Tech Tips for Young Lawyers to Get and Stay Organized

Vol. 32 No. 3

By

Peggy Gruenke is the founder and owner of LegalBizSuccess, a law firm management consultancy specializing in operations, online marketing, and financial management for solo lawyers.

An organized lawyer is a productive lawyer. A productive lawyer is a more profitable lawyer. So there’s your motivation for getting organized. Although you may not consider yourself blessed with natural organizational skills and it may not be something you learned in law school, there are plenty of tools available to help you get organized. The lawyers who are “organized” use a variety of tools and methods to accomplish their goals and priorities in their practice. Before we start layering technology tools on top of how to get organized, let’s look at the basic skills set of organized people.

What Do Organized People Do on a Regular Basis?

  • They use tools to help simplify their lives. Organized people find ways to adopt and use technology to help get things done. They use smartphones to access contacts and task lists and use tools like Evernote to organize content.
  • They write things down. Spending time trying to remember things will not help you to stay organized.
  • They use to-do lists. Organized people know what needs to get done, and they set priorities; the way they accomplish this is by getting in the habit of using lists.
  • They make schedules and have deadlines. Organized people don’t waste time. They recognize that keeping things organized goes hand-in-hand with staying productive. They make and keep schedules for the day and the week.
  • They don’t put things off. This means they know what they have to get done. They keep track of tasks. The longer you wait to do something, the more difficult it will be to get it done. If you want your life to be less stressful and less demanding, then get organized.
  • They keep it simple. Simplicity leads to easy adoption and stickiness. Find something that works for you and avoid the temptation to try everything. There simply are too many choices, and it will become a full-time job testing them all.

As young lawyers launching a new career—and for some of you, starting a new business—the need to get organized and create new habits is instrumental to your success. This article will highlight some helpful technology to keep your practice and life in order.

The more ways you can find to work with your current habits and how you get things done, the better. Mobile devices such as laptops, smartphones, and tablets make it possible for you to be connected and “online” at all hours of the day. So it makes sense to focus on organizational tools that can live on these devices, sync with your other devices, and keep you mobile, as a twenty-first-century lawyer.

What Needs to Get Organized?

I am a big list person, and here is our first list, one that identifies areas of your business and life that need to get organized:

  1. Passwords
  2. Calendar
  3. Tasks
  4. Contacts
  5. Time
  6. Ideas

As we review the technology available to help you get organized in these areas, always remember the importance of having all your devices sync with each other. When you are in court in front of the judge trying to set the next court date, will you have an accurate view of your calendar available to you? Or when you need a client’s e-mail address or phone number, will this information be easy to find?

It also makes sense to invest in your own hot spot. You can’t be dependent on the public WiFi in the local coffee shop (and it isn’t secure), so make sure you have a way of producing your own Internet connection anywhere, anytime. This could be as simple as tethering to your phone and using it as your backup connection or as elaborate as buying a mobile Internet hot spot from your wireless phone provider. And while we’re at it, if you have a mini travel charger, you’ll never find yourself with a dead phone battery when you are trying to follow up with a new client or need directions.

Passwords

Before we start reviewing some of the products available, most of which will involve creating passwords, let’s start with a basic tech tool to keep these organized. You don’t have time to remember all the passwords your daily life require, and because you have ethical obligations to keep all data related to clients and cases safe, you need to create secure passwords. Eliminating the need to remember and write down passwords will make you more productive while simultaneously increasing your security with strong, unique passwords for all your accounts and keeping all your important information encrypted and secure: logins, credit card info, passwords, and more. Below are two tools that can help.

  • 1Password (agilebits.com/onepassword). 1Password creates strong, unique passwords for all your sites and logs you in with a single tap. It works on Macs, Windows PCs, iPhones and iPads, and Android devices. Using this tool involves a one-time charge: The mobile app costs $9.99, and the Mac or Windows desktop version runs about $50 (depending on the current promotional offers).
  • LastPass (lastpass.com). A much more affordable option than 1PassWord, LastPass is free on your Mac or PC. LastPass Premium ($12 per year) gives you access to all their mobile apps for smartphones and tablets with support for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and BlackBerry.

Calendar

If e-mail is the number-one place you spend your time, you hope that your calendar is a close second. A full calendar with client appointments, court dates, meetings with prospects, and referral sources is a sign of a thriving practice. Quite frankly, the calendar apps that come shipped on most smartphones are just not that great for organizing and syncing all the events and tasks you need to keep track of. Here are a few choices for you, keeping in mind the importance of not only syncing events but also integrating tasks and contacts.

Sunrise (calendar.sunrise.am). Sunrise is one of the most popular calendar apps out there. It supports a number of features you’ll want to help you organize appointments, including recurring appointments, alerts, birthdays, Google Maps directions, and more. Sunrise currently supports Gmail accounts integrating with your Google contacts; this makes it easy to follow up and confirm appointments while you are on the run. The mobile iOS and Android versions integrate well with Evernote, Trello, ToDoList, and Asana. Sunrise is also available for your Mac for even better cross-platform use. And it’s free.

