Technology

Probate & Property Magazine, Magazine, September/October 2009, Volume 23, Number 5

Technology | Property

Technology—Property Editor: Gerald J. Hoenig, Smart Diligence, LLC, 8495 Caney Creek Landing, Alpharetta, GA 30005, gerald.hoenig@smartdil.com.
Guest Editor: Miriam N. Jacobson, 1900 John F. Kennedy Boulevard, Suite 1519, Philadelphia, PA 19103-1341.

Technology—Property provides information on current technology and microcomputer software of interest in the real property area. The editors of Probate & Property welcome information and suggestions from readers.

A Solo's Toolkit

I am a true solo—no associates, no support staff. I opened my own practice in 1987, and since then, with the exception of a short period in 1991–92, I have not had any staff. Luckily, I became interested in computers in 1983 and have owned and used one since the beginning of 1984. Without personal computing, having my own private law practice would have been impossible.

Over the years, as the industry developed, I've gone through several different operating systems and lots of software. When I rented office space, which was up until February 2008, I had at least two and sometimes three computers, all of which I set up and maintained myself. Why three, you might ask? Well, there was the one on my desk, of course, my workhorse. Then there was one at the reception desk, where I would work sometimes and where I had my laser printer. About three years ago, I added a third computer to work with a new printer/copier/scanner I bought to replace my aging monster copier. Today, working from my home office, I'm down to one desktop with the multi-function laser printer and one Canon nonlaser printer. Maintaining one computer makes life much easier.

Through trial and error, I am now using many kinds of software. My choices have been driven by laziness—if it can make my life easier and I can expend less effort, it becomes part of my software canon. I use my core applications just about every day and always have Firefox, RTG, Amicus, InfoSelect, PaperPort, and WordPerfect open and running simultaneously. My right arms, in no particular order, are:

Mozilla Firefox browser (www.mozilla.org) —It is so much faster and slimmer than Internet Explorer and generally less susceptible to security issues, although that seems to be changing with its increasing popularity. Firefox also updates itself frequently and has neat add-ons, some of which are security related. NoScript, for example, prevents scripts from running unless you authorize them. The user can also permit certain pages to use scripts selectively, making them partially functional, fully functional, or not.

E-mail —I use webmail rather than an e-mail client such as Outlook. I used Eudora, Netscape, and others in the past, but every so often they would crash or the e-mail folders would be corrupted, and I would lose all the e-mails I had stored on my computer. Filing my e-mails is not as straightforward with webmail because, duh, it's on the web. I do copy or print all client e-mails and many others to pdf files. One advantage of my system is the same as my reason for not using e-mail client software—my e-mails are not lost in crashes. Webmail is available from most ISPs as well as from popular e-mail providers such as Gmail, Yahoo, and AOL.

InfoSelect (www.miclog.com), an information manager where I keep all my case, business, administrative, and personal notes —InfoSelect makes it amazingly easy to search for the needles in the haystack. All I do is enter a character–number–symbol string (in any combination), and all the notes containing that string pop up. Thus, I am able to search for any name, date, word, or number in a note. I liked the program better years ago when it kept notes in text format so that a note could be opened without having to load the InfoSelect program. Now the notes are in a proprietary format, but I can still export any note to a text file. I do that when I'm traveling and want to take my notes with me but do not want to (and can't) drag the program along.

Amicus Attorney (AA), for case management, calendar appointments, reminders, and contacts —I don't use a fraction of its capability, because it seems to be more cumbersome to keep notes in it than in InfoSelect. It is useless to me for "filing" e-mails with cases, because I don't use Outlook, and there is no way that I know to associate webmail messages with AA files. Also, using AA for document management is more complicated, because it requires too many steps (for me) to identify the files and their locations. I don't use AA HotDocs to create documents, so there's another impediment.

Palm (www.palm.com) —I prefer Palm's OS/software to Windows' mobile OS, but use it mainly for its hot-sync that permits me to sync AA to my Palm T|X PDA. Before Amicus, I also used the Palm calendar. I have stuck with a PDA that is not a smart phone for two reasons: I don't want everything in one place, and I don't want to take on the cost of a monthly plan. Call me cheap. I use TracFone, for which I buy minutes in bulk. Back in the old days when I had a regular wireless plan, I never used the monthly minutes, so I overpaid on a contract that I could break only at substantial cost. With changing technology, if my Palm T|X dies, I may not have a choice.

Quicken 2008 Deluxe (www.Quicken.Intuit.com), adequate for my bookkeeping purposes —It can export information in a format that is easily imported by RTG Bills. See my description of RTG Software below. And it prints to pdf files of smaller size than pdfFactory, also referred to below.

FoxIt Reader (www.foxitsoftware.com) —I take this over Adobe Reader. It loads faster and is less susceptible to security issues than Adobe Reader or Acrobat. I wasn't using the full Adobe Acrobat anyway. FoxIt also makes a full-featured program, which is probably competitive with Acrobat.

pdfFactory , for pdf creation, and FinePrint 2000, to save lots of paper (www.fineprint.com) —FinePrint can print two or four pages up on each side, therefore eight pages per sheet of paper. I have used pdfFactory for pdf creation for years, and because I decided to really commit to using less paper, I have used it for everything. Any file, document, or image that I want to keep gets pdf'ed and saved on my computer. I recently discovered that WordPerfect has its own "publish to pdf" feature that creates a smaller file than pdfFactory. Because not all programs have this capability, I still need a pdf creation program.

