November/December 2019

Product Watch

Speed Up with TextExpander

Heidi S. Alexander

In my previous Product Watch column, I revealed a proofreading tool, PerfectIt, that helps lawyers to save time, reduce mistakes and improve their quality of work. I tend to focus a lot on these three tenets because (1) it’s likely that you are either not billing enough during the day or you are billing enough but working 24/7 (or, maybe you are not billing enough and you are working 24/7); or (2) a mistake in your practice will cost time, money and potentially your license; and (3) you likely joined this noble profession to help others, and do it well.

Introducing TextExpander

Now what technological productivity tool do I have up my sleeve for you this time around? It’s a fantastic product that’s been around for a while, but initially was only available for Macs. Talk to a real Mac guru and chances are he or she is using TextExpander. But, don’t worry, Windows users, this product is now available for you too!

Why this tool? What can it do for you? TextExpander, developed by Smile, touts itself as a “productivity multiplier, a knowledge base from which you communicate quickly and accurately across your devices.” Wow, that sounds quite impressive, and it is. But, in fact, it’s a very simple tool at its core that works by using keyboard shortcuts to insert “snippets” of text, thus lessening the amount of typing you need to do. Ultimately, it helps you minimize mundane tasks and maximize substantive (billable) work. 

(For visual examples of this product at work, see masslomap.org/textexpander/.)

Starting Out

Contemplate this: How many times do you think you’ve typed your name? While each time may only take a few seconds, it adds up over time, particularly if you are typing on a mobile device. Saving a few seconds over the course of a day will save you hours by the end of the year. With that extra time you can increase your billable hours, follow up on collections or maybe even take a break.

Let’s take a look at how TextExpander works with this simple example. To save your first snippet, open TextExpander on your computer or mobile device. Adding a snippet is simple. Type the text you want to later expand and then create an abbreviation for the snippet. I start all my abbreviations with an x because that way I know I won’t mistakenly expand text since it is rare I’m using an x to begin a word. For this example, I want to create an abbreviation that will expand to my name. I use the abbreviation “xnm.” Now, when I want to type my name, rather than typing out its 15 characters, I only need to type three characters.

Expansion will work in most applications on your computer and many applications on your mobile device. All you need to do is type “xnm” and the result will be your name.

Other simple uses of TextExpander would be to create abbreviations for address blocks, signatures, biographies and common phrases.

Taking It Up a Notch

TextExpander can expand not only a few words but multiple clauses of text. You can format text; create optional sections; fill in text boxes as well as date and time stamps; and much more. Here are a few examples of how TextExpander could be used in your practice.

In addition to your name, think about how many other words and phrases you type repetitively:

  • How about communications with the court and court filings? Do you often address memos to the same clerk in the same court? Create a snippet to expand the name of the clerk and the address of the court.
  • Do you ever need to send along a biography for speaking or other purposes? Save your biography as a snippet so that the next time you are asked, all you need to do is type a few keystrokes rather than searching through your email for the last time you emailed someone your bio.
  • Do you practice in a certain area that uses common phrases or citations, e.g., Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) or M.G.L. ch. 93A § 1? Create snippets for those.
  • Do you frequent certain websites such as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s filing page? Create a snippet for the website to get there in a flash.

Communication With Clients

Streamlining client and potential client communication can help you obtain and convert more clients, as well as keep clients happy. Here are some ideas for potential uses in your practice:

  • Do you receive email inquiries from potential clients? Rather than take the time to draft a response each time, draft one standard response that might include your rates, policies on initial consultation, services offered, educational information and other information that can all be tailored to a particular request. With TextExpander, you could create a snippet with fill-ins for names, a pop-up selection for service area and a listing of rates to select from. When this snippet expands by typing the shortcut keys, it will allow you to select from the drop-down menu and fill in the blanks to tailor the email to your potential client.
  • Do you have a template for following up with clients after a meeting? TextExpander can be used to draft frequently used emails after meetings with clients to provide a summary of the meeting and expectations or requests in moving forward. You could use a snippet programmed with fill-ins or a pop-up menu for selection of the service provided as well as optional sections for document requests.
  • Do you schedule regular check-ins with clients to assure clients that their matter is moving along? TextExpander is a perfect tool for that purpose. Create a snippet that provides you with a template email allowing you to fill in details of the particular matter.

Document Generation and Organization

Working with documents and files can be a time-consuming endeavor. Think about how many times you’ve drafted, formatted, named and saved, and stored an electronic document. You can use TextExpander to make this process much more efficient. Below are some examples:

  • If you store electronic documents, organization is key to finding saved files and information. TextExpander can make the process faster and ensure proper document naming conventions by setting up a shortcut, for example, to name a document with the date first and a prompt to enter a description (e.g., 2018 01 01 [Ltr to Client]).
  • Creating documents is also time consuming and can be streamlined with TextExpander. Do you waste time formatting your caption each time you file a document with the court? Instead create a snippet for frequently used captions or a templated caption that allows you to add case information.
  • Do you draft contracts? Think about all those standard clauses you insert into, for example, a will or purchase-and-sale agreement. You could create an entire template with selections for different clauses in your document or multiple snippets for different clauses. One example might be use of a residential purchase agreement that provides for multiple areas for fill-in information and drop-down menus for personalization, as well as optional sections based on purchase price and terms.

Conclusion

If you are not yet convinced, TextExpander tracks how much time you have saved by using the tool and expanding snippets, all based on your individual typing speed. You can then decide for yourself whether this tool is worthwhile to your practice.

You can test this product for 30 days by downloading it from the TextExpander website (textexpander.com). Thereafter the pricing is $3.33 per month for individual usage and $7.96 per month per user for teams.

Heidi S. Alexander

Heidi S. Alexander is the deputy director of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, where she helps manage organization operations and leads the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program. That program provides free and confidential practice management assistance, guidance in implementing new law office technologies and methods to attain healthy and sustainable practices. She is the author of Evernote as A Law Practice Tool, serves as vice co-chair of the ABA TECHSHOW Planning Board and founded the ABA’s Women of Legal Technology initiative. Email her at heidi@masslomap.org