YourABA July 2012 Masthead

The law office's guide to Google Apps

Trying to choose office software or thinking of making a switch? Google Apps is one alternative to the traditional Microsoft Office Suite. Josh Poje of the ABA's Legal Technology Resource Center, in a podcast, covers what you need to know about its functionality.

Google Apps for Business takes a collection of tools you may already be familiar with “and combines them into a package that's oriented toward businesses and allows you to have your own branding associated with those tools,” Poje says, and “to have some centralized administrative features.”

Google Apps includes Gmail for email, Google's calendar service and other tools for group discussions and video as well as features that allow you to create intranet pages and other websites.

If you're thinking of adopting it in your office, Poje suggests giving Google Docs a spin first. “It's available for free to all users,” he says, “and it's a good way of testing out the service and deciding whether it's right for you.”

Google Apps provides the ability to create forms to allow you
to collect data online, Poje says.

Google Apps costs $5 per month, or $50 a year, according to Poje. “You do have the option with both offerings to add additional data storage if necessary,” he says. “It's relatively inexpensive. At the top level, adding a terabyte of additional storage would cost $250 a year, which is pretty low compared with other data storage options on the market.”

Although Google Docs may be a tempting choice because it is free, Poje points out that its storage capacity is much less than Google Apps: 7 GB versus 25 GB. “The support service is also very different, which is important in a business setting,” he says. With Google Apps, “you have access to 24/7 phone and email support.”

The domain is another major difference, he says. “If you're using Google Docs, your email will be ‘@gmail.com,'” Poje says. “If you're using Google Apps, you can associate your domain with it so that your email would be 'xyzlawfirm.com.'”

Google Apps offers several options for creating different types of files: Documents “are basically like Word documents—they're for text editing,” Poje says. Presentations are like PowerPoints, and spreadsheets are similar to Excel. “Then you also have the ability to create forms to allow you to collect data online,” he says. “You can edit photos and make basic drawings. You can create folders to organize your content.”

Poje points out that the documents, presentations and spreadsheets function similarly as Word but with “not as many bells and whistles.” One advantage, however, is that files save automatically.

Google Apps also allows document sharing. Select other Google users or type in an email address to send a request, Poje says. “You can email the document itself as an attachment so if you're working with somebody who doesn't have a Gmail account or doesn't use Google Docs,” they can still edit it in Word, WordPerfect or OpenOffice, he says.

“You can also publish the document to the Web,” he adds. “If you have something to share but you do not necessarily want to allow people to edit it, you can select that option and click ‘start publishing,' and you'll get a URL. There are no editing tools, but they can see the contents of the document that you edited. If you select the option to have it update automatically, then as you make changes, they'll be reflected here.”

If you're working on a presentation, you “can go into revision history in these documents,” Poje says, and “if I wanted to jump back before I changed a theme, I could click on revision 3, and it's going to show me a preview of what that version looked like. If this is what I want, I revert to this version.”

The spreadsheet works similarly to Excel, Poje says, but it “seems to save the least frequently of the tools. You'll also see that if you haven't given [the document] a title, it won't autosave at all. You may want to watch this and be sure you're clicking save frequently.”

The forms tool allows you to select a question, enter in options (multiple choice, etc.) and email the form to people or embed it into other pages, Poje says. “I can jump in and see the responses in a summary or spreadsheet form,” he says. “It's a nice, easy way to create forms if, for example, you wanted to create a client satisfaction form or set up a simple Web form for people to contact you.”

For more information, see the Law Practice Management Section book Google for Lawyers.

Access Poje's presentation here.

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