion. As I thought about how tempting it was to read that transcript, I was reminded of a blog post I read yesterday by David Benowitz on his DC Criminal Lawyer Blog. In the post, Mr. Benowitz compared being a criminal defense lawyer to being avid about his fantasy football team. The same level of compulsion, call it nerdiness, that drives him to obsess about the stats of player in meaningless games is kind of like what it takes to be great at being a lawyer. Bottom line, it is about care for the process and for the client. Mr. Benowitz writes:

So how does loving fantasy football equate to criminal defense work? Fantasy football is about the love of the game, but it is also about being a bit compulsive. I say that as I sit screaming at my 52″ screen for Austin Collie, who I started over Steve Smith, to please score the next touchdown in a meaningless Week 3 Colts/Broncos late game. Unless you’re waking up at 3:00 am to write down the idea you had about your possession of marijuana case, unless you’re idea of a fun Saturday night is to see clients at the jail, unless you bring new Court of Appeals opinions to read at the beach on vacation, you need more passion.

And so I found myself so interested in what may lie within a transcript on a case where I have not yet been hired because, in my nerdy way, it’s hard not to try to figure out what issues lie within a transcript.

Hopefully, the family thought I was eager and not rude. 

rubber stamp.jpgJudges seldom grant motions for new trial. I have various theories about why. And they range from being sympathetic to the judge to utter cynicism. Sometimes, there just wasn’t any harmful error. Sometimes, the judge couldn’t fathom that he made a mistake. Sometimes, it’s just too dang expensive to try the thing twice. And some judges take a Roy Moore sort of pride in being battered by them judges in Atlanta. That said, I think you should load up and give motions for new trial everything you have. There are a few good reasons to do so. 

  1. Issue spotting and Issue experimentation. I view the motion for new trial as the ultimate issue spotting exercise. I like to sit down with the trial transcript and summarize it. I then work from the summary to spot as many errors as I can and put them into the amended motion for new trial. Many will be jettisoned when it comes time to draft the appeal. But I like to build the amended motion for new trial as a menu of possible appellate issues. This process serves several purposes. You learn the record. You figure out what works and what doesn’t. You force your opponent to research everything you list out and see where he is weak. Finally, if you find yourself on the habeas witness stand, the amended motion for new trial is tangible proof that you considered all of the possible viable issues during the preliminary stages of the appeal. I suggest that you place a memo to the file setting forth why you have chosen to abandon issues when you draft the brief of appellant.
  2. It is an opportunity to put things in the record. In Georgia, you must raise ineffective assistance of counsel at your earliest possible opportunity. You can try to bootstrap issues not raised at trial through an ineffective assistance claim and call witnesses to proffer what a better trial would have looked like.
  3. If you were the client, you wouldn’t want your lawyer to coast through any stage. You should manage your client’s expectations of the hearing, but you should still give it everything you have. I went to a high school that moved up a division when I attended. We were outmatched in every game we ever played. Everybody knew that they were going to lose when they went into those games. But everybody gave it their all. Your client deserves your all, too. If you don’t like battling long odds, the probably the whole criminal appellate process isn’t for you.
  4. You just might win. It is possible that your performance at the motion for new trial hearing will scare the judge so much about a reversal or the prosecutor so much about the prospect of a new trial, that you might get a good offer or even win a new trial.

So if you have a motion for new trial coming up, come to it dressed to play. While you will likely lose, don’t treat it like the rubber stamp that it is and it might just not be a rubber stamp all the time.

dictation dude.jpgA few weeks ago, I met with a respected colleague about a case we are doing together. The lawyer is one of the best criminal defense lawyers in Georgia. As I entered his office, I noticed something conspicuously absent from his desktop — computer monitors. Where a monitor might go, there was a dictaphone with, get this, micro-casette tapes. I know from working with the lawyer before that he is a prolific writer. He engages opposing counsel, witnesses, and his client frequently with written correspondence. He files creative motions on his cases, and he is always prepared.

The experience got me thinking about dictation. I’ve never mastered it as many lawyers my age and younger have not. I’ve dabbled in it and always found that I was very productive whenever I have. I pulled out my digital recorder and dictated a few letters. Suddenly, my productivity spiked. 

Even if you don’t have the support staff in place to transcribe dictations, it has probably never been easier to dictated documents. I use an Olympus Digital Voice Recorder WS-400S that I bought from an office supply store about a year ago. At under $100, it takes clear recordings, and it has a built in retractible USB connector. From there, I upload files to Speakwrite, where the dictations are outsourced, transcribed, and returned to me as a Word file. The service is fairly inexpensive. 

