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Technology—Probate Editor: Jason E. Havens, P.O. Box 5496, Destin, FL 32541, email@example.com.
Technology—Probate provides information on current technology and microcomputer software of interest in the probate and estate planning areas. The editors of Probate & Property welcome information and suggestions from readers.
As discussed in part one of this series, the 2012 tax act (or ATRA) dramatically altered the federal transfer tax landscape. Part one (July/August 2013 issue) of this two-part series focused on using technology and related resources to develop and market your practice. Before we turn to specific tools for running your practice more efficiently, this column will address one more important aspect that you should consider and highlight in the online profiles covered in part one.
The last column suggested consideration of additional areas of practice that you might include in your Internet-based profiles. You might also consider an important way to distinguish your practice in the trusts and estates (estate planning) area: specialization. In most states that follow the American Bar Association’s model ethical rules, you must be board-certified either by your state bar association or by a certification program accredited by the ABA in order to advertise anywhere that you “specialize,” are “certified,” or are an “expert” in an area of law.
You must obviously check your own state’s rules. The ABA web site has excellent resources to assist. For example, the ABA’s Standing Committee on Specialization created a list (www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/professional_ responsibility/mrpc_7_4.authcheck dam.pdf), current through April 1, 2013, that summarizes how each state approaches Model Rule of Professional Conduct 7.4 (the advertising rule), which generally always deals with a state’s position on certification/specialization. You might be surprised to discover that your state follows this model rule or something very close to it.
Most people do not understand what an advanced degree such as a master of laws (LL.M.) means, and some have little appreciation that you were appointed a fellow of a given organization. Most people, however, understand the value of certification because the medical community has done a very good job of educating the public on board certification of physicians. If you become certified via your state bar (if offered) or an ABA-accredited program, you may generally advertise that certification in your letterhead, on your web site, and in most of the online profiles highlighted in the previous column. For example, LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) includes a specific “Certifications” section of your online profile created on its web site, as does Justia (www.justia.com).
Other sites, such as JD Supra (www.jdsupra.com), provide an “Honors and Awards” section where you can list your certifications. In this editor’s view, a specific section dedicated to certifications is more effective. Most lawyers have numerous awards and honors to list, which potentially dilutes the value of listing his or her certifications there.
The American College of Board-Certified Attorneys (www.acbcattorney.org) is a new web site dedicated to promoting certification for attorneys. The organization admits its fellows based on certification by a state bar association or an ABA-approved program. For example, attorneys certified as Estate Planning Law Specialists (EPLS) by the ABA-approved Estate Law Specialist Board, Inc. (where this editor serves as a director) may become fellows. (The Estate Law Specialist Board uses an Internet-based examination of 80 multiple choice questions.)
This column has covered scores of applications over the years, but the following stand out in this editor’s estimate as some of the most valuable technological tools for any law firm. For small and solo firms, cost is typically a driving factor. Consequently, these applications are also affordable.
Law practice management systems have become ubiquitous, even among sole practitioners. One system that rarely surfaces in these lists is FreshBooks (www.freshbooks.com). This column featured a review of FreshBooks in the March/April 2010 issue (“Remote Practice Management”). Although FreshBooks lacks some of the more advanced features of legal-specific systems, its intuitive interface, powerful—and flexible—billing system, and excellent integration with everything from Google Apps to PayPal make FreshBooks one of the best values in this category.
One of the most powerful newer features of FreshBooks is its management/reporting suite of features. For example, you may instantly see approximately where you stand by viewing the “Overview” tab, which reveals recent activity (focused on invoices), your active matters (which FreshBooks calls “projects”), a bar graph of your invoices and expenses during the past six months and your aging invoices/receivables, among other information. You may also see via “Recent Activity” exactly when a client logged into the system to view his or her invoices online.
FreshBooks will accommodate multiple users. A mobile application, which is available for the Android and iOS platforms, also allows input of time entries and invoicing while on the go. Most reviewers give the updated mobile application a perfect score. With a free trial, you should take a look at FreshBooks.
Speaking of the Internet giant, Google’s domain-based suite known as Google Apps (www.google.com/intx/en/enterprise/apps/business/) provides private Gmail (no more mail server nightmares), integrated calendaring, contact management, and far more. Google Drive, formerly known as Google Docs, offers storage (and file sharing with granular administrative options) along with Google’s Internet-based word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation applications. The relatively new Google Hangout, which the Section has tested as a videoconferencing option, allows up to 10 streaming videoconference participants. More information is available in the November/December 2009 issue (“Remote Access”) of this column.
Although Apple (www.apple.com) still dominates the mobile market (and this editor’s choice for laptops, desktops, and even servers), Google’s Android system has certain advantages.
First, for anyone using Google Apps (or any Google system for that matter), the native integration that Android affords gives you a true mobile experience and access to all that you need on a daily basis. In addition, most applications are now programmed in modern languages (for example, HTML5), which makes them available to Android as well as iOS users.
