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Some people have a natural ability to sketch pictures, scenes, diagrams and other information in graphical form. Then there’s the other 98 percent of us who have a hard time drawing a straight line. Luckily, for the artistically challenged lawyers out there, the people who brought the general business world the popular program SmartDraw also now offer SmartDraw Legal Edition 2009.

SmartDraw Legal Edition 2009 makes it possible to produce powerful legal graphics, crime scene diagrams, flowcharts, mind maps and more without having to be a graphics artist. Unlike many other computerized drawing programs, SmartDraw starts from a template-based perspective, providing users with a work area on which templates are placed and to which graphics, text and symbols are added simply by dragging and dropping.

Legal Edition 2009 comes with numerous built-in “smart templates” in categories such as Accident Reconstruction, Contract Action, Electronic Trial Preparation, Estate Planning and Family Law, Personal Injury, Legal Timelines, Tactical Planning and more. It also has a number of libraries containing shapes, clip art and symbols that cover a broad range of needs for lawyers in all practice areas. However, if you are an attorney or law firm that’s in need of detailed anatomical images and drawings, you’ll need to purchase SmartDraw Healthcare Edition to get that capability.

 The Nuts and Bolts When you launch SmartDraw Legal Edition, the program opens to its document browser view. Reminiscent of Microsoft Office 2007, you’ll find a SmartDraw Menu button at the top left of the screen. On the left side of the screen below that is the SmartTemplate list with a Preview area in the center; on the right side is the SmartHelp window. When you select a template type from the SmartTemplate list, the available options in that category are displayed in the Preview area. You can then scroll through to preview the templates that may be suitable for your needs. If none of the existing templates looks right for use as your starting point, you can select a blank template in your category and create from scratch.

Clicking on a template opens it in your screen, which now consists of a SmartPanel on the left, containing tools that will help you build on that specific template, and a SmartHelp window with your work area for the template. Across the top of the screen is a ribbon bar similar to that found in MS Office 2007. Adding elements to your drawing is as simple as selecting the correct shapes library and dragging and dropping the object, symbol or graphic onto your drawing. As a result, you can, as just one example, quickly build an accident reconstruction diagram showing the intersection and the location of the vehicles, individuals and obstructions as well as any traffic control devices.

If you don’t find the symbols or shapes that you need, you can search for them in the More Symbols dialog box or scroll through the library list to find the library that contains the graphic elements you want. You can also create your own drawings and even save them down in a new template. For example, you could create a new client intake form using objects for things such as address blocks, Social Security numbers, signatures and as the like, as well as add your own text and save that down as a template for reuse. If you have access to a color printer, you can take advantage of the many color capabilities found in SmartDraw to bring your graphics to life, too.

Again, SmartDraw isn’t limited to just diagrams, other drawings or forms—it can also be used to create custom charts, timelines and mind maps. However, as with many programs that combine features and capabilities normally found in standalone software programs, SmartDraw isn’t always the most full-featured or complete program to use for a given task. For example, if you’re a regular user of MindJet MindManager, you will find the mind-mapping tools of SmartDraw Legal Edition less robust and flexible than those in MindManager. But, for the casual user of mind-mapping capabilities, SmartDraw provides a straightforward and intelligent interface that may meet your needs.

To help users quickly get up to speed in learning how to make the most of the program, the SmartDraw Web site provides a number of tutorials and e-courses on how to work with the program’s features. The site also has several discussion forums on using various aspects of the product, as well as a blog covering SmartDraw tips and tricks and ways you can use graphics in your business.

While I didn’t exactly find SmartDraw to be as intuitive as some of the Web site testimonials suggested, I was able to quickly improve my capabilities by completing some of the short tutorials and immediately applying what I learned to my graphics. The Legal Edition adds approximately $200 (USD) to the base price of the product, but if you don’t already have a similar product, such as Microsoft Visio, and have the need for graphics, charts or the occasional timeline for your practice and clients, it should be money well spent.

SCORECARD With a maximum possible score of 20, here is how I rate it:

Ease of Use: 4
Quality of Materials: 5
Feature Set: 4
Value for Cost: 4

TOTAL SCORE: 17

 

Nerino J. Petro, Jr. , is a legal technologist and the Practice Management Advisor for the State Bar of Wisconsin. A former practicing attorney, he blogs on legal technology and practice management issues at www.compujurist.com.

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