RTG Software (http://rtgsoftware. com) , for timekeeping and billing — After using TimeSlips since the 1980s until it became too bloated and problem ridden and took days to generate bills, I switched to RTG. RTG does require two modules, Timer and Billing, but they interact only to create a new client or matter and to send time records to Billing at the time when bills are run. RTG Billing also imports from Quicken: deposits as payments by clients and disbursements/expenses as advances on behalf of clients. RTG cuts down radically, therefore, on entering bookkeeping data in more than one place. It has a large variety of reports, invoices can be customized to look the way you prefer, and it prints directly to a pdf file.

PaperPort 11 (www.nuance.com/PaperPort), for scanning and some document management —I use PaperPort with the Brother DCP 7020 scanner/printer/copier that I bought three years ago. The Brother came with an earlier version of PaperPort, but the DCP native scanning did not work as well for me as does my current PaperPort setup. I have read lots of comments on various lists I subscribe to about PaperPort being less than satisfactory, but my experience has been good.

WordPerfect 12 and QuattroPro (www.corel.com), for word processing and spreadsheets —In my book, WordPerfect programs are easier to use, have certain formatting options that I could never find in Word, make working with documents cleaner, and I have used them for over 20 years. I am really, really comfortable and happy with them. And did I say that WordPerfect can save (publish) files to pdf?

Open Office (www.openoffice.org), when I have to open MS Word or other MS Office documents

Backups —I have a doubly redundant backup system. Not that I am paranoid, but in the course of computer living, I have had my share of crashed disks and other problems. You have heard this all before, and I have often written about it, but these are the software tools I use for backups:

  • SecondCopy (www.centered.com), for daily incremental data backups —Because I do not keep all my data in the Windows "My Documents" folder, I create "profiles" that allow me to copy only my essential data, from the locations that make sense to me, to small external USB drives, a separate one for each day.
  • Acronis True Image Home 11.0 (www.acronis.com), for weekly full backups —I make a full backup of my computer, including the system files, once a week. Again, I back up to external USB drives that are larger than the daily drives, and use a different drive for each week of the month.
  • Carbonite (http://carbonite.com), for online backup of essential data —Because I have begun working from a home office, this is the only way for me to have an off-site backup.

Drafting Libraries (Attorneys' Computer Network, www.draftinglib.com) —I have many of my own real estate forms, but for drafting some real estate documents, this program is more efficient. For wills and other will documents, such as durable powers of attorney, health care directives, and so on, Drafting Libraries allows a fast initial draft, which I then tweak. Again, efficiency is the Holy Grail.

SeaMonkey (another Mozilla program, www.seamonkey-project.org), for html editing —I created and have maintained my own web site for over a decade. I had been using Netscape Composer, but since Netscape was taken over by AOL, the program has not been updated. So, I switched to SeaMonkey. I know that one of these days I should create a more modern, spiffier web site, but because it's still useful, I'm just leaving it as is for now. Unfortunately (at least for this perspective), I have no teenage grandchildren, so I cannot outsource this job to them.

Portable Apps (http://portableapps.com) —I use a USB thumb drive from which I run Portable Apps—very handy. Portable Apps includes its own mini-OS, very small versions (in terms of the space they require on the thumb drive) of some full-sized programs, and programs that are just small (I do not use all of these)

  • Mozilla Firefox, Portable Edition (web browser),
  • Mozilla Thunderbird, Portable Edition (e-mail),
  • Mozilla Sunbird, Portable Edition (calendar/tasks),
  • ClamWin Portable (antivirus),
  • Pidgin Portable (instant messaging),
  • Sumatra PDF Portable (PDF reader),
  • KeePass Password Safe Portable (password manager),
  • Sudoku Portable (game),
  • Mines-Perfect Portable (game),
  • CoolPlayer+ Portable (audio player), and
  • OpenOffice.org Portable (office suite):
    • Writer (word processor),
    • Calc (spreadsheet),
    • Impress (presentations),
    • Base (database utility), and
    • Draw (drawing)

On my most recent trips, I did not bother to carry any of my backup media, and I did not lug a notebook. I was able to plug a thumb drive into a computer in the hotel business center and use Portable Firefox, for secure browsing, and other programs with client notes that I had exported to text files. Because it would be impossible to carry WordPerfect on a thumb drive, I have created some of my form documents in the portable version of Open Office, so that, if I'm away and have to crank out something, I have my letterhead, retainer letter, and other basics on hand.

Speaking of USB thumb drives, because I create "binders" in which copies of all my transaction clients' closing documents are stored, I copy the closing documents binder onto a thumb drive for clients who prefer them electronically. I bought a supply of 1 GB thumb drives and had my name, phone number, and web site URL printed on the outside case. It's my version of a printed mug or other branded souvenir.

Lots of Utilities (www.editpadpro.com) —One of my favorites is a text note file editor, EditPad Lite. (I discovered it at about the time I found PortableApps and installed it on the thumb drive, too.) I prefer EditPad Lite over Notepad for its ability to reopen recent files without having to hunt them down, for its spell check, for its tabbed file views (instead of having numerous Notepad files open), and for its more flexible search facility. EditPad also does some basic formatting, such as converting lower case to uppercase, but a font change in one file is effected in all files. Notepad has the same problem. EditPad also offers a more robust version.

I have many more utilities, some installed and some collecting dust in my Downloads folder. I don't use them regularly enough to mention, and one of these days I am going to do a spring cleaning to get rid of the programs I have not looked at since I read about them and downloaded them.

These are a few of my favorite things. YMMV.

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