GPSOLO June 2009
SITES FOR SORE EYES
No Lawyer Is an Island
No lawyer, even a solo, truly works alone. Lawyers always need to communicate and collaborate with clients, and frequently they must do so with other lawyers—to plan meetings, schedule conference calls, share documents, and work from remote locations. It just so happens that we ourselves are familiar with many of these interactions—and the headaches that can be associated with them. Luckily, our handy Favorites folder is stuffed to the gills with sites on the subject.
Our friends Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell literally wrote the book on this topic. The Lawyers’ Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technology is available for purchase from the American Bar Association ( www.abanet.org/abastore). But we’re not here to help them sell their book—we’re here to tell you about the free resources that they have made available online about this topic on their blog and wiki: www.lawyersguidetocollaboration.com. They post some of the tools from the book and will be able to cover new tools that emerge. This should be a place of continuing activity for those of us with an interest in this topic.
And here’s an idea: a website about collaboration tools that is a collaboration tool itself. Yes, this is the collaboration tools wiki: http://collaborationtools.pbwiki.com. Wikis are a method of online collaboration (the most well-known example is Wikipedia). This wiki is in the early stages yet, but it has great potential for generating information and discussion about collaboration.
Sharing documents as e-mail attachments can frequently create problems for lawyers. You want to e-mail a large file attachment, but after a few phone calls (“did you get it yet?”), you discover the other party’s e-mail server limits the size of file attachments. A common limit is 2 MB to 4 MB. But if you embed a few images in a Word document, it can easily exceed that size. Likewise, a PowerPoint slide show can run 40 MB or 50 MB. So what do you do? Pull out a CD-ROM and a postage stamp? No, you go to YouSendIt ( www.yousendit.com), which allows you to send large file attachments by uploading the file to an outside server. The intended recipient then receives an e-mail with a link to click, which downloads the file. There are a number of plans available, from pay-per-use to monthly subscriptions. The file size can be as large as 2 GB, depending on the plan you choose, but you can send 100 MB for free. A free trial of the subscription service is available—check YouSendIt’s website for details.
Jim has used drop.io ( http://drop.io) to build free temporary online document repositories. You can upload documents, fax them in, or even call and leave a voice message as an MP3 file. It is really slick and the price is right: free. The site also features another page ( http://collab.io) that is an easy way to create a drop.io workspace for your online collaborators.
A really nice collaboration tool is Adobe Connect ( www.acrobat.com), which is part of the Acrobat site and also comes with the Adobe Acrobat professional package. This is one of the best and easiest online meeting tools available, and although the standard package has a monthly fee, at the website it is free for up to three people. Try it the next time you want to hold a small online conference.
Another reason to use collaboration tools is to get help. Everyone needs some technology help once in a while, including us. If you’ve ever had a friend try to walk you through a computer fix over the phone, you know how frustrating it can be. That’s why we were happy to try out CrossLoop ( www.crossloop.com) recently. CrossLoop is a free program for sharing your computer screen with someone else. CrossLoop offers the ability to find low-cost, qualified tech support online, anytime. Several of our colleagues use this to provide parental tech support. Other options for sharing your desktop are TeamViewer ( www.teamviewer.com), which is free for home use, and RealVNC ( www.realvnc.com/products/download.html).
Of course, communicating on the Internet usually means e-mail. We are big proponents of Gmail ( http://mail.google.com). There are lots of web-based e-mail services, but Gmail is so good that many have started using it as their primary account. (One drawback is that inserting images in the body of an e-mail in Gmail isn’t as easy as in Outlook or other programs.) It offers most of the features you would want for a complete e-mail service with virtually unlimited storage. (After four or five years you will likely have to do some maintenance, perhaps spending two or three hours pruning old e-mails and the same amount of effort perhaps every other year after that.) Finding a particular e-mail is a snap because you now have the power of Google attached to both your Inbox and other e-mail folders. But whether you use it very often or not, you simply must have a Gmail account these days if you want to be connected to the wide range of free web services and products that Google offers.
Speaking of which . . . take a look at some of the really good (and free!) collaboration and creativity products from Google ( www.google.com/options). Although we can’t cover them all, they include Google Docs, Google Calendar, Google Groups, Google Talk, Picasa, and Google Custom Search Engine. There are many other online collaborative tools out there, but not many are both free and backed by a company as large or successful as Google.
