December 01, 2011

Essential Software and Apps


Sometimes the final touch in turbocharging your office is finding that one software program or app that makes everything else easier and more efficient. Below are the top choices of the Technology & Practice Guide Editorial Board. Take a look—you might discover just what your practice has been missing.

Adobe Acrobat Professional. Jeffrey Allen nominates Adobe Acrobat Professional. “I do not think that any computer in a law office should lack that particular software,” he says. “I consider it essential to the modern practice of law. I use it to store documents for retention purposes, transmittal, and for discovery production and processing for trial purposes. It has the advantages of creating a document free of word-processing metadata, being universally usable, and, in many cases, searchable.” Kathleen B. Havener seconds Jeff’s nomination: “I live and breathe with Adobe Acrobat. I ‘print’ Word documents to Adobe so that they can’t be altered. I use it to prepare documents for filing in federal court. I scan documents and use Adobe to Bates stamp them. It is without a doubt the most valuable software I own.” Kathleen also shares documents using—a secure site where she can post an unlimited number of documents that clients and other password-enabled users can view and comment on. (For a full review of Adobe Acrobat X, see the June 2011 issue of GPSolo.)

Adobe FormsCentral. Alan Pearlman nominates Adobe FormsCentral, which lets you create forms and surveys from scratch using a rich drag-and-drop editor, or customize one of their templates to make it your own. You can add a logo and personalize the thank-you page. “You distribute the link, they take care of the rest,” says Alan. “They host your form, and then they collect and compile the responses. You get instant access to the responses in a familiar table format. Then you can view responses from anywhere. Analyze your data with built-in formulas or drill down with search and smart filtering to see individual responses and use the record view. Share responses. Decide who can access your data and what they can do with it, as well. As for environmental benefits, no longer do you need any paper forms. All your forms can be online for all to use—tree friendly!”

Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Dale W. Cottam nominates Dragon NaturallySpeaking, the leading word-recognition software, which can accurately transcribe speech into text in virtually any software application. “I like the convenience of being able to dictate anywhere, anytime, without the delay involved with using a live transcriptionist.” Dale has been using Dragon since Version 7 (released in 2003), and he has seen the accuracy, robustness, speed, and convenience of this product improve markedly with the release of each new release (the most recent edition is version 11.5). Dale finds that Dragon gives him a helping hand in more ways than one: “As I age, so do my joints. Typing for long periods of time has become uncomfortable. It is refreshing to sit back and dictate using Dragon, and then use the keyboard only for editing while I proofread.” (For a full review of Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11, see the June 2011 issue of GPSolo.)

Dropbox. Alan Klevan nominates the cloud-based storage and collaboration site Dropbox. “I don’t leave home (literally or figuratively) without it,” he says. “I store entire files or individual documents I wish to access in Dropbox, and I subsequently access them from any other device that has Dropbox. I recently mediated a case with a file I ‘dropped’ in Dropbox using only my iPhone and a portable projector. And I like Dropbox’s notification tool, which lets me know when a document has been updated.” Of course, there are also the “green” benefits of not having to print any documents, or even use products such as a USB flash drive or portable hard drive. Still, Alan notes that there are security concerns with using the site: “Be certain to encrypt your documents which need to be encrypted before dropping them into Dropbox.”

Errands To-Do List. Raymond L. Ocampo Jr. nominates Errands To-Do List, an iPhone app that he uses as his general planner. “For me, it’s essential because I am able to track just about everything, from projects, to vitamin pills, to grocery lists.” As with any to-do list, it provides for checklists of things to do, but the feature Raymond likes best is the ability to nest folders of additional items within a larger checklist, creating what he calls “a double-checklist”—checklist within a checklist. “The app is simple, functional, and easy to use. And it’s free, although the developer appreciates a voluntary $1.99 contribution.”

GoToMyPC. Wells Anderson nominates GoToMyPC, which he has found to be the fastest, most trouble-free choice among the many programs allowing users to remotely access their office PC when on the road. “I rely on GoToMyPC almost every day to get work done with my clients,” he says. “You can also use the program to share your screen easily with clients. That allows you to develop closer working relationships by reviewing and editing documents, discussing diagrams and photos, and transferring files quickly and securely.” Setting up GoToMyPC is simple. “You don’t need an IT expert to get it working. You don’t need to know anything about firewalls. Your client doesn’t need to install anything.” And there are environmental benefits, too. “Anytime you or your clients can avoid driving to a meeting, you reduce your carbon footprint. Certainly some face-to-face meetings are important, but others can be replaced by virtual meetings.”

