January 22, 2019 Technology

Ask Techie

Welcome to the latest installment of our monthly Q&A column, where a panel of experts answers your questions about using technology in your law practice.

This month we answer readers’ questions about how to sign a PDF electronically, how to get the most from Office 365, and what you should buy to replace that old, slow desktop computer.

Q: What is the easiest way to apply a scanned signature to a PDF? I would like to place it on a signature line without obscuring the line or the writing beneath. I use Power PDF Advanced 2.0.

A: I'm going to give you my answer in two parts—first I’ll tell you how to apply a scanned signature, and then I’ll tell you how to do something a bit fancier.

  1. To apply a scanned signature, first put your signature down on a white piece of paper and scan it. You now have an image of your signature. The problem (as noted in your question) is that the image has a white background that will cover up signature lines. The good news is that this is easily fixed. Even if you don’t have Photoshop software, there are a number of free programs online that will do the trick. PhotoScissors and Clipping Magic are two that I have used in the past. Once you have a signature image with a clear background, inserting it into a PDF should be easy. If you want to take an extra step to simplify the process, most PDF programs have a “stamp” feature for commonly used markings. You can create a custom stamp of your signature image and save it in your PDF program for easy access on any document.
  2. If you want to do something more advanced, try one of the signature programs that link to PDF documents. In our office we use EchoSign (now Adobe Sign) to get verified signatures on Adobe documents. With Power PDF you can use DocuSign, which is another great service.

Q: How can I use Office 365 to be more than just a Word/Outlook subscription?

A: There is an abundance of features to Office 365 that go well beyond Word and Outlook. For starters, the cloud storage and accessibility apply to all applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, and Access). The OneNote feature is particularly useful, depending on how you manage your workload. With Office 365 you can set up access to your OneNote workbook anywhere. It also acts as a collaborative tool, allowing you to chat with co-workers from within Microsoft Word. The Office 365 subscription also serves as cloud storage with OneDrive, providing 1 TB of storage or more, depending on your subscription level. There are too many features to highlight on this platform, but for further guidance on how Office 365 can empower your practice, you may want to check out Microsoft Office 365 for Lawyers, Second Edition by Ben Schorr, available from ShopABA.org.

Q. My desktop computer is old and slow—what’s a good replacement?

A. You’ve heard the expression, “Good, fast, cheap. Pick two.” Well, that is true for notebook computers, but for desktops it is: “Pick two-and-a-half.”

Now you can buy a powerful, blisteringly fast, almost-cheap mini PC. A big plus from the little box is its blessed silence. You have to put your ear right up to it to hear its only moving part, a lazy fan. These tiny speed-machines are smaller than hardcover books (see the image below). Even if you don’t need to conserve space, you’ll consume less energy and fewer resources.

My mini PC

My mini PC

Why is speed important? For one, press the on button and it’s fired up and ready in 16 seconds. Shutting it down takes four seconds. Use the “hibernate” feature to bring it back up where you left off, your Windows desktop fully cluttered. You’ll tackle busywork in record time.

A tip for chopping 33 percent (or more) off the cost: Buy a bare-bones unit. They come without memory, drive, or software. Order an NVMe M.2 500 GB drive card and a 16 GB RAM card separately. If you can remove four to six small screws, press two cards into two slots, and replace the screws, you too can build your own PC.

Here is an example. I bought an Intel NUC 8 Core i7 for $699. I added a Samsung 970 EVO NVMe M.2 drive for $127.99 and two 16 GB memory cards, but you can buy a single Crucial memory card for $122.99. Use your existing Windows 10 license (not possible if Windows came pre-installed on your old PC).

Total out-of-pocket excluding tax for your speed demon: $949.98. That’s not cheap. It’s not expensive. And it flies!

What’s YOUR Question?

If you have a technology question, please forward it to Managing Editor Rob Salkin (robert.salkin@americanbar.org) at your earliest convenience. Our response team selects the questions for response and publication. Our regular response team includes Jeffrey Allen, Wells H. Anderson, Jordan L. Couch, Ashley Hallene, Al Harrison, and Patrick Palace. We publish submitted questions anonymously, just in case you do not want someone else to know you asked the question.

Please send in your questions today!

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