General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division

Technology & Practice Guide

Computer Tips from Practicing Lawyers

The following article is excerpted from "Thirty Computer Tips from Practicing Lawyers." Reprinted with permission of the August 1996 Wisconsin Lawyer, the official publication of the State Bar of Wisconsin, and the authors.

I Know I Have It Somewhere

Can you find your client’s work if your secretary is gone? Unless you are using a document management system, you need some simple rules to standardize document organization.

Since all your clients have a name, consider a separate subdirectory for each client matter, using the last name or the first eight characters of the last name as the client subdirectory. If you have several clients with the same last name, use the first three characters of the first name as part of the subdirectory name, as the extension. When you have multiple matters for the same client pending at the same time, use the client last name as the main client subdirectory. Under that client subdirectory use separate subdirectories for each individual matter or file opened, using as a subdirectory name the nature of the matter (contract or adoption) or the name of the adverse party.

Source: Robert Hagness, Hagness Law Offices, Modovi, Wisconsin.

Make Your Primary Computer a Laptop

Consider purchasing a laptop computer as your next primary computer. At a minimum, the portability of the laptop can dramatically increase your flexibility. While it is still possible to spend less and get more for your dollar by purchasing a desktop rather than a portable computer, the prices of laptops make it possible to get a powerful laptop at a reasonable price. The advantages include:

• you can take your work out of your office;

• you don’t have to dial in to check your files; they are right there on your hard drive;

• you can work while traveling or during other "down" time;

• you can work at home (with your spouse’s approval).

Source: Michael Morse, von Briesen, Purtell & Roper S.C., Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Backup Your Laptop

A shocking number of laptop-toting lawyers never back up their data. This incorporates a level of risk that is roughly akin to driving racing cars without adequate brakes and no life insurance.

The ways to back up laptop data are numerous, but the key to getting it done is having a really easy process; the less work involved in backing up, the more likely it will get done more often. If you plug your laptop into your office network periodically, your network administrator can create a special "login" or "logout" process that will copy your laptop’s data files to a specially designated storage area on your network. If your laptop remains roving, the best bet is one of the crop of portable backup systems, most notably, the James Bondesque new Pereos from Datasonix. This device ways 8 ounces, meaning it’s small enough to stuff into your laptop carrying case, runs on two AA batteries and stores up to 1.2 gigabytes of data on a tape the size of a thick postage stamp—for under $500! The bottom line? Do it.

Source: Ross L. Kodner, MicroLaw Inc. and columnist for several computer magazines, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Keep It Simple

Don’t invent a new system when the old one will do. If you have been successfully using an "in" box and an "out" box for many years, consider doing the same thing with your computer. Create a subdirectory called "in" and another called "out," and ask your staff to place all new documents for your review in the "in" subdirectory. Make this the default subdirectory when you start your word processor, and you never again will need to ask staff if they have finished transcribing what you are anxious to review. This simplifies locating work that needs review and permits "electronic filing" after documents are placed in the "out" subdirectory.

After printing the document I have finished reviewing, I use a macro to place the revised document in the "out" subdirectory, clear my word processing screen, delete the document from my "in" subdirectory, and position the cursor to retrieve the next document for review. It happens faster than you can read this.

Source: Robert Hagness, Hagness Law Offices, Modovi, Wisconsin.

Carry a "Road Warrior’s Tool Kit" When Traveling with Your Laptop

A principal advantage of a laptop computer is the ability to use your computer away from your office or home. Consider adding a kit to your laptop case that includes extra items likely to be used when away from the office. These items may make the difference between using your laptop or being out of luck: telephone cord, telephone cord connector, "Y" jack for telephone outlets, electrical extension cord, disks with blank labels, three-prong adaptor and second battery.

Source: Dean B. Richards, Gray & End, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Synchronize Platforms

Working with both a laptop and a desktop computer can significantly improve the ease and flexibility of your work. But all advantages will be out the window if the files you have worked on are not synchronized. Since transferred or copied files are overwritten, not integrated, unsynchronized files will force you to choose which of two data versions you will save. Programs such as LapLink and File Runner simplify the process of synchronizing files on different platforms.

Source: Dean B. Richards, Gray & End, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Attend the ABA Tech Show

This trade show features exhibits and seminars on a huge array of computer-related products, subjects and issues, especially for lawyers, legal staff, and law offices and departments...The exhibits and handout material (also provided on CD-ROM) alone are worth the price of admission. Exhibitors tend to offer hands-on demonstrations and "mini-clinics" on their products allowing you to experience the product before buying.

