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7 Reasons to Take Your Practice Digital

August 02, 2010 By: Reid Category: Firm Management & Operations, Technology

In his July Lawyers USA column, our good friend Jim Calloway strongly encourages law firms to move away from paper files to digital files, and provides seven compelling reasons to make the move now. I’ve been an advocate of this too, but not as strongly or cogently as Jim puts forth in his column. Definitely worth the read.

From my experience, the main reason law firms don’t make the move to digital is that their computer files are often messier than their paper files. They just don’t have a standardized methodology to name, store, and retrieve documents when they need them.  And firms that have instituted a file naming and storing protocol within their firm can get sloppier over time, and then abandon it as staff turnover and lack of training can come into play.

Standardization is a pain in the neck to many lawyers, but as Jim’s column points out, times are changing and we need to move with the changes or become irrelevant to clients. Now is the time to commence or restart your document naming and storage protocol within your firm. If your protocol is working well, still take time to make sure each person in for office is fully trained and in compliance.

If you need help establishing a protocol, here is an excellent article by fellow ABA TECHSHOW Board member and Ontario lawyer, Donna Neff, that takes you through step by step. The ABA’s Site-tation blog also lists some excellent resources too.

Top Ten iPhone Apps for Busy Lawyers

February 11, 2010 By: Reid Category: Client Service, Firm Management & Operations, Marketing and Client Development, Technology

In a few weeks, I’ll be presenting the seminar 60 iPhone Apps in 60 Minutes at ABA TECHSHOW, but I thought I’d share a sneak peek at ten of the best apps for busy lawyers. Thanks to my co-presenter, Jeff Richardson, of iPhoneJD fame for his contributions to this post. These are among the top apps to keep iPhone lawyers productive and successful.

AppBoxPro.  Every iPhone owner needs one of these multi-function apps that includes a currency converter, date calculator, translator (text), tip calculator, international holiday calendar, unit converter, battery life meter, and more. AppBoxPro is the best I’ve found to date. This one $0.99 app thus replaces the need for many separate, single function $0.99 apps.

Bento. Bento is a $50 powerful but easy to use database for the Mac.  It doesn’t have all of the features of a professional database program like its big brother FileMaker Pro.  But if you use a Mac and you need to create a database to keep track of just about anything for yourself, Bento is a great fit.  It is designed to look like iTunes, and is just as easy to use.  The $4.99 Bento iPhone app can be used as a standalone product, but is most useful as a companion to the desktop app.  You can sync the app with your computer, and virtually all of the fields are carried over to the iPhone, including any fields that contain pictures. You can also create a new database from within the Bento app.  Indeed, if you don’t have a Mac running Bento, then this is the only way to use the app.  When you tap the “New Library” button you can create either a blank database or can start with a pre-designed template and then edit it.  Templates are included for the following: Projects, Contacts, To Do Items, Recipes, Diet Log, Events, Files, Inventory, Event Planning, Time Billing, Home Inventory, Expenses, Exercise Log, Vehicle Maintenance, Classes, Digital Media, Student List, Membership List, Products for Sale, Equipment, Issue Tracking, Items Sold, Customer, Donations, and Notes. Each one of those templates are excellent examples of the types of databases that it would be handy to keep on your iPhone.  The Bento app also, by default, includes a database called Address Book.  This database contains all of the contents of the Contacts on your iPhone and is always synced with the latest information.

Bump. Bump is a new way to exchange contact information instead of using business cards. Merely open the app and select the amount of personal information you want to divulge, then gently bump your iPhone against the other person’s iPhone and you will share information almost instantly. Yep, this is a high-tech business card exchange.

Documents to Go Premium
.  This app lets you edit, create, and view Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files.  (You can also view, but not edit, other file formats such as PDF, Apple iWork, and others.)  The editing features are sophisticated, but the app also does a much better job of viewing files than the iPhone does on its own.  And if you use Microsoft Exchange or Gmail for your e-mail, this is the only app that can directly access your e-mail attachments so that you can download an attachment to an e-mail, view or edit it, and then send it to someone.  This is an essential app for most every lawyer.

