GPSolo Technology & Practice Guide - June 2006
Have It Your Way–for Free
In this messy world of software, websites, and electronic gadgets, do you ever feel like it’s all just junk? Does it seem like there are a lot of folks running around creating new technology products and websites that can do all sorts of obscure things that you don’t really need?
Well, this month’s Being Solo column isn’t about those guys and their stuff. It’s about a product I came across that really is remarkable and useful and—believe it or not— free.
Welcome to the Future
Google Calendar ( http://calendar.google.com) is pretty cool because it allows solos to have what is a standard feature for lawyers at larger law firms—your calendar when and wherever you want it. (Well, “wherever” will have to have an Internet connection or you’re out of luck, but Internet connections are pretty ubiquitous these days.) Google Calendar allows you to share your calendar with selected people or with anyone. And it has some wonderful features that make it a joy to use. All that is required is a Gmail address, Google’s web-based e-mail service.
A good example of its ease of use is the ways you can make a calendar entry. The standard way is to click on “Create Event”; a pretty standard interface will permit you to enter date, time, place, and a description of the activity.
The cutting-edge way, which is a harbinger of the future when we will simply speak to computers in natural language, is to click on “Quick Add” and type “Lunch with Bill Forsyth on Thursday at 12:30 p.m. at Mangia e Bevi,” and Google Calendar will automatically make the entry “Lunch with Bill Forsyth” listing the location as “Mangia e Bevi” on the next Thursday at 12:30 p.m. Better yet, when you click on the event in your calendar, a pop-up will appear with the event information, including a map link next to the location. If you click the map link, not only will you get the address and a map, you will also get a link to reviews of the restaurant and a one- to five-star rating (there were 59 reviews for Mangia e Bevi, a fun Italian restaurant in New York City). Come on, that’s pretty cool, isn’t it? And useful as well.
I have to admit I tried several entries to see what it could do, and it correctly listed a wide variety of natural-language instructions that I threw at it, including “Lunch with Bill Forsyth tomorrow at 12:30 p.m.” and “Lunch with Bill Forsyth today at noon.” Damn, this thing understands me better than my wife! (Note to Google Calendar—“Buy flowers for wife today.”)
And wait, there are still more amazing things that this product can do. Want a calendar of events imported to your calendar? You can do this in just a few clicks. Use the “Calendar Search” to search all publicly available Google Calendars with a relevant search term to find the calendar that you want. With one click it will all be imported into your calendar.
One calendar that I’ve found helpful in my law practice is titled “American Holidays.” Not only did it list every American holiday, but it also listed a number of religious and ethnic holidays, including Christian, Jewish, and Muslim holidays. If you want to know more about a particular holiday, just click on the link “More,” and in most cases you will be taken to a web page giving a detailed description. This is useful when scheduling meetings, court dates, etc., in our increasingly multicultural world.
But what if you find that a public or private calendar that you have added is cluttering up your calendar? Just click on the box for the calendar that you want to remove on the list of all of your calendars on the left side of the screen, and all of that particular calendar’s dates will be instantly removed. Want it back? Click on the box again and, presto, they’re back!
This multiple calendar feature could be handy if you have a partner or an assistant. You both could keep your calendars on the same Google Calendar and check the other whenever you need to. Or one calendar could be business and the other personal, for yourself and your entire family. While at work you can temporarily remove the personal calendar. Create new calendars for new needs and decide for each one whether it should be public or private.
If you receive an e-mail in the Gmail account associated with your Google Calendar containing language that appears to be an appointment, with one click you can have the event entered into your Google Calendar. Google Calendar automatically will extract the information from the e-mail to create an event for your calendar.
Some other useful if not as flashy features are the ability to change an appointment by dragging and dropping it to another day and time, a recurring appointments entry feature, and month, week, and day views. You can also send out invitations for your events and send reminders via e-mail or a text message to your cell phone.
Of course, Google Calendar becomes less wonderful if you can’t get online. It doesn’t synchronize with PDAs or other calendar programs, although it will import data from Outlook and Yahoo! Calendar. However, you can view your schedule offline using any application that accepts iCal or XML files. You also can print out your schedule from Google Calendar.
Google’s online calendar program is still in beta form, although it looks and operates like a finished piece of software. It is the latest in Google’s ever-growing array of software that it offers to the public at no charge. Their business model is to give online software products away and make their money by placing relevant ad links along the side of the web page. No surprise that this is something that Microsoft isn’t too pleased about. Not too long ago Google bought a company that makes an online word processing program. Guess what we’ll be seeing soon?
Right now there are no ads on Google Calendar, and perhaps there never will be if Google finds another way to make money off of this product. The ads will not be an issue for me, but perhaps they would be for you.
To Be or Not to Be
Is Google Calendar for you? I suggest that you play with it a bit and see if you feel comfortable with its functionality, which is pretty slick. At least it isn’t a new software product that promises to keep your sock drawer in order.
David Leffler is a member of the New York City law firm Leffler Marcus & McCaffrey LLC, which represents clients in business matters and litigation. Prior to that he was a solo attorney for over a dozen years. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.