Wave (wavecalendarapp.com).Wave comes with a number of perks and integrations and works on multiple platforms (iPad, iPhone, and Android). And it’s free. Some of the key features include:

  • Simple switching between multiple views;
  • The ability to drag and drop your events;
  • Calendar syncing, with Google, Exchange, Outlook, and Facebook calendars; and
  • To-do list features that merge your appointments and your tasks (synced from Google Tasks).

Cal (any.do/cal). The creators of one of the best to-do list apps, Any.do, created Cal, so you can now manage your to-do list and appointments in one convenient app. Cal, which is free to download at the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store, shows you appointments, uses your contacts and location to make scheduling easy, and syncs with Google Calendar, Exchange, and iCloud. In addition to syncing with all your other calendars, Cal also integrates with Any.do (see below for more on this great app), so your to-dos for the day and their deadlines appear on your calendar in the agenda view.

Tasks

Keeping track of your tasks is a challenge in general, but when you are in multiple places, meeting with multiple people, and have a number of open cases to manage, this challenge gets magnified. You may have to-do lists on pieces of paper at your desk, in your car, in the client file, written on the back of a napkin, or written in your day planner. Your goal is to get them in one place where you can find them, search them, and organize them with due dates. Then you need to make sure the platform you chose to accomplish these goals syncs with all your devices.

Remember the Milk (rememberthemilk.com). Besides the fun name and logo, Remember the Milk is a popular online to-do list and task management tool for lawyers because it manages everything you have to do and works with many different devices. It is a free tool that is compatible with your mobile devices (iPhones, iPads, Androids, BlackBerrys) and computer and integrates with Gmail, Google Calendar, Outlook, and Evernote, and even sends information to your Twitter account. It helps you manage your tasks easily and reminds you of them wherever you are. Remember the Milk has a free version that is pretty much all you will ever need.

Asana (asana.com). One of my favorite tools for managing projects and collaborating with clients and staff, Asana covers all the bases for syncing and integration. Asana is a task management application available on all mobile platforms and web browsers. Sync tasks with your calendar right from Asana. Asana is compatible with Google Calendar, Sunrise, iCal, and many versions of Outlook. With Sunrise, you can see your Asana tasks right on your calendar. It’s free, too. For document integration, Asana connects with Box, Dropbox, and Google Drive. For collaboration, it is a great communication tool. You can assign and share tasks with clients and colleagues so everyone stays up-to-date. You can also attach and share documents.

Any.do (any.do). Any.do is another very nice tool for managing tasks with a number of features a busy young lawyer will find useful. It’s free, and a premium addition is available for $26 per year. The only feature in premium not in the free version is the reccurring tasks and some colorful themes. Some nice features of Any.do:

  • Sync between all mobile devices (iOS and Android) and your laptop or desktop.
  • Share your to-do list with staff and colleagues to get some teamwork going.
  • Create and organize lists to help you stay on top of everything.
  • Add notes to your tasks to make sure you have everything you need to complete the task.
  • Attach almost any type of file to your tasks and view them from any device.
  • Create sub-tasks and break big projects into small tasks.
  • Create reccurring tasks and add reminders.

Contacts

Well you can’t have appointments or tasks without having people on the other end of these events and communications. And you will quickly gather contacts with varying types of relationships: past clients, current clients, prospects, and referral sources, to name a few. These contacts may originate as incoming calls you will want to save or be a contact that you e-mailed earlier in the day. If you take a new client call on your phone and save it, can you locate it when you are back in the office working on your laptop?

Our brains can only remember and recall so many names and phone numbers. As a result, we need some help organizing and accessing this data. So how do you keep your digital Rolodex organized?

Before you do anything, pick your universe: From years of Internet use, you likely have contacts spread out across a variety of different platforms and e-mail databases. Where will your contacts live, and how will you sync them for access on all your devices? This means deciding between Apple tools such as Calendar, iCloud, and Apple Mail; Google/Android tools such as Gmail and Google Calendar; and Outlook using a hosted exchange server or Office 365. So your first goal is to merge your contacts into one easy-to-access and easy-to-use database that is synced on all your devices. Pick your platform and start importing.

Scanning business cards. Business cards are still the main vehicle for collecting contact information. If you rely on having time to enter these into your new contact database, it may not get done. But guess what—there’s an app for that. Apps for scanning business cards do a pretty nice job of capturing all the data and uploading to your contact universe. These tools include:

  • CamCard (camcard.com). This app is available for Android, iPhone, Windows Phone, and BlackBerry; costs range from free to about $12. It’s well worth the expenditure. Do the math yourself.
  • ScanBizCard (circleback.com/scanbizcards). Prices for this iOS and Android app range from free to $0.99.
  • Evernote (evernote.com). This functionality is built into Evernote free version and connects with LinkedIn.

