General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division

A service of the ABA General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division

Technology eReport

American Bar Association - Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice

NOV 2009

Vol. 8, No. 4

Columns

 

ProductNotes

Casio EX-FC100 Camera

If you find yourself in the market for a small, lightweight, pocketable, versatile, and reasonably priced digital camera that feels like a lightweight, but works like a heavyweight, take a look at the Casio Exilim EX-FC100.

The FC100 lists for about $300. You can find it for less online. I have seen it for as little as $228 online. You get to choose between black or silver.

The FC100 has the ability to take excellent still photos and high-speed bursts of shots at up to 30 fps (frames per second). It can also record movies, providing both high-definition and high-speed video. The HD movies record at 1280 x 720 pixels and 30 FPS. They play back at 720 P. The high-speed video can take in information at a cool 1,000 FPS.

The camera also comes equipped with automatic face detection to increase the likelihood of proper focus and exposure. It also has a special night mode to enhance your shots in less-than-ideal lighting. The FC100 also comes with a built-in flash unit. Power for the FC100 comes from its rechargeable lithium-ion battery. e FC100 records still images as JPEG and movies as AVI format, Motion JPEG, and IMA-ADPCM (monaural).

The camera’s other features include high-speed antishake, 5X optical zoom with shift stabilization that combines with a 4X digital zoom to give you up to 20X. For those of you who cannot wait to share your videos, it also has a YouTube capture mode designed to facilitate easy uploading to YouTube. You view the 9.1 megapixel images on a bright, sharp 2.7" LCD display. The FC100 stores images on separately available SD cards and SDHC memory cards.

You can view the FC100’s complete specifications and feature list at the Casio website.

I tried the FC100 indoors and outdoors. I found it easy to use and largely intuitive. The camera, which weighs a little more than five ounces, became a favorite travel companion and took excellent pictures and quite decent movies.

The FC100 makes prosumer features available on a consumer-priced camera. It has a collection of features that will attract the experienced photographer, but also works as a simple point-and-shoot for the beginner. It is one of the best all-around pocket cameras I have seen.

 

Novatel MiFi 2200

I am a big fan of cellular broadband technology for computers. I have used the technology since shortly after it first came out. Originally, the hardware that I used consisted of a PCMCIA card that fit in the slot of my computer. It worked with both Mac and Windows (although, in those days, many worked only with Windows). In those days, PCMCIA slots were common in laptops.

More recently, we have seen some computers (such as the Mac) switch to Express 34 cards that had a smaller size and worked at least as well as the PCMCIA card. Most laptops had one or the other; some had both. If you had more than one computer and they did not have the same type of slot, you had to have more than one account if you wanted both to access the Internet from just about wherever you found yourself. Eventually some adapters came out to let an Express 34 card work in a PCMCIA slot, but they proved less than ideal.

The increasing popularity of smaller and lighter laptop and netbook computers resulted in manufacturers looking for ways to cut size, weight, and price on their computers. As a result, more and more computers came out without card slots, making it impossible to use them with PCMCIA cards or Express 34 cards.

The next evolution came in the form of USB modems that allowed you to use the account with any computer having a USB port. As almost every laptop made in the last several years has had at least one USB port, we at last achieved universality allowing the use of these devices with virtually any computer (laptop or desktop) and also allowing the use of these devices with multiple computers (one at a time) on a single account.

Recently, Novatel ( www.novatelwireless.com) released the MiFi 2200, which works as a tethered USB modem or as a wireless hotspot on the Verizon or the Sprint networks. Aside from the convenience of a wireless connection wherever you might find yourself (well, almost anywhere), you also get the advantage of connectability for up to five devices. True, the bandwidth does tend to stretch a bit thin as you get closer to five; but it will accept multiple connections, which, among other things, allows me to use it for both my laptop and my iPhone at the same time.