Source: Dean B. Richards, Gray & End, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

When Buying a New Laser Printer, Consider Its Ability to Ease the Load on Your Photocopy Machine

An HP 5™ laser printer will print six to 12 pages per minute and go 6,800 or more copies before needing a toner change, lasting longer than many photocopiers. An HP 5 costs what an HP 3 did three years ago and offers features such as multiple trays, an envelope feeder and duplex printing all present and available simultaneously. No collating yet, but you get the point.

Source: Jon R. Wilcox, Law Offices of Jon Wilcox, Elm Grove, Wisconsin.

Watch Out—The "Polling Feature" on Your Fax Machines May Send Your Secrets

Don’t abandon documents you send from your fax machine. If they remain in the tray to be sent, an incoming fax may activate your machine’s polling feature, sending your material to whomever just sent you a fax. I imagine many of you pop documents in the send tray and leave for home at night. If, after you leave, your machine "times out" from busy signals or no answer and your fax remains unsent, your precious documents are vulnerable overnight if someone sends you a fax and your polling feature is not disabled. Most machines have this feature, so learn it and be aware.

Source: Jon R. Wilcox, Law Offices of Jon Wilcox, Elm Grove, Wisconsin.

Pick the Brains of Lawyers All Over the Country

The best way to do this is through subscribing to list serves, which basically are automated distribution systems for Internet email. There are hundreds of thousands of lists, on virtually all imaginable subjects; you only need to investigate the lists that concern areas of law that you’re interested in. Once you subscribe, you will get all the email messages that are transmitted to the list by other subscribers, and anything you send will be "circulated" to everyone on the list.

Source: Mark M. Leitner, Kravit, Gass & Weber S.C., Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Save Those Netserve Commands

God help you if you ever need to resubscribe or unsubscribe to an email list serve. If you have not saved those commands you normally get upon initial subscription, you will never remember the commands when you really need them. The commands usually go to a server that is different from the posting server. Create a folder in your email program to save all those List Serve command messages.

Source: Jon R. Wilcox, Law Offices of Jon Wilcox, Elm Grove, Wisconsin.

Locate Expert Witnesses Using the Net

For some time, the best method to locate an expert witness was to search universities’ Gopher sites to locate faculty members. The growing sophistication of the Net as a marketing tool, and the dramatic increase in its use by lawyers, have created many more resources. Many experts have their own web sites, which can be found using a web browser, such as Netscape. In addition, several organizations maintain web sites that list experts. There is at least one mailing list (Expert-L) to which both lawyers and experts subscribe. (This list can be useful to lawyers trying to learn about the backgrounds of opponents’ experts.)

Source: Mark M. Leitner, Kravit, Gass & Weber S.C., Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Never Use the Internet for Distributing Commercial Advertising Material

[E]xcept in an area clearly designated for such use or in response to a specific request. The practice of undifferentiated commercial distribution is called "spam-ming," and it is decidedly a bad (not to mention rude) idea. You may be intrigued by the prospect of reaching millions of potential clients all over the world with a single message. If you try it, you may get a client or two, but you will be flooded with thousands of hostile electronic responses, kicked off the Net by your service provider, and ridiculed in electronic and print media throughout the world. The Net’s virulent hostility to commercialism does not extend to the maintenance of web sites, which are perfectly legitimate marketing vehicles because they are not intrusive—people do not access a homepage unless they are looking for it or something like it.

If someone on a mailing list asks for the name of a probate lawyer in Wisconsin, you may say "that’s me," but even then you should reply by private email.

Source: Mark M. Leitner, Kravit, Gass & Weber S.C., Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Use Encryption for Any Sensitive or Confidential Communications

For most Internet users, the fact that email is not secure should not pose a problem; it is easy to take advantage of email’s convenience to arrange for a substantive discussion on the phone or in person. But if you have any reason to suspect commercial espionage, it simply makes sense to use an encryption program to ensure confidential communications. This is not just paranoia, it is common sense. G. Burgess Allison has written in The Lawyer’s Guide to the Internet, if you are doing "high-profile" work, "you can assume you’ve been targeted [by hackers]. Trust me." The best-known encryption program is PGP; the commercial version (required for use in a law practice) is called ViaCrypt.

Source: Mark M. Leitner, Kravit, Gass & Weber S.C., Milwaukee, Wisconsin. n

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