Dragon Dictation. Just as powerful as it’s big brother Dragon Dictate, this free, easy-to-use voice-recognition app is a quick alternative to typing e-mails, text messages, tweeting, or updating your status on Facebook. Damn accurate too.

DropBox. This is yet another file sharing service that provides on-line file storage, access, and sharing from multiple computers and mobile devices. It has a very clean interface and is easy to install and set up. Users receive 2 gigs of storage for free, with 50 gigs running $10 per month, a bit pricey given other available options. Still, I keep documents I am presently working on in my DropBox account, just in case I need a copy.

Google Mobile App. You can always do a Google search using the Safari web browser on the iPhone, but the marquee feature of the free Google Mobile app is the ability to just speak your search terms.  Start the app and hold up the iPhone to your face.  The app will use the proximity sensor to sense your face and play a beep so that you can say some search terms.  Give the app a second and look at the screen, and you will see search results.

People
.  This free app is essentially a national “White Pages” database at your fingertips, and a very good one at that. It can search for a phone number, requiring a last name and city; it will search for a person or business based on a street address and zip code; and it is a reverse phone directory too. It’s very handy for personal and professional use, and avoids many of the ads and sales pitches from websites promising similar services.

ScanR Business Center. There are other apps like ScanR (such as DocScanner and JotNot) and they cost less, but you’ll be happier paying the price for this one. ScanR allows you to create PDFs using your iPhone camera or using a picture on your camera roll. Just take a picture of the document you need, upload it to your ScanR account (free to set up), the document is next e-mailed to you as a PDF, but not a searchable PDF. If needed, quickly run the new PDF through OCR software and now you have an editable document. I’ve tested this from business cards to old magazine articles, and I have not been disappointed yet.

Skype.
This app lets you make either free or very cheap calls on your iPhone using VOIP (voice over internet protocol).  While you can use this app at home, it is particularly useful when you are traveling internationally.  If you have Wi-Fi access, such as in a hotel, you can talk to any user on Skype for free, or even more useful, you can call any landline or cell phone in the U.S. for just a few pennies per minute, which is far less than you would pay with international roaming charges, not to mention far less than what most hotels charge to make international phone calls.
Bonus app because I couldn’t cull the list down to ten!

Things. This task management app is for iPhone users but also has a separate app for Mac computers. It does one thing very well and only one thing: it keeps track of your projects. It’s not cluttered with calendar, contact manager, and other functions, which allows this app to have a very clean interface. That makes it easy to use for just about anyone. When the app is opened I can clearly see what I need to complete today, what I have scheduled to do next, and what ideas I have recorded to complete in the future. When installed on both a Mac and an iPhone, information can be synced over the same wireless network.

Want more? Join us at ABA TECHSHOW in March!

Listen to the ABA TECHSHOW Keynote by Dr Richard Susskind: Is It The End of Lawyers?

April 21, 2009 By: Dan Category: Announcements

The attendees at ABA TECHSHOW 2009 where treated to a fantastic keynote presentation by Dr Richard Susskind. He spoke about the hypothesis of his new book, The End of Lawyers?

Now the good news for all those that couldn’t attend TECHSHOW: an audio recording of Dr Susskind’s keynote is now available on the TECHSHOW site. It is most definitely worth a listen.