I have not tried the MiFi on the Sprint network, only on the Verizon network. It gives me performance comparable to the USB modem it replaced. Check it out at your local Verizon store or look at it online. It works with CDMA 1xEV-DO Rev. A/0 and reports data speeds of up to 3.1 Mbps for download and up to 1.8 Mbps for upload. The device is only 3.5" x 2.32" x .35" and weighs 2.08 ounces. It works wirelessly on the 8012.11b/g standards. You can power it from an AC adaptor, a USB connection to your laptop, or through the removable lithium-ion battery that holds a charge sufficient for about 4 hours’ use. The price you will pay depends on your carrier and the data plan. You should be able to get it for around $50–$100. Monthly service plans vary among providers. I pay around $60 per month for my plan from Verizon.

Because I travel quite a bit, I more than make up the cost of the account in savings by not paying $9.95 or more a day for hotel-provided broadband. Even if I did not make up the entire cost, I would want it for the freedom of access that it provides as I have used it in other attorneys’ offices, at home, when my cable Internet service goes out, and in court.

Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the law firm of Graves & Allen with a general practice that, since 1973, has emphasized negotiation, structuring, and documentation of real estate acquisitions, loans and other business transactions, receiverships, related litigation, and bankruptcy. Graves & Allen is a small firm in Oakland, California. Mr. Allen also works extensively as an arbitrator and a mediator. He serves as the editor of the Technology eReport and the Technology & Practice Guide issues of GPSOLO Magazine. He regularly presents at substantive law and technology-oriented programs for lawyers and writes for several legal trade magazines. In addition to being licensed as an attorney in California, Jeffrey has been admitted as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales. He holds faculty positions at California State University of the East Bay and the University of Phoenix. You can contact Jeffrey via email at jallenlawtek@aol.com. Mr. Allen blogs on technology and the law at www.jallenlawtekblog.com.

 

Surf’s Up, Hang Ten: Google Wave

A Promising Tool for Professional, Tech-Aware Collaborators

Courtesy of Google, Inc.

Remember your first experience with email? Did it boggle your mind? Did you initially struggle with writing, organizing, and searching messages? Did you wonder how to open, edit, or save an attachment? Is your email now integrated with your calendar, tasks, and notes? Can you effortlessly manage your contact lists and easily correspond with groups?

Email, a wonder in its day, is old hat to most of us now. Enter Google Wave, the next dimension in sharing and collaboration. For those unfamiliar, Google Wave is Google’s shiny new brainchild intended to revolutionize our Web interactions. Wave currently is in closed beta, but Google is slowly inviting more users as the service is tweaked and tightened.

Google Wave offers online collaboration and real-time communication. Instead of sending serial email messages, users send “waves”—a cross between a conversation and a living, editable document. Participants can add to, respond to, or edit the wave at the same time and incorporate a variety of media in the course of the conversation. The result is a rich, real-time group sharing experience. So “real-time,” you can actually see the participant’s answers as they type them!

Feeling like Charlie clutching his precious golden ticket, I jumped into the Wave with both feet. My initial impression? Wave is an engaging mash-up of email, chat, wiki, and collaborative tool, with some very unique features.

Image of Wave Screen/Inbox

Although the main screen approximates an email inbox with subboxes, the similarity ends there. The top left box, titled “Navigation,” contains your “folders,” with familiar categories, such as inbox and trash. The bottom-left subbox shows contacts. The subbox in the middle third of the screen shows the waves in which you are participating, and, on the far right, shows the individual wave you have selected to view. Waves you create also show in the far right column, with a tool bar along the top. Adding contacts to your wave is as easy as dragging and dropping them from your contacts box.



Image of a Public Wave in Read-Only Mode

The inbox can be somewhat overwhelming. As the image shows, waves appear threaded, rather than the “back-and-forth” look of email. The more waves you participate in, the more the pounding surf “crashes” into your inbox, creating the potential for overload.

You can control your experience, manipulate waves, and focus on the content you are interested in, however. Numbers bracketed by a green oval mark waves with unread information—the number shows new responses since last viewing. Clicking brings you to the new information. Waves are not sequential in aspect: new responses and edits will show as conversational branches off the portion of the wave to which a user responds. More recent entries may show at any point in a wave.

