GPSOLO December 2009
SITES FOR SORE EYES
Like you, we were told that technology would make our law life better and easier. We don’t remember exactly when we first heard that, but as we rush around trying to get three times the amount of work done in half the time, it occurred to us to try to figure out if it was true yet.
After some thought, we decided that while technology undoubtedly improves our law practice—by making us more efficient, keeping us on schedule, and more—it also leaves a lot to be desired. Lawyers frequently complain about how complicated it is to do simple tasks with the software they use every day.
Fortunately, there are many shortcuts and work-arounds on the Internet that make our software behave better—so technology works for us, not the other way around. We’ve decided that training and automation go hand in hand. Often the question isn’t whether the software will do something, but whether we know how to make it do something. Here are a handful of our favorite tips and websites that we hope will make your technology “automatically” better.
With the majority of lawyers using some version of Microsoft Word, there’s always interest in finding ways to automate the things we do manually. It could be as simple as turning two hyphens into a dash automatically (see http://bit.ly/wwjIi) or as complicated as mail merges or making forms out of documents you commonly use. If you are patient and can follow written instructions, you can find what you need online to automate many word-processing tasks. Whether you use Word 2003, 2007, or an older version (please upgrade, you’ll be glad you did), you can start at the Microsoft Office Online Help and How-To pages for all Office products ( http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/help).
WordPerfect users can find extra help online—including tips, forums, and resources—at Word-Perfect Universe ( http://www.wpuniverse.com).
When you are on the Microsoft Help and How-To page, note the fact that you can either search or browse by your product. So, if you want to find out how to set a Power-Point presentation to start automatically, you can click the tab for your version of Office, then the particular product (say, PowerPoint 2007). This takes you to a new page, with tabs for “Top Issues,” “Most Read,” and “Most Searched.” You can also browse through some of the major topics, starting with “Accessibility” and ending with “Working with Graphics and Charts.”
We’ve both customized our Word 2007 so that we can use a keyboard shortcut for “Paste Special.” We think Paste Special may be the best Word shortcut ever as it gives you the ability to paste only plain text into a document without bringing along unwanted formatting. In Word 2003, Paste Special can be found on the menu under Edit. In Word 2007, Paste Special is actually on the “Ribbon,” but we like keeping our fingers on the keyboard to save time. Jim has instructions on how to create the keyboard shortcut at Jim Calloway’s “Law Practice Tips Blog” ( http://jimcalloway.typepad.com/lawpracticetips/2009/08/microsoft-word-2007-great-shortcut-for-pasting-text-into-documents.html).
Are you one of the many lawyers who suffer needlessly from a clogged e-mail in-box? Does your system administrator send you nagging messages about your mailbox being over its size limit? Rid yourself of this embarrassing problem by setting Microsoft Outlook to automatically archive your e-mail. Archiving is one of the easiest ways to whittle the size of your in-box down without actually deleting anything. For tips like this, we often turn, in addition to the Microsoft website, to About.com: Email ( http://email.about.com) or eHow ( www.ehow.com).
The “Acrobat for Legal Professionals” blog ( http://blogs.adobe.com/acrolaw) always has a lot of great content with information about live and archived seminars to let you better use Adobe Acrobat Professional. A nice little recent feature was about how to automate the exhibit-stamping process using Adobe Acrobat, either as a basic exhibit stamp or as a fancy, customizable, two-line exhibit stamp that some states require ( http://blogs.adobe.com/acrolaw/2009/09/try_these_two-line_dynamic_exhib.html).
We always recommend that lawyers keep a backup calendar because it’s so important not to miss deadlines or appointments. In addition to setting your calendar system, such as Outlook Calendar, to remind you by e-mail of appointments, you can also try a free service to send a text message to your cell phone. Google calendar ( https://calendar.google.com) users can take advantage of the notification feature, which will alert you by e-mail, text message, or a pop-up message on your computer (you’ll need to register your cell phone number in Google Calendar to get text messages). There are a number of free reminder services on the Internet, including ones that will send you text messages or even call a phone number you give them. We can only list a few here, such as Jott ( http://jott.com), Remindeo ( www.remindeo.com), and “oh, don’t forget...” ( www.ohdontforget.com/reminder).
Speaking of backups, we hope your firm has computer backups set to run automatically. But most of us now have home computers as well. Are you backing up your home PCs, and are the backups set to run automatically? For a cool tutorial on setting up an automatic backup to an external hard drive, see this Lifehacker article: “Geek to Live: Automatically Back Up Your Hard Drive” ( http://bit.ly/xHI6v).
Are there things we shouldn’t automate? Yes, according to Adam Singer’s “The Future Buzz” blog ( http://bit.ly/1sIZ). Singer believes it’s a breach of etiquette to set auto-responses to direct messages in any social platform, such as Twitter, because it can result in needless messages to a person’s cell phone. We can agree with that.
Many of the automation software products we encountered are not free, but most have free trial periods. One popular program we like and use, RoboForm ( www.roboform.com), has a free version available. RoboForm will fill out forms and assign and/or save your encrypted passwords and log-ins for web pages. The free version is limited to just ten passwords or log-ins. You will be surprised how quickly you exceed your free allotment.
Although the above is just a small taste of what you can do better through technology automation, it would be antithetical to our topic to monopolize your time. We hope you give some of our tips a try and look for additional ways to automate some of your law office tasks.
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 Sites-For-Sore-Eyes also appears in the Technology eReport; you can find their past columns at www.abanet.org/genpractice/ereport/past.html.