The title and theme of Dr. Susskind’s book – the end of lawyers – appears on first blush to be rather ominous. And while it is, most people miss is the question mark, and its implication. The title asks a question. It is not a statement. In his book Dr. Susskind asks and explores the extent to which the role of the traditional lawyer can be sustained in coming years in the face of what he sees as challenging trends in the legal marketplace, and various new techniques and technologies for the delivery of legal services. Dr. Susskind has assembled a collection of predictions and observations about a generally honourable profession that is, he argues, on the brink of fundamental transformation. He urges lawyers to ask themselves what elements of their current workload could be undertaken more quickly, more cheaply, more efficiently, or to a higher quality using different and new methods of working. He argues that the market is unlikely to tolerate expensive lawyers for tasks that can be better discharged with support of modern technology systems and techniques. The book does point to a future in which conventional legal advisers will be much less prominent in society than today. This he says will be caused by two forces: a market pull towards commoditization and by pervasive development and uptake of information technology. Commoditization and IT will fundamentally reshape twenty-first century legal service.

I am reading Dr. Susskind’s book now, and plan to comment more on it in a upcoming SLAW posts. Lawyers interested in a future in the practice of law should read this book. If my statement alone doesn’t convince you to do that, listen to Dr. Susskind’s keynote – it argues very persuasively that change is upon us.

Also posted on SLAW (www.slaw.ca).

My Favorite Tips from ABA TECHSHOW 2009

April 08, 2009 By: Reid Category: Firm Management & Operations, Technology

The 2009 edition of the ABA TECHSHOW wrapped on Saturday, leaving attendees full of great information to bring back to their firms to organize, synthesize, and implement.  It’s that last step that is often so difficult. That’s why Dan and I like the tips format so much—the brevity of a tip can help streamline the implementation of new ideas within a law firm.

In fact, Dan and I were invited to present the TECHSHOW session, 60 Tips in 60 Minutes–a perennial favorite. Joined by Nancy Duhon and Ben Schorr, we launched 60 practical tips at our audience of 350+ lawyers in just over an hour. Many of the tips focused on new productivity tricks or helpful websites.  Here are a few of my favorites:

On-line Legal Dictionaries: As we do more and more of our work digitally, online and almost joined at the fingertips to our keyboards, having a digital searchable legal dictionary can be mighty handy. Come on, really, when was the last time you arm curled that six pound Black’s Law Dictionary to look up a word, or obscure Latin abbreviation? Two of the best online resources specifically for lawyers are: Legal-dictionary.org and its sister site Legal-abbreviations.org They both also have links to medical dictionaries and abbreviations for those who need those as well. (Nancy)

Be the Evening News: YouTube and video technology will have the same effect on television news as the Internet has had on newspapers. No longer will visual content be in the hands of a few producers and purveyors. Law firms can create positive messages to influence debate, inform clients of important regulatory and legal developments, and extend firm marketing activities beyond the written word and static page. Current amateur efforts on YouTube will soon be replaced by inexpensive, but quality productions. Add these new efforts to your firm marketing and client development plans. (Reid)

GreenPrint and Fine Print: These small applications act as an intermediary between your print job and your printer driver. Once you click the print button and choose one of these drivers, you will get a preview of your print job and can determine whether you really need all those pages and graphics. You can also change your mind and produce a PDF instead. Wonderful way to set yourself and your staff thinking twice about continuing to produce paper, or at least producing less of it. (Nancy)

Banish the New E-mail Pop-up: Most people computer’s present that little “new message” pop-up window come up every single time an e-mail message arrives in their Inbox. Stop the insanity – it’s just a huge interruption. You know, the beep goes off, and you get bounced out of whatever you were working in, and your train of thought gets interrupted. Turn off that notification window!! Go with just the beep if you have to. And, if you don’t need to know the instant when something arrives in your inbox (and most of the time you don’t), consider turning off the beep too. You’re going to check your Inbox reasonably regularly anyway. (Dan)

It’s All “About Me”: Do you have a website or a blog with an “About Me” or biography page? How effective is your profile on that page? If it is just a few boring lines and a picture, why not take time to make it really work for you? Make it pop! Add links to your digital life and digital “ink”. Let viewers of your page connect to you via links to your social networking pages, as well as links to articles, case decisions, interviews, awards, pro bono work, and other information about you on-line. (Reid)