If you don’t want to use a service like Speakwrite, there are other options. I use MacSpeech Dictate for voice recognition on my Mac. For Windows users, there is Dragon Naturally Speaking. There is also a free Dragon app for the iPad.

A few weeks ago, the Mac Power Users Podcast devoted an entire episode to dictation with the Mac.

Right now, I am doing motions and letters via dictation. Eventually, it would be nice to do briefs and trial trasncript summaries that way also. 

paper and pen.jpgA couple of days ago I posted about using the iPad in my appellate practice. In that post, I mentioned that one solution for reading transcripts on the iPad is the iAnnotate PDF reader as an application. There are several applications out for iPad that allow you to read pdfs, including Goodreader and the iBook app itself. None of those apps worked very well for me in my appellate practice. None allow you to annote a pdf, view it, move in and out through email or dropbox, or display the document on to a projector. 

iAnnotate pdf does all of those things. Even better, there are several ways to learn to use the application. Writing the iPad post a few days ago made me want to dig into the app a little more to see what it could do. YouTube abounds with videos to show you the basics and teach you the ins and outs. Let me highlight a couple:

  • For a good basic introduction of the tools in the app as well as the use of iAnnotate with a projector or other vga output (I didn’t know it had that feature) is available from Tuescher lab. He demonstrates it as a way to view pdfs as slides and demonstrates annotation tools. A few weeks ago, a prosecutor who is using the iPad in court wanted to know what is available to post up photographs in court. I think that iAnnotate PDF might be the app for him.
  • Note taking on PDFs on iPad versus paper. There’s a video from Stanford Medical School comparing note-taking on PDFs on the iPad versus pen and paper. The results of this mini-smackdown are pretty interesting. 
  • The developer’s introduction is also available on YouTube as well. In a couple of minutes, you can be up and running with the app. 

The app is not perfect though. I found that it is currently impossible to annotate to scanned pdfs unless you run it through OCR, which I have found to be a pain. So, if you can get your transcripts emailed to you from the court reporter as a pdf or in an electronic format that you can convert to pdf, then you are in good shape. If a client has brought you an older transcript in hard copy form to review for habeas, you are going to be able to view the pdf but will have difficulty annotating. 

It is stil a bit awkward to move documents into and out of the iPad. There is dropbox integration, but it is not ideal. I found it difficult to pull documents out of folders on Dropbox and into the application. 

Still, it is a good tool for transcript annotation. Even without transcript annotation, I think it is a way to pack light and read PDFs. I could see myself dictating a transcript summary while reading from a transcript on the iPad.

So, far iAnnotate is the best PDF app I’ve come across. But there may be better solutions out there that I have not found yet. And there may be better ways to work this app than I’ve found already. I think that this area of iPad use will get better over time. I think the medical community is likely going to push for improvement to the iPad as a means to consume journals. The academic community is likely going to push for improvement as well as a means for students to read texts. 

One more vestige of the Johnnie Caldwell legacy will remain in place, for a little while anyway. Greg Land at the Fulton Daily Report notes that the United States Supreme Court has denied Jamie Ryan Weis’s petition for certiorari. Mr. Weis has been sitting in the Spalding County Jail since 2006 charged with murder. His case has not yet gone to trial because the State has funded his prosecution but not his defense. In 2007, Mr. Caldwell removed his death penalty defense lawyers with state-salaried lawyers. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Georgia found no speedy trial violation, in part, blaming Mr. Weis for the delay because he objected to the trial court’s decision to treat his lawyers as fungible. At oral argument, some of the justices suggested that capital defense counsel should be required to donate their time.

Stephen Bright, appellate counsel for Mr. Weis, remains hopeful:

Weis can come back to the court on direct appeal after conviction, and he can petition the federal courts for habeas corpus relief,” Bright said. “I am confident that the Supreme Court or some other reviewing court will recognize the constitutional violation and set aside any conviction that might be obtained. It is just unfortunate that the way the Georgia Supreme Court is treating the right to counsel could not have been corrected at this time in order to avoid unnecessary trials that will be reversed.