You can streamline the look of your inbox for the task at hand. Minimize boxes you don’t need and maximize boxes you do need.

Waves are tagable and searchable and can be made public or private. Try searching “with:public,” and a veritable tsunami of information appears!

The single coolest feature of Wave is the ability to “extensify” your experience. Like adding gadgets to the Firefox browser to customize browsing, adding gadgets, robots, and extensions to waves customizes them to a particular need. The number of gadgets is growing all the time, with public waves dedicated to maintaining tool lists. Wave add-ons allow users to translate cross-cultural conversations, incorporate interactive maps, engage in video chat, and accomplish many other magical tasks.

Wave Featured Extensions

The downside is that gadget implementation is not as easy as it could be. You must add gadget URLs and/or include robots as a wave participants in each wave you create or edit.

Many complain about Wave’s complexity. It is, in fact, complex compared to other services. I’m convinced complexity can be overcome with use. Wave has loads of potential and could be perfect for targeting peer groups and collaborating on a plan, document, project, or strategy. Wave may drastically alter our online communications, particularly if enough of us are willing to invest time and energy to learn Wave’s ins and outs. Eventually, Wave, like email, may even seem like old hat, leaving us wondering how we ever lived without it. Or Wave may open the door for better implementations, serving as a catalyst to push communication even further into the future.

Wave is in closed beta for a reason. Google will improve Wave during this stage, working out expected bugs and glitches. I found that downloading a developer’s version of Google Chrome and adding Google Gears helped solve much of the buggy-ness.

I also imagine that Google and third-party developers will address concerns raised by users over the last few weeks and may simplify the Wave experience for the masses before public launch. Already, developers have created desktop clients and iPhone applications. For a fantastic overview—a Google Wave 101 if you will—check out this fantastic post by Gina Trapani at Lifehacker.

Overall, I’m impressed with what I’ve seen and haven’t yet been put off by complexity or glitches. I recommend that anyone with a chance to participate give the Wave beta a try. At a minimum, you could collaborate with Google in crafting a promising communications platform to make our work easier and create the next best thing since email.

UPDATE: Developers have been busy! There is now an iPhone application and Mac desktop client for Google Wave called Waveboard and an adobe AIR application called Waver to help you view and manage your Waves outside of the browser. The iPhone application costs 99 cents and nearly duplicates the browser version, but it does offer a shake feature to refresh waves. It will be interesting to see how developers implement tools around the Wave platform in the future, particularly with the rumored, upcoming launch of a Wave App Store.

Martha Sperry is an attorney in the Boston area with an extensive background in the insurance industry. She currently provides legal consultation to the claims department of a national insurance company. She also serves as principal of the research and writing firm Advantage Advocates, which specializes in creating content for business and consulting on the use of online media and technology for practice enhancement and personal and professional promotion. Ms. Sperry authors the legal research, writing and technology blog Advocate’s Studio, at http://advocatesstudio.wordpress.com . Advantage Advocates can be found at http://advantageadvocates.com .

 

Revolutionizing the Practice of Law: Case Study of the Law Offices of Mark Allison Cobb, P.C.

Mark Cobb was in a bind. Mark had built his statewide construction litigation firm, the Law Offices of Mark Allison Cobb, P.C. (based in Thomasville and Atlanta, Georgia), into a thriving practice. But his long-planned six-month sabbatical abroad was approaching, and he wondered how his team would manage when he was thousands of miles away. Mark was pretty sure that at some point, he would need access to his files to answer an important question or resolve a burning issue, and it was going to be a major pain for all concerned to find, copy, pack, and ship any necessary files via international freight.

Like smaller firms, Mark’s practice had relied on traditional paper files. Yet this traditional approach was causing problems, even before his sabbatical. “All of our lawyers and staff work primarily from our homes,” said Mark. “As a result, we spent a great deal of time passing files and documents back and forth between ourselves via personal meetings, couriers, and mail.” Forced by his sabbatical to consider electronic document management solutions, Mark ended up rethinking how his firm practiced law.