Excel: Fill Handle: Ever need to take a series of numbers, dates, months or letters and extend them down a column or across a row in Excel? Need to fill in the names of the months across a report for instance but get bored with typing them before you even get to May? Have a handy formula in a cell that you
want to copy down the next 250 rows but don’t want to have to copy/paste that many times? The Fill Handle is for you! When you select one or more cells in Excel you’ll see that the bottom right corner of the selection looks like a black box. Hover your mouse over that and your cursor turns to a black plus-sign. That’s the Fill Handle. Give Excel enough cells to establish the pattern and the Fill Handle can do the work for you. Just type “Jan” in a cell, then drag the Fill Handle across to the right and Excel magically populates the succeeding cells with the rest of the months. Type “1”, “2”, “3” in sequential rows, highlight all three of those cells, then drag the Fill Handle down and it will continue the series as far as you drag. (Ben)

Blackberry Typing Tricks: You want to make the most out of that microscopic keyboard, right? It works reasonably well once you get used to it, but here are some cool typing tricks you might not know about that will save you some time and effort in formatting and the like:
* To type a capital letter, press and hold the appropriate letter key.
* To type an accented letter, hold the letter key down, roll the trackball to view the available accented letters, and release to insert the one you want.
* To turn on Number Lock, hold the Alt key and press the left Shift key.
* To turn on Caps Lock, hold the Alt key and press the right Shift key.
* Pressing either Shift key will turn Number or Caps Lock off.
* To insert a period, press the Space key twice, and you’ll find that the next letter will automatically be capitalized, too.
* To insert a period or at sign (@) into an e-mail address, just press Space.
* To type a symbol, press the Symbol key and type the letter that appears below the symbol on your screen (read this one twice so you don’t miss the point—i.e., you don’t have to scroll and click on the symbols you want, you just use the letters instead). (Dan)

AutoHotKey: AutoHotKey is a free portable scripting language. That sounds intimidating but it’s not. With just a little effort you can create simple scripts that you can use on any Windows PC to automate launching programs, executing repetitive tasks, inserting specific bits of text. Create a signature block or disclaimer in AutoHotKey and you can immediately insert it into any program or website with just a couple of key presses or even a mouse gesture.
Best of all, it’s free at http://www.autohotkey.com along with free sample scripts and tools that you can look at. (Ben)

Set Wider Scroll Bars: We all use scroll bars for moving around documents and Web pages, and making the bars just a bit wider will make them much easier to click on. Under the Item drop-down list, select Scrollbar. Next, use the up or down arrows next to Size to find the width you want. The default is 16. I have mine set to 21. Again, watch your changes in the Preview pane, and when you like what you see, click on Okay to keep the change. Note that making your scroll bars wider will also make the up and down arrows on your scroll bars larger, which will make them easier to click on as well. Changing the size of the caption buttons and scroll bars will give you the most bang for your buck. But look through the other things listed in the Item drop-down list. Alternatively, you can click on the various elements in the Preview box, and then make configurations changes to them. (Dan)

And then there’s the famous 60 Websites in 60 Minutes session at TECHSHOW too. We’ve cover our favorites there in another post later this week!

Our favorite go-to, get-it-done, easy-to-use iPhone apps for lawyers, TECHSHOW 2009 edition

April 02, 2009 By: Reid Category: Uncategorized

The Apple iPhone is the best piece of technology I have ever owned. It does amazing things to allow busy lawyers to stay connected and be productive from just about anywhere. But don’t just take my word for it: Three leading Mac/iPhone blawgers, Jeff Richardson, David Sparks, and Ben Stevens (and me) got together in advance of the 2009 ABA TECHSHOW to publish our list of favorite productive, must-have apps for the iPhone, simultaneously publishing it today on our 4 blogs, and in advance of our roundtable tomorrow here at TECHSHOW, Is That an iPhone in Your Pocket?!

Update: Here is the link to the favorite iPhone apps blog post.