August 09, 2017

5 Technology Apps for the Small Firm

Philip Gommels – March 8, 2016

Let’s face it—the practice of law is going mobile. If you are like me, over half of your workday is spent waiting in court, driving to or from court, or somewhere else outside the office. Here are five apps that I recommend to help you organize, communicate, and research on the go.

App for Cloud Storage: Dropbox

Free up to 2 gigabytes, $10 per month for 1 terabyte, or $15 per user each month for unlimited storage and priority support

Available for iOS and Android

Lawyers can debate the pros and cons of cloud storage for client files. For example, if you are representing a high-profile client against the federal government, you may think twice about storing client documents on any computer with access to the Internet.

But setting that aside, Dropbox is a great solution for small- and medium-sized firms to store client files and form banks. At my firm, we keep all of our active files, closed files, form banks, and everything else we can think of in the cloud. That means my staff can edit huge files from the office and save them to the cloud, where I can pull them up on any device from practically anywhere.

Dropbox is widely accepted, so it plays nice with other apps that my firm uses. And when my office was attacked by a nasty cryptovirus last year, Dropbox was able to restore all of my files to their preinfection status, which saved us from having to surrender to criminals or face the loss of our entire office’s work product. However, I suggest backing up weekly with an external hard drive for the best protection against this kind of threat.

Although I prefer Dropbox, other cloud options include Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, and Box.

App for Case/Task Management: MyCase

$39 per month per attorney and $29 per staff/paralegal user

Available for iOS and Android

MyCase is a multifunction case-management software with applications for iPhone and Android, as well as a web-based portal for laptop and desktop personal computers (PCs). This little app does a lot. With it you can track time, generate invoices, share files with clients, delegate and track tasks among firm staff, and track internal firm conversations by case and task. At my firm, my assistant sets every client up with a profile in the app as soon as the file is opened. The app automatically emails clients with instructions on how to log in to the client portal, where they can view documents related to their case and can see dates relevant to their case, like court dates, meetings, and payment due dates.

Over the course of the representation, I delegate tasks to my staff and set due dates. My dashboard tells me the status of my tasks and my staffs’ tasks, including parts completed and not yet completed. I can also leave messages that are attached to each task. When messages are sent, notifications are sent to each party through email and direct alerts from the app. Above the Law did a more in-depth and balanced review of the software if you are interested in learning more about MyCase.

Of course, MyCase is not the only app of its kind. Clio, Rocket Matter, and CosmoLex offer similar services. If you have the time, it is worth checking out reviews to see what software is the best fit for your firm. For its friendliness to the user, full suite of services, and reasonable price, I recommend MyCase.

App for Document Drafting and Editing: Microsoft Word 365

$8.25 to $12.50 per month (with the Office Suite)

Available for iOS and Android

For years, Microsoft has been moving toward having the same platform across all devices. Although its operating system and business application suites have a ways to go, they have come a long way. If you use Dropbox or Microsoft OneDrive, you can pull your documents down from the cloud right onto your iPhone or Android device, where you can draft or edit the documents, email them, and even print them to any printer networked to your phone wirelessly.

This app is extremely useful if you find yourself in court needing to file a motion on the fly. Because I keep a bank of form motions in my Dropbox, I can customize the motion right from my phone. I usually do not have a wireless printer in court, so I email the motion to the court’s coordinator, who is usually happy to print the document for me. I can then get the appropriate signatures and file the motion within minutes.

For the monthly fee you also get other productivity suite products from Microsoft including: Excel, Outlook (see below), PowerPoint, OneNote, OneDrive (with a terabyte of storage), Publisher, and depending on the version you choose, Exchange Online or Skype for Business. The monthly fee gives you licenses for up to five devices, including your desktop or laptop back at the office, and access to free updates for each app so that you always have the newest version. No more shelling out hundreds of dollars every few years to upgrade.

For Mac types, the Apple Pages app and the rest of the iWork suite work fine if you only use Apple’s devices. However, Pages is not available for PC or Android. I favor Microsoft Word because we draft on PCs at the office, and Microsoft’s new mobile apps allow us to keep everything consistent across Apple, PC, and Android platforms. With Pages, you may lose some formatting when you send your documents to users who open them with another word processing app.

App for Calendar and Email: Microsoft Outlook via Microsoft Exchange

$8.25 to $12.50 per month (with the Office Suite)

Available for iOS and Android

In this day and age, email is indispensable for any attorney. However, it has to work reliably. It is a nice bonus if it helps us stay organized, plays well with our calendar, and maybe has a few other bells and whistles. I know very tech-savvy lawyers who use Google’s Gmail for their law firm’s email. Personally, even though you can mask your Gmail to look like emails are coming from a more sophisticated domain, like phil@gommelslaw.com for example, I prefer to avoid Google for a variety of reasons.

For years Outlook set up through a Microsoft Exchange server has been the preferred email client for corporations and government entities for a reason. It is secure, relatively cheap, and full of features. To set up your email this way, you will need to spend a little time on the phone with tech support or your web guru. But it is time well spent.

With Outlook, I can drag and drop emails into my calendar, set emails to go out at a certain time instead of right away, and track when a person has just opened my email. The last feature uses a tie-in app called Sidekick, which is really helpful when I want to catch opposing counsel at just the right moment. After I send an email, I will wait until I see that my target is reading the email. Then I will drop what I am doing, read the email to myself, and call my target directly after. And wouldn’t you know it—the target is just finishing my email. How convenient!

For iPhone, the Outlook app allows you to send attachments, a feature that other email apps for mobile devices lack. If you have your files stored in the cloud through OneDrive, Google Drive, or Dropbox, attaching files is simple. The attachments do not come through as a link like they would if you sent it through the Dropbox app. Instead, the person on the other end is sent an actual file that can be opened on his or her computer with no hassle at all.

App for Legal Research: Fastcase

Free

Available for iOS and Android

I start almost all of my legal research on Google Scholar. It probably is powerful enough, in combination with other free services, to replace a subscription to the old mainstays like Westlaw and LexisNexis. But Google Scholar isn’t an app—Fastcase is.

With Fastcase, you can search statutes and case law by name, topic, or citation. You can also Shepardize case law right from your phone and print cases in the more generally accepted double-column format. Fastcase also allows you to save cases to your phone to read later, like on your rail commute to work where reception is spotty.

Keywords: litigation, Judicial Intern Opportunity Program, JIOP, technology, apps, cloud storage, case management, document drafting, email, legal research

Philip Gommels – March 8, 2016