Second, Apple has never offered a real keypad or keyboard. Younger users might not care about this issue, but busy attorneys often do. Multiple international vendors manufacture superb slide-out smartphones. If you want to type more than an illegible text message, you will appreciate a decent-sized QWERTY keypad with real keys, although you may use the virtual version just like you would on an Apple mobile device. (This editor doubts that anyone in Cupertino will read this column, but please consider this keypad suggestion on the off chance that an Apple leader does read it.)
For lightweight travel, you might explore another Android-powered mobile powerhouse: the Asus EeePad Transformer (www.asus.com/Tablets_Mobile/Eee_Pad_Transformer_TF101/). Again, because Android serves as the operating system, the EeePad synchronizes your Google-based accounts, including your applications. The detachable keyboard, which sports a second battery that extends this device’s battery life by nearly 10 hours, includes multiple additional ports and a memory card reader along with a multi-touch trackpad (mouse device).
Mobile tools give us more ways to communicate, but most other professionals and clients alike still expect you to have an office telephone number and system. The technology here has changed as much or more than most other aspects of the law business. For an ultra-simple solution, you might purchase a magicJack (www.magicjack.com) and attach it to a wired or a wireless telephone system. The unit itself operates via voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), which simply means that it uses the Internet to carry your telephone calls. This editor uses a magicJack as an additional facsimile line or to connect to a vintage Polycom SoundStation (www.polycom.com/products-services/voice/conferencing-solutions/confer encing-phones.html—a much older model than any of those displayed via the link, but the same family of devices), which still performs perfectly but requires a traditional telephone jack and cable to function.
For the actual telephone system, however, this editor uses true VoIP telephones that connect to the network just like your computer or networked printer (via an Ethernet cable). This editor’s law firm still uses 8x8 (www.8x8.com), which also was discussed in the November/December 2009 issue. Several new Polycom telephones, which function just as well as their SoundStation relatives, represent the only change to that entire system.
The base price per connected extension, which is how most of these VoIP systems are priced, has dropped significantly over the past several years. Increased competition is unquestionably the reason for that savings. You still pay all kinds of communication-related fees and taxes, but these systems are substantially less costly than any other alternative and definitely offer advantages. For example, you can literally transfer a call to someone around the world who is connected to your firm’s system and plugged into the Internet. You can also page that person as if he or she were down the hall. That type of flexibility, especially if you operate more than one office, is valuable.
Although the legal landscape has changed dramatically during the past few years, legal software for the trust and estate law practitioner has not. Most of the same applications prevalent in 2006 and 2007 remain today. For example, the probate software systems highlighted in the March/April 2007 issue (“Automate Your Probate Practice”) continue to serve as the primary contemporary options, although one or two have changed their names (because of acquisition by major publishing companies in at least two cases). The drafting systems highlighted in the November/December 2007 issue (“An Updated Tour of Drafting Systems for Estate Planning Lawyers”) are also still with us, although they are undoubtedly making changes in light of the 2012 tax act.
Because of the 2012 tax act, new vendors are unlikely to enter this area. Scores of Baby Boomers will inevitably need these legal services, along with other niche areas highlighted in the previous column (July/August 2013 issue). Even so, the market will not expand significantly without an unforeseen development, such as a new tax act that introduces less-than-permanent changes. As a result, you will probably see many of the same technology solutions that you see today for years to come.
The 2012 tax act introduced long-awaited stability in this area of law, but it also announced new challenges for trust and estate lawyers. The first column in this two-part series suggested ways to highlight your available services, including numerous free on-line profiles or biographies. This second column suggests one more potential addition to your profile, namely certification or specialization, to distinguish your practice and lead to increased contact with referral sources and potential clients. The remainder of this column summarizes technology to run your practice more efficiently, focusing on cost-effective solutions that also allow you to operate on a mobile basis if desired. This editor hopes that the on-line profiles and social media options introduced in the previous column will prompt the technology tools discussed in this column, particularly your telephones, to ring on a regular basis.
2029 Stierlin Court
Mountain View, CA 94043
1380 Pear Avenue
Mountain View, CA 94043
(888) Justia-1 (587-8421)
JD Supra, LLC
10 Liberty Ship Way, Suite 300
Sausalito, CA 94965
American College of Board-Certified Attorneys, LLC
10645 North Tatum Boulevard
Phoenix, AZ 85028
Estate Law Specialist Board, Inc. (National Association of Estate Planners & Councils, Inc.)
1120 Chester Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44114
FreshBooks (2ndSite Inc.)
2770 Dufferin Street
Toronto, ON M6B 3R7 Canada
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA 95014
ASUSTeK Computer Inc. (U.S. Headquarters)
800 Corporate Way
Fremont, CA 94539 (510) 739-3777
magicJack (VocalTec Ltd.)
12 Benny Gaon Street
Netanya 42504 Israel
6001 America Center Drive
San Jose, CA 95002
(800) POL-YCOM or (408) 526-9000
2125 O’Nel Drive
San Jose, CA 95131
(888) 898-8733 or (408) 687-4120