The Washington Post chronicled the disturbing story in its September 25 edition.

iPad.JPGI’ve been working hard ever since I left a firm to go out on my own a few years ago to make my practice as paperless as possible. I really don’t want to spend a bunch of money storing old files in a mini warehouse somewhere. And one of the problems with appellate law is that the files get monster huge on even the smallest case. Every file consists of at least a transcript and trial counsel’s original file with a bunch of pleadings and discovery. So, to the extent that I have been able, I have tried to get etranscripts or have tried to scan everything to pdf and immediately send originals back to my client.

I was trying to set up everything to be paperless before the iPad. So, instead of carrying big boxes home and back, I have lived essentially from my laptop with all of my documents uploaded to RocketMatter, which is my practice management choice. Before that, I used TimeMatters, an application that is bloated and geared toward the law office of 1996. They don’t allow you to do anything in the cloud, and the application is prone to crash if you access it via gotomypc. They don’t make a mac version of TM either.

In April I bought the iPad, and I have been working over the last few months to figure out how to integrate it into my practice. I still haven’t figured out exactly how to work it in seamlessly, but I have observed some pluses and minuses with it.


  1. You don’t have to carry as much stuff around. I am gradually managing my files through Dropbox, a cloud-based service that allows you to sync files across multiple computers with a version uploaded to their server. Whenever you make a change in one place, in syncs to the others. If you put your files onto Dropbox, you can access them (for viewing only) on the iPad dropbox application. Meaning, that you can read transcripts on the iPad the way you might an ebook
  2. You can now mark up pdfs on the iPad. Out of the gate, the ability to mark up pdfs was a huge problem with the iPad. Things have gotten better. I have been using iAnnotate PDF, which allows me to write marginal notes, highlight, and underline similarly to what I might do on paper. I haven’t mastered the app yet, but I think it will make transcripts on the iPad much more manageable and “paperlike”
  3. It is a great note-taking device. I love Simplenote. It is a simple text editor that syncs with NotationalVelocity on my Macbook. It’s the perfect thing for taking notes during client interviews or during hearings. I think it might be good for storing notes for oral argument, but there is something about me that still needs paper for those things.
  4. The battery life and dispaly are way better than a laptop or a phone

The pluses are huge, and I have found that my laptop gets nowhere near the use it got before I bought the iPad. I find that the iPad is the device that I grab if I’m headed to the jail to do an interview or to a quick hearing. It is also my go-to device for notetaking or for bringing home a transcript.That said, it isn’t perfect, and it creates some problems, too.



  1. Paperless is great until you find yourself in court where paper trumps data. If you want to show a judge the great case that supports your point, there’s no substitute for a highlighted hard copy. There’s no substitute for witness impeachment than a hard copy of the trial transcript or a prior statement. Sometimes, a good old fashion notebook is better than anything else.
  2. Sometimes, you need the physical objects around. At the end of the day, taking a big ole trancript, a highlighter, some sticky notes, and a good pen, and getting down to work with them is just somehow better than flipping through screens and making virtual annotations. Also, looking at a big banker’s box and knowing that the job isn’t finished until you plow through it and move it someplace else makes it easier to get things done than when that same information is contained in a little icon that looks like a file folder.
  3. The iPad is very modal. With my laptop plugged up to an external monitor, I can have a writing screen and a second screen with the transcript or with a case pulled up. The iPad is not a great content creation device, and I couldn’t imagine actually writing a brief on it. I think that this part will get better. iA Writer is a pretty good writing app that I just added, but something seems lacking even here.
  4. Distraction. Put your phone on do not disturb mode, close your door, and open a transcript, and you will not get interrupted. You can’t stream a Netflix movie through a transcript. A transcript doesn’t beep to alert you that you have an email. You can’t read rss feeds on a transcript. So, if you are going to be doing a lot of transcript reading on the iPad, you should seriously consider turning the wifi off or setting email to not notify you of incoming messages. Also, if you are going to work at a calendar call or in the hallway at the courthouse, you have to factor in the iPad curiosity factor as a detriment to getting things done (“yes, I do like the iPad, thanks.” “umm, no it’s really not a big iPod Touch.” “Really, no, it’s not the same thing as a laptop.”)

I find that I like the iPad a great deal, except when I don’t. It’s helpful to keep a pen and paper nearby when you are reading on it because it’s much easier to write down notes that it is to switch out of transcript reading mode to pull up a writing application. It’s also helpful to turn some of the connectedness off when you want to get down to business. I have also found that a bluetooth keyboard is a handy thing to have. From a fashion standpoint, I use a small netbook bag, which looks way to much like a purse. But otherwise, it’s helped me for the good even if it requires its own level of discipline not to get distracted.