Sites for Sore Eyes
Exploring the Brave New (Tech) World
We have a confession to make. Despite our deceptively youthful looks, we didn’t grow up with computers. In fact, if you want to be picky about it, you could say that we didn’t even have computers when we were in law school. And for that matter, neither did most of the people who were in law school with us. The law library had just a few, including “The Westlaw terminal” and “The Lexis terminal,” and there was a signup sheet to use those. (And gas was a buck and a Diet Coke cost 25 cents, but we digress.)
What was our point? Oh yeah, that we weren’t always the legal technology gurus we are today. Once upon a time, even we had to start somewhere, which brings us to the topic of this column: “Where to Go When You Finally Throw in the Towel and Admit that You Need to Learn Something About Technology to Practice Law After All.” (Our editors think that’s overly long, but we like it.) So let’s cover a few sites that teach you about how technology works so that you can apply it in your practice. More importantly, we will show you where to get some of your questions answered.
Ironically (or maybe not), the Internet is the best place to start your research. For old time’s sake, we’ll start with Whatis.com: http://whatis.techtarget.com/. Whatis was one of the earliest online technology dictionaries, and it’s still a good place to learn about a wide range of tech topics. Picture yourself trying to network your law office (or wanting to understand what the salesperson is telling you). Back when we had to learn about networking a new law office for computers and phones, we found Whatis to be the perfect source. First, we typed in a search term. A list of results appeared: sponsored links, loads of articles, and Web results. The Whatis.com Learning Center categorizes definitions, in case you aren’t sure what you’re looking for.
In the menu bar along the top of the page, one choice is “Cheat Sheets,” which contained a quick list of frequently accessed information. Also on this page, we spied the heading “self-education,” which led us to the Expert Answer Center, where we could browse or search thousands of questions and answers from more than 250 technology industry experts. A choice of topics were already highlighted, including networking, which led to an extensive list of mobile and wireless networking topics. Although many of the expert topics are beyond the ken of most lawyers, many could help with gaining a basic understanding of a particular topic.
After killing a couple of hours at Whatis (“Oh, that’s what HTTP stands for!”), we recommend venturing over to one of our “can’t do without” sites, the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center (LTRC): http://www.abanet.org/tech/. Many people don’t realize that they can call the LTRC hotline and or email the ultra-knowledgeable staff with law office technology questions. (ABA members are given priority over other requests.) For lawyers in states without practice management advisors, this free one-on-one research assistance is hard to pass up. The site itself contains articles, online presentations, forums, surveys, and comparative studies. A new feature, “FYIs,” is fast becoming the “go-to” page at LTRC. Starting with Blogs and ending with Wireless Networking, this A-to-Z list of frequently asked questions is chock full of helpful advice, definitions, links, and more. Be sure to keep checking this website, as the content is updated regularly.
Webopedia (http://www.webopedia.com/) immodestly defines itself as “the only online dictionary and search engine you need for computer and Internet technology definitions.” But it actually lives up to its own hype. Instead of having to ask your local tech guru to explain an unfamiliar word to you, just enter the word into Webopedia. You will be rewarded with a definition. If you want to build your technology vocabulary, this site also features a Term of the Day and a link to the recently added new terms
How Stuff Works: http://www.howstuffworks.com/. If you’ve never been to the How Stuff Works website before, you’re going to be very pleased that you have taken the time to read our column this month. How Stuff Works is not only a great place to get simple explanations of the workings of complicated technology processes, it is a great site to find out how almost anything works. For example, when we recently visited the site, there were articles on the front page featureing items on how Blu-ray Discs work, how the Wikipedia scanner works, how counterfeiting works, and how fleas work.
Smart Computing in Plain English ( http://www.smartcomputing.com/). If there were ever a resource that was accurately described by its name, it is “Smart Computing in Plain English.” The web resource for the magazine of the same name has many articles that really are written in plain English along with other features such as a user message board and a searchable online tech support. If you don’t know how to start your computer in the safe mode or what an error message means, then Smart Computing in Plain English is a great resource for you. We do have to note that we sometimes forget that some of these resources are available to subscribers to the magazine only. Nonsubscribers generally only have access to the first half of an article. It’s not our purpose here to convince you to subscribe, but it is a great magazine.
Law Technology News ( http://lawtechnews.com). The online version of the American Lawyer Media print publication is always a great resource for finding the latest law office software and hardware news and reviews. If you’re investigating law office software, download demos and free trials of most major products in all the big categories, from bankruptcy to trial presentation. Educate yourself with the legal technology white papers (password required, but registration is free). And we can’t forget to mention the online version of the LTN Resource Guide, containing links to vendors for legal products, systems, and services.
Law Technology News and Smart Computing in Plain English are not the only magazines that publish most or all of their content online. There are several tech mags that freely publish everything online, even if they don’t always make it easy to find. But if you read a great article in one of these magazines, you can usually find it by searching the magazine’s website using the title as your search term, and then you can send the link to your friends who do not subscribe.
Some of the best of these online periodicals include: PC World: http://www.pcworld.com/ (your attention is directed to the regular feature Steve Bass’s Tips and Tweaks: http://tinyurl.com/yvf45z); CPU (Computer Power User): http://www.computerpoweruser.com/; PC Magazine: http://www.pcmag.com/; PC Today: http://www.pctoday.com/; and Maximum PC: http://www.maximumpc.com/.
So, what happens if you get hooked on technology and want to become, ahem, a geek like us? Then you need a line into the latest tech news items. For starters, we are huge fans of the CNET ( http://www.cnet.com/) network. Just in case you don’t know, CNET is an exhaustive resource for tech product reviews, tech news, daily videos, free downloads, podcasts, expert reviews, tech advice, and gadget blogs.
TechRepublic ( http://techrepublic.com/) is an off-shoot of CNET for IT professionals. You can earn your geek credentials subscribing to one of its many e-newsletters, free with registration. Another great source for web-based technology and computer news is DailyRotation ( http://www.dailyrotation.com/). There are also numerous legal technology-related blogs. You can can search through many of them at www.technoarti.com. Our friend Nerino Petro publishes http://compujurist.com/, and Jeff Beard publishes http://www.lawtechguru.com/, just to give you a couple of examples. (Now we’ll get email from many legal tech bloggers asking why they were left out.)While we recommend that lawyers empower themselves through technology self-education, we also strongly urge lawyers to hire knowledgeable consultants to assist with important technology decisions and purchases. Heeding our own advice, in preparation for this article, we communicated with several practice management advisors from other jurisdictions (and in the process, learned about a couple of new or forgotten resources ourselves). In particular, thanks go to Dan Pinnington, Nerino Petro, and Catherine Sanders Reach for their suggestions.
Jim Calloway is the director of the Oklahoma Bar Association Management Assistance Program. He served as chair of the ABA TECHSHOW™ 2005. Calloway publishes the weblog, Jim Calloway’s Law Practice Tips, at http://jimcalloway.typepad.com, and was coauthor of the book, Winning Alternatives to the Billable Hour. He serves on the GP|Solo Division Technology Board. Courtney Kennaday has been the practice management advisor of the South Carolina Bar since 2002. Her PMAP (Practice Management Assistance Program) web pages are among the most visited on the SC Bar website and were recently ranked number five by the ABA in the top six best state bar resources in the country. One of her favorite things to do is to talk about law office technology.