SITE-ATIONS: Top Websites for Lawyers

Vol. 31 No. 1

By

William L. Wilson (wilson@aaklaw.com) practices civil litigation with Anderson • Agostino & Keller, P.C., in South Bend, Indiana. He also teaches entertainment law at the University of Notre Dame. He blogs about the intersection of law and technology at thirdapple.com.

“Hey, have you seen that new website about [Whatever]?” “No. At least I don’t think so. What’s it called?” If you’ve ever found yourself having a conversation like this about websites useful to lawyers, then Site-ations will be a (hopefully) big help. For about a year now, I’ve written a column on useful websites for the GPSolo eReport online newsletter, and I’m thrilled to be able to share my finds with readers of the print magazine as well.

Some of the sites that I talk about in the print version may have been covered in the online version already, but I will try to avoid just regurgitating the past online columns. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t discover a new website that can be helpful, interesting, or even just provide a brief escape for us lawyers.

I began exploring the Internet back in 1993 when Notre Dame thought it would be a good idea to e-mail a copy of the Mosaic web browser to everyone with an nd.edu e-mail address. For those of us using 28.8 Kbps dial-up modem lines, it was a frustrating experience as the download took a couple hours—and there was no way to skip downloading that e-mail message containing the app. Even after the download was finished, some of us were boggled by terms like URL and wondered just what the heck we could do with the software. Nevertheless, a little experimenting and exploring opened up a new world of information. The rest, as they say, is history, and the World Wide Web is as familiar as your favorite comfort food.

Without further ado, let’s get into some of the useful sites I’d like to share with you.

Bullet Journal (bulletjournal.com) is an analog entry in the world of task management and journaling. As much as I love technology, I’m one of those people who feel pen and paper are better, more elegant solutions in many cases. Bullet Journal is a task management system in which you use a blank book—yes, a physical, paper book, such as a Moleskine—to keep track of tasks, events, and ideas that come to mind. The website walks you through a method for indexing and annotating entries in this book that is simple yet very effective. If digital task management or journaling systems simply do not offer any appeal to you, the Bullet Journal system might be what you’re looking for. The fact that your only expense is the cost of a blank book is a bonus.

MacSparky (macsparky.com) is the blog of California attorney David Sparks. It is aimed at Macintosh users, but David goes beyond to explore the world of iPhones, iPads, and more. David is the author of Paperless, a book chosen by Apple as one of the best iBooks Store offerings of 2012. If you want to learn how to become a paperless ninja, this book is a must-read.

KatieFloyd.me is the blog of Florida attorney Katie Floyd. Although Katie is also a Mac user, she writes about tech gadgets and more. Katie is an Evernote enthusiast, and she offers a good number of insights on how to use it. With David Sparks, Katie hosts the Mac Power Users podcast (macpowerusers.com), a weekly podcast featuring interviews with a variety of people discussing workflows, best practices, and more.

Doodle (doodle.com) is a free tool to help you schedule meetings, phone conferences, mediations, depositions, and anything else that requires juggling various calendars. Whoever is organizing the meeting first adds the dates and times when he or she is available for a particular event and then e-mails a web link to the other attendees. Those attendees go to the site and check the boxes representing when they are available. After everyone has participated, the organizer can quickly see which dates and times are good for all. If you’ve ever gotten frustrated with rounds of phone calls, letters, and e-mails to try to schedule something, Doodle will make your day.

Wassom on Social Media Law (wassom.com/wosml) is a free online treatise on social media law. The author, Brian D. Wassom, is a Michigan attorney working in the areas of copyright, trademark, publicity rights, media law, and the like. The world of social media law is ever changing and struggles to keep up with developments in social media itself. Brian’s site is a welcome reference for anyone who’s ever received a call from a client about a particular Facebook post or tweet on Twitter.

Climate Data Online (ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web) is hosted by the National Climatic Data Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. If you have a case where weather conditions are in dispute, this resource may be just what you need. At Climate Data Online, you can browse for the month you need (for example, June 2013), download the record for the nearest local site of the National Weather Service, and see whether it was or was not raining at 8:30 am on June 3. For a nominal fee, the records can be certified, helping ease admission into evidence.

Ars Technica (arstechnica.com) is a news website focused on technology. The editors at Ars do a good job of covering legal developments that affect technology and its users. If you want to stay up-to-date on tech law (and even get a peek at things just over the horizon), this is required reading.

PDF for Lawyers (pdfforlawyers.com) is the website that inspired the book Adobe Acrobat in One Hour for Lawyers by Ernie Svenson. Although it is updated irregularly, with the November 2013 launch of the book we should see more frequent updates. With PDF as the standard file format used in just about every setting, there are many things that lawyers (and their assistants) should know about using PDF files. There are right and wrong ways to create them, for example, and many lawyers don’t realize they are doing it the wrong way (often to the consternation of court staff or clients). If you’re going to practice in a world where PDFs are almost as ubiquitous as paper, you need to know how best to use them.

Typography for Lawyers (typographyforlawyers.com) is the creation of Matthew Butterick; he is an attorney, but in a past life he was a type designer. This website (and companion book) tell you why you should care about typefaces, formatting, and page layout. For example, if you’re using Times New Roman for your correspondence, you’re making it harder for your audience to read your work. If you think judges don’t notice this kind of thing, you might want to take a look at the website of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and read the guide Painting with Print to learn more (tinyurl.com/mld8zcm). As Matthew says, we lawyers are professionals, and the documents we create (whether on paper or in PDF) should look professional. Using the default typeface of Times New Roman (or, worse yet, Courier) makes you look shabby, according to Matthew. No lawyer wants to look shabby, right? This site is chock full of samples that you can print and see how much better documents look when a little thought is given to their appearance.

AvoidAClaim (avoidaclaim.com) is a Canadian-focused blog that helps lawyers north of the border avoid malpractice claims. The information presented at this site, though, applies equally to those of us south of the border. The blog does a commendable job of tracking online scams targeting lawyers (to which too many lawyers fall victim). If knowledge is power, this site can turn you into a malpractice avoidance superhero (if you read it, that is).

TED (ted.com) is a popular website, but I still encounter people who have never heard of it. TED is an annual conference of ideas. If you want to attend (and pay a fee of several thousand dollars), you have to apply and explain what you can bring to the table. At the conference, there are a number of “Ted Talks” given each day, each one usually lasting no more than 20 minutes. At the TED website, anyone can watch the various TED Talks online for free. Just one of the talks might feed your brain for a while, and an afternoon full of them will leave you feeling like you’ve tried to drink from a fire hose. The topics of the talks are wide ranging, but almost all of them are inspiring in some way. If you need a short mental health break during the afternoon, a TED Talk is what this (juris) doctor prescribes.

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