Google’s Best-Kept Secret
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 more than a dozen years. In his spare time he blogs at staringatstrangers.com. You may write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You’ve somehow lost the details of the past few weeks of your billing records. You either wrote it on a piece of paper that you misplaced, or you stored it in your computer billing program but the database has become corrupted and you have no backup (bad, bad boy! bad, bad girl!), or you just can’t remember what you worked on yesterday (or today, for that matter). How do you recover some record of what you did? If you don’t remember, you’ve lost many dollars’ worth of billings.
You can try to assemble a record of your work by looking at your files for documents that you’ve drafted. You could look at your office correspondence file if you have one. But either of these solutions will most likely result in your still losing quite a bit of your billable hours.
Or perhaps you’ve edited or deleted a document and now would like to see the prior version, but it’s no longer on your PC. Is there a way that you can recover the original?
Here’s a solution for both of these problems that I haven’t seen discussed anywhere else (tell them you saw it in Being Solo first): Google Desktop’s timeline feature. What, you’re not jumping up and down on the floor in ecstatic joy? You’ve never even heard of this feature? Or where to get it?
Read on to become brilliant.
One Part Heart of Toad . . .
Nah, just kidding. It’s much easier than that. Go to http://desktop.google.com/ and select “Agree and Download.” Download and install Google Desktop, which has many features, including the one for which it is mostly known: its ability to instantly search for all documents, e-mails, websites viewed, etc., on your PC that contain a key word or words. It can do this “instantly” because Desktop indexes your entire hard drive, making searches a breeze.
[One word of caution: Be sure that you do not already have PC search software operating on your computer—only one indexing software application can operate effectively on your PC at a time.]
A feature that is not even described on the Google Desktop feature web page is timeline. Timeline tracks each document that you’ve opened, every e-mail that you’ve sent or read, and every web page that you’ve visited, and it maintains at least one cache copy on your hard drive.
Once you’ve installed Desktop, simply go to www.google.com, select “Desktop,” and then select “Browse Timeline.” A page will come up in your browser that you’ve probably never seen before: a list of links to all e-mails, files, and web pages that you have accessed, with the most recent first. For most lawyers, this will cover a lot of their day’s activity. Pretty nifty tool if you ask me.
There is one line for each file, with the time of indexing displayed at the beginning of each line. Files are indexed fairly close to the time of their creation or editing, so if you see that a client document has been indexed at 12:34 PM on Monday, this can jog your memory and give you a pretty good idea of what you were doing at that time. Perhaps you wrote an e-mail to the client after you finished the work, including the document as an attachment. A link to the e-mail will be displayed with a time reference, giving you more information regarding your activities.
To the right of the page is a calendar that allows you to jump to any date that has been recorded.
Another amazing Google Desktop feature is that you can open prior versions of edited documents and documents that you have deleted, even if emptied from your Recycle Bin, because Google Desktop caches all of your documents onto your computer. Just click on the link to open the document.
The timeline view lists files, e-mails, and web pages all together, but if you are just interested in a single category, say files, you can click on the link “Files” on the top of the page, and that’s all you will see. There is also a link for “e-mails” and “web history” if you wish to select either one of these for separate viewing.
Spy on Your Own PC
If others have access to your user account on your PC and you are concerned about whether they have used it in your absence, or if you simply want to monitor user accounts of other PCs in your office for which you have log-in information, Google Desktop provides an excellent way to do this. (Yes, this will work on your teenage son or daughter’s computer as well, if you have their log-in information.) You can see what websites were visited, what documents were opened, and what e-mails were drafted. Better yet, if documents worked on have been deleted in an attempt to hide this activity, Google Desktop has kept a copy in cache that you can open and review.
But What about Your Privacy?
Google Desktop is a remarkable software product that permits you to search for any term on your PC with results returned to you immediately, and it provides a detailed record of your computer’s use. But what if you don’t want anyone else to have access to this information?
Desktop has an optional feature that requires entry of a password before searching your PC. In addition, Desktop does not index secure web pages unless you choose this option, so your online banking transactions and other such activities will not show up in a Desktop search. You can encrypt index and data files created by Desktop as well, although this will, in Google’s words, “reduce the performance of Google Desktop.”
Desktop permits you to remove any of the entries that it has made (and provides a one-click feature to remove all entries) without affecting the underlying records. This provides at least some measure of protection. Beyond that, I recommend that you not be too casual about allowing others to use your computer or leaving your computer in an unlocked area without the requirement of password entry before using it. Your clients’ documents are on that PC, so you do want to take certain measures that will provide a reasonable amount of protection from unauthorized access.
You Already Know about Wearing Your Seatbelt
Feeling brilliant? I hope so. You now have access to a whole set of very useful tools for your law practice that are absolutely free. I just hope that this doesn’t lead to sloppy computer habits for all the solo attorneys out there who have just read this column.