PracBuilder (pracbuilder.com).The most successful lawyers build and nurture their network of clients and professional contacts. As a young lawyer, it’s important to cultivate strong networking relationships right from the start and remain top-of-mind in order to get referrals and grow your practice. Although this may seem like a daunting task, PracBuilder makes this easy by organizing your contacts and automatically creating a plan to stay in touch with them. It is an easy platform to learn and use. Import your contacts from Outlook, Gmail (Google Contacts), or an Excel file. The price is $30 per month.

Time

Getting organized around this most valuable asset, time, is the cornerstone of your business. Effective time management starts with being clear on exactly how much time you actually spend on projects and tasks, and then analyzing how to manage your time more effectively.

Capturing time, all of it, is a challenge most lawyers face every day. If you can master this and find a way to accurately capture more billable time, you will lay the foundation for being more profitable. Think of how you conduct business every day from your mobile devices: phone calls, e-mails, appointments. What if you could efficiently capture this time to include on client invoices? This is huge, and there are a number of great apps available to do it. These apps are a great alternative to time sheets.

Chrometa (chrometa.com). Does the device you use track recent phone and e-mail conversations and capture your time? Chrometa automatically captures and categorizes all time spent on your Mac, PC, iOs, or Android device—including time spent e-mailing, on the phone, and texting—with no interaction or data entry required. Chrometa also has the ability to generate invoices. Chrometa’s new Android time tracker (iOS coming soon) will track your phone calls and text messages, sync them with your Google Contacts, and create time entries automatically for you. It’s a pretty efficient way to capture your billable time and stay organized. Pricing starts at $12 per month for one device, $19 per month for two devices (for example, phone and laptop), or $29 per month for three.

iTimeKeep (bellefield.com/itimekeep). iTimeKeep is another great tool, and it works where you do—on your smartphone, tablet, or desktop. There are two options for use: the free, basic version with “stand-alone” time recording functions, and the paid Bellefield Connect system that integrates with your firm’s billing or matter-management software. (Pricing for the paid system varies depending on your platform; contact Bellefield for details.) If you do not have billing software, you can download the data to Excel to produce your own invoices.

Time Master + Billing (on-core.com/timemaster). Popular among lawyers and easy to learn and use, Time Master + Billing is an excellent app for tracking your time. Categorize your clients—and even your time entries—by task and project, with sub-categories available. You can also track your billing and expenses using reporting tools that allow you to sort information by client, project, task, expenditure, and invoice status. An invoicing module is available, and there are options to export your time to QuickBooks. The price is $9.99, plus upgrade options that are extra.

Toggl (toggl.com). This is just an awesome little tool for your productivity tool box. Not matter what device you are using, your time entries are synced in real time. It’s available for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and BlackBerry devices, and there is even off-line support that keeps you Toggling when out of WiFi or mobile coverage areas. Toggl also plays well with other task management tools such as Trello, Asana, BaseCamp, and Wunderlist and even accounting systems such as Xero and FreshBooks. And it’s free.

RescueTime (rescuetime.com). In case you have doubts that you are using your time wisely, here’s an app that will send you weekly reports to indicate your time thieves. You may be shocked to discover how much time you are wasting.

Ideas

Evernote (evernote.com). Evernote is a free productivity tool that allows you to capture all your ideas in many different ways—with voice, notes, or images. You can even record your meetings, record quick notes after a meeting, and create lists. And you can share your files. Evernote also offers a variety of niche features not offered in other productivity applications, such as the ability to scan business card contact information (see above). Evernote is also a great digital notebook application to keep all your notes and web clippings in one place. You can create multiple notebooks with subfolders. It keeps all notes synced across all your devices so you have access to all your notes no matter which device you have with you. If you do a lot of research or blog writing, you will love the Evernote Clipper in Chrome. Quickly and easily save a web page or article in an Evernote notebook. Do yourself a favor and download this one now. Both free and premium versions are available.

Pocket (getpocket.com). You also spend a lot of time on the Internet doing research for cases or maybe even preparing presentations or blog articles. Pocket is my favorite tool for saving web articles and videos to read later. Once saved to Pocket, the list of content is visible on any device—phone, tablet, or computer. It can be viewed while waiting in line, on the couch, during commutes or travel—even off-line. Free and premium versions are available.

Start Simple, but Start

So now that you’ve read about all these tools, are you feeling a little overwhelmed? Don’t be. Sometimes, the challenge with getting organized is a matter of getting past the “selection” phase of what to use and how to use it and moving to the “launch” phase. There are so many choices of products and apps available to help you get organized that the selection phase can become paralyzing. In the spirit of keeping it simple, just pick two or three of the tools presented here to try for yourself. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to make your practice more organized, more productive, and more profitable.

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