PhraseExpress. As a second suggestion, Wells Anderson nominates PhraseExpress, which speeds the typing of frequently repeated words and phrases. “I can no longer imagine working on a computer without using a program like PhraseExpress,” says Wells. “It saves so much typing. Whenever I type a long word or a phrase I expect I’ll need to type again, I add it to PhraseExpress. The next time I need the phrase, I type an abbreviation. Instantly the phrase appears.” For example, when Wells types “tcfc,” PhraseExpress expands it to “telephone call from client.” You don’t have to press any special key. As soon as you type your abbreviation, PhraseExpress immediately expands it. “And PhraseExpress is smart,” says Wells. “If you capitalize the first letter of an abbreviation, it capitalizes the first letter of the expanded text. That allows you to use an abbreviation at the beginning of a sentence or in the middle. PhraseExpress organizes your frequently used phrases and allows pasting them into any application.” Wells has tested the program extensively with Time Matters, MS Word, MS Outlook, and many, many other programs. “It handles them all beautifully,” he says. “I use PhraseExpress every day, all day long.” (A full review of PhraseExpress can be found in this issue of GPSolo magazine.)

PureText 2.0. Brett Burney nominates PureText 2.0. When you paste text that was copied from a website or e-mail, you might find that it comes complete with unwanted fonts and odd formatting. “If you’re pasting this text into MS Word,” observes Brett, “you’ve hopefully discovered the ‘Paste Special’ option that lets you paste as ‘unformatted text.’ PureText 2.0 gives you that ‘Paste Special’ option everywhere on your computer.” PureText sits in your system tray waiting for you to hit your pre-programmed shortcut key combo (similar to Control+V). It will then paste the current text in your clipboard as pure, clean text—minus any fancy fonts, colors, paragraph styles, margin settings, bullets/numbering, etc. “PureText has saved me hours of frustration,” says Brett. “It’s also saved me some spare change since PureText is completely free by the generosity of its developer, Mr. Steve Miller. No, not that Steve [of Steve Miller Band fame]. But PureText is magic like Abracadabra . . . and I ain’t no Joker!”

SimplyFile and EZDetach. Nerino J. Petro Jr. nominates these two utilities from TechHit Software. He finds them both to be invaluable for using Outlook on a daily basis. SimplyFile predicts which Outlook folder is appropriate for a given e-mail. On setup it reviews all your folders and then continues to learn as you use it. “I find it to be about 90 percent accurate,” says Nerino, “and if it isn’t, using its QuickPick option allows me to quickly select the correct folder—which also helps train SimplyFile.” SimplyFile also allows you to quickly create an appointment or task from the e-mail message. “I find this to be easier than dragging and dropping the message.”

EZDetach helps Nerino organize his e-mail attachments. “EZDetach allows me to save attachments manually or automatically to my hard drive, and replaces it in the e-mail with a hyperlink to the actual file.” This removes attachments from the Outlook PST file, thereby decreasing its size and allowing Nerino to quickly save attachments to a folder on his computer. If you need to forward a message, EZDetach will ask if you want to reattach the attachment before forwarding the message. “Both of these utilities are great tools for helping you deal with Outlook,” says Nerino, “increasing your efficiency and helping you keep your sanity when dealing with the e-mail deluge.

Snagit. Andrew C. Simpson nominates Snagit, a screen capture utility he calls “phenomenal.” According to Andy, “Snagit lets you capture entire websites, or even create a video of what is appearing on your screen as you change what appears there, so calling it a screen capture utility really doesn’t do it justice.” Once the image or video is captured, you can send it to a variety of applications/formats. “For example,” says Andy, “you can send the capture directly to a PowerPoint slide; or drop the image into a word-processing document; or save it as a PDF. Ever been frustrated by receiving a ‘locked’ PDF document that you can’t edit or print? Simply use Snagit to capture it and save it as a PDF to have your own, unlocked copy.”

TrialPad. Andy Simpson also nominated TrialPad 2.0 for iPad. “It is a fantastic trial presentation app that will change the way you think about using presentations in your practice. This $89.99 app (well worth it) makes it easy to use documents in a presentation on the fly—so easy, you’ll find yourself using it in mediations, client meetings, and office meetings (in addition to trials) because so little prep work needs to be done.” (Click here for a detailed review.)

WordPerfect X5. J. Anthony Vittal nominates WordPerfect X5, the “workhorse” of his litigation practice. It remains Tony’s favorite word-processing program because of its intuitive ease of use: “Nothing else permits multiple watermarks, easy changes of headers and footers within a document, facile table generation, and publication directly to PDF for e-filing and other uses without the necessity of purchasing a separate PDF generator.” (Still, like Jeff and Kathleen, Tony highly recommends purchasing and using full-featured Acrobat Professional.) Using WordPerfect X5, Tony finds that he can create litigation documents in half the time (or less) that it takes to create the same document in Word. “If I absolutely positively have to generate a Word document, the final document in WordPerfect will convert more or less seamlessly to a Word document. Finally, if I have to debug a document, the ‘reveal codes’ feature shows every formatting code in the document and allows me to quickly find and correct any coding problem—and to copy coding from one document and paste it into another. The old saying still holds true: Friends don’t let friends word process without reveal codes.” (For a full review of WordPerfect Office X5, see the December 2010 issue of GPSolo.)


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