Mark evaluated a number of solutions before choosing a hosted collaboration suite from PBworks. PBworks combined the document management Mark was looking for with other collaboration features such as wiki-style group editing, blog-style comments and tagging, and project management tools for better documenting and managing workflow within a firm. In addition, the company offers a solution specifically for law firms and attorneys (Legal Edition), which allows smaller firms like his to use the same collaboration platform as many AmLaw 200 firms.

Because the solution was hosted, Mark’s staff didn’t have to buy any new hardware and servers and were able to roll out the product without the need for outside IT consulting or professional services. And because PBworks also serves the K–12 educational market, the product is designed to be extremely intuitive and easy to use. This allowed Mark’s team to succeed with minimal time devoted to special training sessions. “Everyone seems to have caught on very easily,” Mark said. When problems arose, individual users were able to get help within an hour or two via priority email support.

As Mark and his team converted their practice over to the PBworks platform, they found they were able to eliminate nearly all of their usage of paper files, with the exception of those litigation files for the courtroom required to be in paper form. “Frankly, PBworks gave us a virtual office,” Mark said. “We can work anywhere, anytime. In fact, our latest hire is an associate currently residing in Washington, D.C.” Currently, four people at The Law Offices of Mark Allison Cobb, P.C. are using the PBworks platform, all of whom are spread across three cities in two states.

While Mark and his team expected to reap the benefits of online document management, they found that the other collaboration features added even more value. “It is not an exaggeration to state that PBworks has revolutionized the way we practice law,” said Mark. “PBworks has streamlined our entire operation.”

One major area of improvement was responsiveness. Unlike the text of paper documents, you can search documents within the PBworks system via a built-in search engine, both via the Web as well as via Blackberry and iPhone. Immediate search and access to files allowed the firm’s lawyers and staff to respond to telephone calls more efficiently. PBworks also helped cut down on email overload. “Instead of sending a string of emails back and forth,” Mark said, “We simply post comments to one another, and we can easily see when an issue has been addressed.” His team is now working on creating a knowledgebase of common forms, which he anticipates will help his team members do their work more efficiently, which will lower costs for their clients.

Mark found that the solution helped him with his management-related activities. The system of automated notifications give him much greater visibility into his team’s activity. “PBworks revealed—and allowed us to fix—the fact that I was not effectively managing the workflow of the firm,” Mark admitted. “Now as managing partner, I know who is doing what and when.” Furthermore, Mark can use PBworks project management tools to design custom templates for handling different types of cases that reflect his firm’s standard processes. The custom workspaces created from those templates contain predefined tasks and milestones, which let Mark assign tasks and due dates to specific members of his team and track their progress from a centralized dashboard.

The improved visibility is not limited to Mark as managing partner. All members of the team have much greater access to critical information. For example, the firm’s team members used PBworks to consolidate all the client contact lists so that anyone in the firm could access the information at any time, and from any location.

“PBworks has definitely exceeded our expectations,” said Mark. “As I’ve said, it has revolutionized the way we practice law. We are more efficient, and we no longer have any files that get neglected. Every employee, every file, and every project gets managed better than before. Our lawyers and staff are pleased that they have the ability to work from anywhere in the world, and our clients are happy that we we’re better equipped to carry out their projects faster and more efficiently. In many respects, we have jumped from a nineteenth-century approach to practicing law all the way into the twenty-first century. And that leap gives us an advantage over our competitors.”

Jim Groff is an accomplished startup CEO with more than 25 years of experience successfully guiding companies to a position of market leadership. Prior to joining PBworks, Jim was an SVP at Oracle, which he joined as a result of its acquisition of TimesTen, where Jim was CEO. Prior to TimesTen, Jim held executive positions (including head of its educational business) at Apple Computer, which had acquired Network Innovations Corporation, a company he founded. Jim has a B.S. in Mathematics from MIT, and an MBA from Harvard Business School. He is also the author of several best-selling technical books, including Understanding Unix: A Conceptual Guide, and Using SQL .

© Copyright 2009, American Bar Association.