Google Docs and Google Calendar can be accessed from the Google home page by signing in to your Google account, clicking on “more” at the upper left, and selecting what you need. You can also add buttons to your Google Toolbar for convenience. With Docs, you can create word processing documents, presentations, and spreadsheets. We have primarily used Docs because it saves us from having to create numerous drafts and e-mail them back and forth to each other. Instead, we either start our document online or copy-and-paste a Word document to a new document on Docs. We click the button to “share” and add the name of our co-authors and give them access rights. Here’s the coolest thing about it: We can work on the same document almost simultaneously! A pop-up shows which author is typing in real time. When we’re finished, we can download a copy in several formats, including Word. By subtracting all the e-mails and frustration, we’re saving a good bit of time using Google Docs. True, it doesn’t offer all the features of a full-blown word processor such as Word, but, hey, did we mention it’s free? (For more on Google Docs, see Bryan M. Sims’s article “Collaborative Sites” in this issue.)
Google Calendar gives you a good online calendar and the ability to create events and share calendars with other people. The calendar view can be customized by day, week, month, and four-day time span. You can also produce and print an agenda from your calendar items. The “Quick Add” tool is great—it allows you to type something in plain words, such as “column due next Thursday” and have it entered correctly on the calendar. Although it’s possible to import calendar items from Outlook (and Yahoo! and Apple iCal) to Google Calendar (and vice versa), the imported calendar is static and doesn’t update automatically. Outlook 2007 has the ability to subscribe to Google Calendar to periodically check for updates and copy to Outlook. And Google Calendar has a built-in Google search, too.
Although we are both fans of Google Docs (and in fact used it to prepare this column), there are other online contenders in the document creation space. EtherPad ( http://etherpad.com) and TextFlow ( www.textflow.com) are two new document creation sites that are doing some cool new things.
SoloSez ( www.abanet.org/soloseznet), the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division’s listserve, is a boon to lawyers enjoying solo or small firm life but missing the camaraderie and advice of other lawyers. Although it’s great to get ideas and tips from other small firm lawyers, subscribing to an electronic mailing list that generates more than 100 e-mails per day is overwhelming to some. To boil this number down to just one e-mail a day, subscribe to the handy digest-version of SoloSez. If you aren’t sure about subscribing yet, check out the best tips from SoloSez online ( www.abanet.org/soloseznet/threads/index.html). Dip your toe in the water with a monthly visit to see the most popular or interesting discussions on the SoloSez community without having to subscribe. Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself diving in some day.
For the solo and small firm lawyer, remote access to the office PC from home or on the road can be critical. Several services are available that allow you to use an Internet connection from one “remote” PC to use your office computer (which is also connected to the Internet). LogMeIn ( https://secure.logmein.com) is a free service that allows secure remote access, but the paid service offers many more features, including the ability to transfer files back and forth. You can even use it with your iPhone thanks to a new app called LogMeIn Ignition, which sells for $29.99 and works on both the iPhone and the iPod Touch. Another product you may like is GoToMyPC ( www.gotomypc.com). Although it isn’t free, it does have a free 30-day trial and the backing of Citrix, a trusted name in remote access for larger firms.
Sites for Sore Eyes Lightning Round!
- One of our pet peeves is long URLs (web addresses). Ever share a link via e-mail, only to find that it broke into three parts and the recipient had to cut and paste the link to make it work? Or what about trying to tell someone the name of a URL over the phone? That’s why we’ve made TinyURL ( http://tinyurl.com) a fixture in our collaborations. TinyURL will shorten a long URL so that it can be pasted in an e-mail or article. Once a TinyURL is created, it can be used again and again.
- If you are into mind-mapping tools, MindMeister ( www.mindmeister.com) is both free and very easy to use.
- We’re sure you’ve heard all about the popular social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter (and if you haven’t, see Susi Schuele’s article “Social Networking for Lawyers” on page 40 of this issue for a primer). Well, Ning ( www.ning.com) is the easiest way to create your own “social network” or collaborative workspace. You can do all sorts of interesting things with this tool.
- Lastly, for a good listing of collaborative products online, go to http://thinkofit.com/webconf/workspaces.htm.
Just remember, with some great, free online collaboration and communication tools, you aren’t stranded alone on your island.
Jim Calloway is director of the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Management Assistance Program; he may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Courtney Kennaday is director of the Practice Management Assistance Program of the South Carolina Bar; she may be reached at email@example.com. An electronic version of SitesForSoreEyes also appears in the Technology eReport; you can find their past columns at www.abanet.org/genpractice/ereport/past.html.